5 February 2010 – Fridae
Les Peches: Hong Kong’s premier lesbian social organisation
by Nigel Collett
Les Peches founders Abby Lee and Betty Grisoni, who met in a straight club in Singapore before moving to Hong Kong in 2001, talks to Fridae.com’s Hong Kong correspondent over lunch about community building and how they came to organise the two events that they currently run.
Where can a lesbian go to party and meet other girls? That was the question that confronted Abby Lee and Betty Grisoni when they arrived in Hong Kong from Singapore in 2001. There weren’t (and still aren’t) any lesbian bars or clubs and the karaoke lounges, where a lot of girls went for want of better, didn’t appeal. They also found that in Hong Kong gay men and lesbian women didn’t mix much, so going to gay clubs wasn’t an alternative, though they gave it a go for a while. Whilst trying this, they went to Fruits in Suits, the gay men’s networking gathering held on the third Tuesday of each month. Why not do something similar for women, they thought? So, the idea for Les Peches was born; “We just wanted a comfortable and safe place for queer women to meet and have fun” and the first event took place on 6 December 2005.
I met Abby and Betty one night at Les Peches to check out one of their social evenings then had lunch with them a few days later. “How did it all come to start?” I asked. “Twenty women turned up the first night but gradually it grew and grew,” Abby told me, “till now we have a data base of over 5,000 women.” “We regularly get over 200 coming to our monthly party and other ad hoc parties we hold,” added Betty.
The two are very much a couple, I should add, and they’re hardly ever seen out apart. The events they run (and these are still run by Abby and Betty pretty much on their own) are ‘Les Peches – The Lounge,’ each first Tuesday of the month in Avenue Bar just down from Lan Kwai Fong in Central. They also organise ‘Les Peches – The Club,’ a dance party every three months or so, ‘Les Peches – The Salon’ and occasional events like the Hong Kong Pride party.
In the early days news was spread by word of mouth and fliers which Abby and Betty had printed and took all over town to the few lesbian-friendly coffee shops and bars they knew and to the gay clubs, but now news of Les Peches events is regularly in all the Hong Kong entertainment press (especially in Dim Sum, HK Magazine and Time Out, etc). The Les Peches network is widespread on the net too; look on Facebook under ‘Les Peches’ or Twitter at www.twitter.com/lespeches.
“Why the name?” I queried.
“There’s a long explanation for this short story,” both replied (not all at once, of course, but they chipped in together as they always do, so who said what becomes indistinguishable after a while!). “The sister event for the Australian Fruits in Suits is called ‘Lemons with a Twist’, as in Australia ‘lemon’ is used for lesbian. It’s not a word used in Hong Kong, though, but we still liked the concept of ‘fruits’ so took peach instead and made a kind of pun of the words in French, as a lot of Hong Kong lesbians call themselves ‘les’ (which is also French for ‘the’) and we could use the French word for ‘peach’ which is ‘peches’. In French, ‘peche(s)’, also means ‘fishing’ as well as ‘sinning’, which seemed pretty clever and fun. We thought this might be a bit difficult but everyone was happy with it and the name stuck, though we sometimes have to tell people how to pronounce it!”
The French words are less surprising when you know that Betty herself is French, a Corsican girl who left home to travel the world at the age of eighteen and found her sexuality in San Francisco (she was an au pair in a house on the corner of Castro and 21st Street, so she could hardly avoid doing so there!). Later, she worked in Australia for seven years and she was then posted in Singapore, where, at the time, lesbian life seemed very humdrum, with no lesbian clubs and very few events. Then, on a straight night out at Velvet Club, she met Abby, and, after a few of the usual ups and downs, compounded at first by the cultural differences between a local Singaporean-Chinese girl and a Corsican, they fell in love and lived together as a couple.
In 2002, they married in Australia in the Botanical Gardens on the shores of Sydney Harbour. By then they were in Hong Kong, where Abby had got a job and Betty had followed. They’ve been here ever since.
“We’re foreigners in Hong Kong,” Betty relates, “as well as a mixed race couple, and that gives us a cosmopolitan approach which helps in running a lesbian organisation that is about 50% local and 50% expat.”
Neither of them had much experience of queer activism before (and activism is not really a word that they think is relevant to a social organisation like Les Peches, though their prominence now in lesbian society has led them into the fringes of local queer politics). All this was very new to Abby, though Betty had volunteered in women’s groups in several places since she was a teenager and had joined other things like the queer group at her university and Melbourne’s Mid Summer Festival. So I reckon creating something as lively and now central to the community as Les Peches is not bad going. And there’s no doubt how thriving it is; what started as a quiet gathering for a few hours after 6.30pm now kicks off around 9 pm and by 11 o’clock is a packed and noisy crowd jostling for space on the dance floor. It goes on till 2 am most nights. It is the place for girls to let their hair down and lose their inhibitions, and they do; trust me, I’ve been there! There is a slowly increasing trickle of gay guys attending now, too.
