Hong Kong has the 2022 Gay Games. Life for China’s LGBTI people may improve at last

I’m glad that Hong Kong won the bid to host the Games. But governmental attitudes towards LGBTI equality both here and in China remain archaic

This month Hong Kong won the bid to host the 2022 Gay Games – the first time the Games will be held in Asia.

The campaign to win the Games, though, was organised by a dedicated team of volunteers rather than the territory’s government, and Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, offered only a lukewarm response, stating that she “noted” the news. She then cited her Catholic faith and stressed that she does not condone same-sex marriage.

Last year guidelines in China banned TV content ‘exaggerating the dark side of society’ – which includes homosexuality
In fact Hong Kong, despite decriminalising same-sex sexual acts in 1991, has no comprehensive legislation to protect LGBTI people from discrimination. The government often uses the excuse that the topic is “controversial” and that “majority consensus” has not yet been reached. However, a study I undertook that was commissioned by Hong Kong’s equal opportunities commission shows that 56% of those surveyed supported such legislation, including a staggering 92% of those aged between 18-24. It seems that the government refuses to acknowledge the obvious changes in social attitudes.

And in mainland China too, the government’s stance on homosexuality is not as progressive as that of other institutions. Though homosexuality was never explicitly criminalised, gay men were persecuted under the law against hooliganism until it was abolished in 1997. Homosexuality was listed as a mental illness until 2001. In the past few years, there have been a number of strategic legal cases on LGBTI rights in China, including a gay man suing a private gay conversion therapy clinic, two gay men seeking to legally marry in Changsha, a student suing the ministry of education, and a transgender man who sued a company for wrongful dismissal. In July, a court in Henan province ordered a city hospital to pay a fine and to apologise to a 38-year-old man who had undergone forced gay conversion therapy.

Many of these lawsuits ended with results in favour of LGBTI rights, and activists and lawyers managed to generate important public debates and draw international media attention. These cases show that, as in other countries, when the government refuses to protect LGBTI people’s rights, the judiciary can be the last resort.

But while the judiciary has shown signs of supporting LGBTI rights, the government has not. China has traditionally adopted a “not encouraging, not discouraging and not promoting” policy on homosexuality. Worryingly, however, the government recently took steps to ban social discussions on LGBTI issues. Last year China’s media administrator issued guidelines on banning content on television that “exaggerates the dark side of society”, which includes homosexuality. In July, the China Netcasting Services Association published new guidelines banning the depiction of “abnormal sexual behaviour”, which includes homosexuality, in online video content. Such a step denies LGBTI people the chance to be fairly represented, in effect sponsoring homophobia in Chinese society.

However, the voices demanding LGBTI inclusion in society have been growing. Particularly, in Hong Kong – where businesses play a huge role in society – corporations have been active in speaking up for LGBTI equality. In March this year, a joint statement calling for legislation to protect LGBTI people from discrimination was supported by 75 organisations including Google and the American Chamber of Commerce.

The 2022 games will be a historic moment for LGBTI rights in Asia. The people of Hong Kong need the Games, which will hopefully prove to be a catalyst for their government to reconsider its archaic stance on LGBTI issues. How can the government on the one hand claim Hong Kong to be “Asia’s world city”, and on the other tell the 15,000 athletes and estimated 40,000 visitors to the Games that they are not welcome here?

If the government refuses to take any further steps towards equality, it would send a distressing message to the world: that Hong Kong does not celebrate difference and diversity. But I look forward to the Gay Games, in the hope and belief that by 2022 Hong Kong, and perhaps China too, may at last see significant progress on LGBTI rights.

• Yiu-tung Suen is founding director of the sexualities research programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also a technical adviser for the UN Development Programme Being LGBTI in Asia Programme

by Yiu-tung Suen
Source – The Guardian