“In many places around the world, gay men and lesbians go to the same places and dance together, but this doesn’t happen in Hong Kong.” Maybe Les Peches will be one of the few places that will make this happen comfortably.
Aside from making a lot of women happy, Les Peches also does a lot of good in the community. Apart from being a major channel of communication, it’s also a source of activities and funds to support the local queer community. Hong Kong Pride is just one of the events and groups Abby and Betty’s work has helped and the community has discovered through what they’ve done that if you want to raise money for good causes there are few better ways than getting people to enjoy themselves.
Les Peches is over four years old now and is clearly here to stay. Abby and Betty have made it one of the pillars of Hong Kong’s queer society. Hong Kong can consider itself fortunate that they lighted on its shores.
8 February 2010 – Fridae
More inclusive workplaces for LGBT employees in Hong Kong
by Nigel Collett
Community Business, a non-profit organisation, is planning to produce a LGBT Resource Guide to help companies create inclusive workplaces for LGBT employees in Hong Kong. If you have any observations about issues relating to LGBT employees in Hong Kong, you can share your views in the online survey.
An exciting and significant development is about to take place in Hong Kong’s business arena. Hong Kong-based Community Business, an NGO that works, in their words, ‘to lead, inspire and support businesses to improve their positive impact on people and communities’ (check them out at their website ), is launching a project to improve Hong Kong’s workplace policies for LGBT employees. This year they will produce a guide for employers that focuses on creating inclusive workplace environments for LGBT employees in Hong Kong. The guide is the first step in a process which could lead to a published index of the companies showing best practice in this regard. The aim, of course, is to show every business what they need to emulate and thereby raise standards across the city.
To create the best practice guide, they need input from both big business and LGBT employees, so they have gone out to the tongzhi community for help in completing the online survey you’ll find at the foot of this article.
The background to all this lies partly in the extensive research carried out last year by the Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM), a grouping of some of Hong Kong’s LGBT organisations, into the extent of commitment to diversity in Hong Kong businesses. Aside from the financial industry, which leads the way here, the results were dire. Up to now, almost all international companies doing business in Hong Kong have paid only lip service to diversity policies, at best repeating the commitment to diversity published on their international websites but not implementing the policies, at worst declaring no policies at all. Local Hong Kong companies uniformly ignore the issue.
While this was research was going on, Community Business had simultaneously decided to extend the focus of its work to the area of sexual-orientation and gender identity. They were already pioneers in the discussion of diversity and in getting issues onto the corporate agenda, so viewed this initiative as furthering this work. They took advice from human rights and LGBT organisations elsewhere, including Out & Equal and Human Rights Campaign Foundation in the US, and decided to adopt the tactic successfully used in both the US and Europe of stimulating competition amongst businesses to bring in better diversity policies. Naming and praising in the media has been found in several other countries to be a great way of persuading businesses of the need to do better. They have secured funding for the project from two really big names, IBM and Goldman Sachs, both of which lead the way in Hong Kong in the diversity policies they have adopted to cover their own employees.
Why does this matter? Two main reasons: the first, that almost all of those currently employed in Hong Kong suffer from the lack of good diversity policies. Lacking are, amongst other things, same-sex spousal rights and discrimination-free working conditions. There is much to improve in this area which will affect everyone; the second, that where business leads the way in Hong Kong, Government will follow. The next target of the LGBT community here is a bill to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. If business believes that diversity is a good thing, it will help sway Government thinking here.
24 March 2010 – Fridae
Reggie Ho: The loneliness of long distance activism
by Nigel Collett
Fridae.com’s Hong Kong correspondent Nigel Collett meets Reggie Ho, Chairman of Hong Kong’s Gay Helpline Service, HORIZONS – one of the oldest LGBT organisations in the territory. A decade is a long time in the relentless and seemingly never-ending struggle for gay rights. Frustration, fatigue, distress and burn out are all too common amongst both LGBT organisations and the volunteers that run them. Why should this be? Hong Kong is an open society with a free press enjoying the liberties enshrined within the Common Law and its own Basic Law. You can register almost any kind of society here, and, if you want to, take it onto the streets to protest. All the mechanisms of a functioning democracy are in place. What these mechanisms are not connected to, of course, is power; the cogs whir but fail to drive the machinery, and activist effort can often feel like wading through treacle. Huge effort is needed to make just tiny advances.
Add to that the still conservative nature of Hong Kong’s society, which keeps most tongzhi firmly behind their closet doors and so away from the volunteer organisations that need the help of large numbers to function and be financially viable. No money means no full time workers, so the load falls onto the shoulders of the volunteer few. After years of struggle, many activists retire bruised and frustrated, often, too, sadly unnoticed and un-thanked. It’s no wonder that when you look around at the brave few who are leading LGBT groups in Hong Kong today, you will find few who have survived through the long term.
One of those who have is Reggie Ho, who currently heads HORIZONS, which runs Hong Kong’s gay helpline. We met over drinks on the roof of the Fringe Club in Central and Reggie told me about his life and work for the tongzhi community. First, though, I ask him to tell me about HORIZONS, which is not widely-enough known in the English-speaking community.
“It’s one of the oldest LGBT organisations in Hong Kong”, he replies, “founded in February 1992 – in the days following the successful fight for the decriminalisation of homosexuality – by four gay Hong Kong men and a Brit named Barrie Brandon, who’d worked on the London Gay Switchboard. They saw there was a need for a similar hotline in Hong Kong and set one up. Barrie left in 1993, and HORIZONS gradually took on the local Hong Kong flavour it still has today. Its original English-speaking counsellors were replaced over the years with Chinese and it runs totally in Cantonese at the moment, though we’re now seeking to add back an English element.”
At the start, HORIZONS took calls at the homes of volunteers, but with careful budgeting a very small office was opened, financed by social events and most recently by the generosity of a landlord, and they’ve run the hotlines as a free service from there ever since. In the nineties, in the days before the internet changed gay men’s lives and when the commercial gay scene was a lot smaller than it is now, there was a need in Hong Kong’s tongzhi community for a lot more than hotline support.
“We ran support groups for tongzhi and also for their parents for about six years from the middle ‘90s”, adds Reggie, “and we had other groups for coming out and couples counselling and social groups for things like hiking, movies and music. For about five years we ran a tea dance at Club 97 in Lan Kwai Fong, and when it was at its most popular this attracted up to 150 gay men. Now, these additional activities aren’t needed so much and we’ve concentrated on our core issue, the hotline.”
2 April 2010 – Fridae
Fellowship and faith: Hong Kong’s Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship
by Nigel Collett
Fridae’s Hong Kong correspondent Nigel Collett visits Hong Kong’s inter-denominational Christian community, the Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship which has, for nearly twenty years now, ministered to the LGBT community.
By many in the LGBT community, Christianity is often perceived only as one of the most hostile forces that, historically, have been the fount of oppression of people of diverse sexual expression and which, in many of its current manifestations, is an impediment to their path to liberation and the full acquisition of their human rights. Given the strident hate of many Christian fundamentalists and the doctrinal positions of denominations like the Roman Catholic Church, it is scarcely surprising that amongst many LGBT activists one can find active antipathy towards the Christian faith. Nor is it surprising that there is a perception very common in the tongzhi community in Hong Kong that what faces it across the social barricades is a faith-based opposition. Yet this black and white binary vision falls short of the full picture, for it ignores the fact that many people of diverse sexuality and gender expression have always provided a great number of the most spiritual members of the human race; across ages and cultures the ranks of shaman and priest have included a disproportionate number of those whose gender and sexualities have differed from those of the majority. It also ignores the fact that, for many tongzhi, faith provides an important source of comfort, refuge and fellowship available in an otherwise very cold and indifferent world. Indeed, the oppression and the unique experience of the LGBT community makes faith more relevant to them than any other people.
The simplistic picture I have painted of unrelieved mutual antagonism also ignores a Church in Hong Kong which has, for nearly twenty years now, ministered to the LGBT community. This is the Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship, referred to in short as BMCF. I went along to one of their Sunday services recently to experience for myself what they offer. I should state at the outset, to confirm the suspicions of any atheist readers who have read this far, that I am a Christian myself, an Anglican of a very liberal tradition who attends one of the small number of Hong Kong churches belonging to the Anglican and Methodist communions that welcome tongzhi to their congregations. So before my visit to BMCF my sympathies already lay very much with a Church which, as they put it in their leaflet, welcomes ‘those most marginalised by church and society’. I was unprepared, however, for the great warmth of the welcome I was given and for what I can only describe as an immersion in the loving fellowship that permeates everything BMCF does. I was, to put it bluntly, bowled over by the experience.
29 April 2010 – Fridae
Hong Kong gay radio show wins human rights award
by Nigel Collett
We Are Family’s founder and current presenter, Brian Leung receiving the Grand Prize in the Chinese radio category in the 14th Annual Human Rights Press Awards RTHK Radio 2’s We Are Family, the first ever LGBT radio programme on Hong Kong’s public airwaves, was launched back in 2006 by its current presenter, Brian Leung Siu Fai. Since then, Brian and the guests he has interviewed every week, have carried the torch for the LGBT community.
This month, uniquely, Brian’s fight for equality in Hong Kong was publicly recognised when his programme was awarded the Grand Prize in the Chinese radio category in the 14th Annual Human Rights Press Awards, which is jointly organised by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club and Amnesty International. Every year the panel presents awards for both Chinese and English radio, TV, print and electronic media.
Leung describes his programme as a "light-hearted talk show" and had not expected to win something both so serious and prestigious as a prize for human rights. He was up against some strong competition; there were 200 nominations. Receiving the award, he said, made it clear that his show was still on the right track. He remained very grateful to RTHK for giving him a platform for queer rights and not interfering in the content of his show.
“The strive for equality is a never-ending quest. No one knows when and how we are going to get there, but as the legend goes… it’s got to be over the rainbow somewhere! And together, we can make this lonesome and tiresome journey a wholesome and fabulous ride. After all, we are family,” Leung said.
18 May 2010 – Fridae
Hong Kong commemorates IDAHO
by Reggie Ho
Legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan, and former legislators Dr Fernando Cheung, Reverend Fung Chi Wood and Dr Lo Wing Lok join members of Hong Kong’s LGBT community and its allies in making a stand against homophobia and transphobia. Some 200 people joined the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia candlelight vigil held at Chater Garden, a public park directly east of the Legislative Council building in the Central District of Hong Kong at 7pm on Monday evening. After speeches from members of the organising committee, the emcees cited a series of homophobic and transphobic incidents around the world, including the crackdown on the IDAHO march in Minsk, Belarus the Saturday before.
The citing was complemented by a projected slide show prepared by Medeleine Mok of the LGBT Group of Amnesty International Hong Kong. The presentation included gruesome pictures of sexual minorities and suspected sexual minorities being executed by hanging and other means. The presentation struck a chord with many in the audience. “Although Hong Kong seems pretty conservative, there are countries where things are even more serious, with all the political and religious persecution… why not let people be who they are?” says Annie Chan, a 20-year-old university student who found out about the event through Facebook postings.
To inspire that kind of reflection seemed to be exactly what Mok had in mind when she prepared the slide show. “The format of a candlelight vigil is good because before, we had mostly protests and they were very confrontational. Here, people come after work, and they have time to sit back and ponder about homophobia and transphobia – how they affect us – and to listen to others’ thoughts,” she said.
After the citing of homophobic and transphobic incidents, a “die-in” exercise was called, where people voluntarily walked on to the rainbow flag laid on the ground to play dead in protest of the atrocities caused by prejudice and discrimination. A piece of white cloth was then draped over them and the rainbow, signifying that diversity had lost its battle, if only for a short while.
Messages of hope followed as candles were being lit. Notable speakers were invited to speak. Dr Fernando Cheung, former legislator and currently chairman of Forthright Caucus said that the problem with Hong Kong culture was a general lack of humanity. “As a registered social worker, I see Hong Kong as a jungle-like survival-of-the-fittest capitalist environment. People who are unique, special or different are being persecuted,” he says. “But if different minorities can come together they will become the majority.”
Cheung was instrumental in initiating the process that saw the passage of amendments to Hong Kong’s Domestic Violence Ordinance, which now protects same-sex partners from abuse. The legislative proposal sparked debates on whether or not such amendments would indirectly recognise same-sex marriage – a social taboo.
But perhaps the most touching of speeches came from the religious representatives. “The Christian faith is measured by love, for people who are different from you and people that you don’t know,” Reverend Fung Chi Wood, a former legislator said. He added that homophobia and transphobia were caused by ignorance. “You need to learn about sexual minorities, in flesh and blood, and use your reasoning. The truth will prevail.”
A transgender person, Mo Mo, was also invited to speak. One of the issues she touched on was very close to home. “Most family members would discourage their transgender children from going for an operation, saying that it’s a difficult path to walk on. Although they say so because of love, what they end up doing is putting more strain on their loved ones,” she said. “Just treat us as we are, our self-identified genders.”
That plea extends to the government as well. University of Hong Kong professor and leading researcher in gender identity diversity Sam Winter pointed out in his speech that when it came to protecting the rights of transgender people, Hong Kong was lagging behind many countries and regions in Asia, including parts of Mainland China. The sex field on many legal documents in the city such as the birth certificate is unchangeable, leaving transgender people in legal limbo. “Let’s call on Hong Kong Government to take action to recognise all people’s gender identities, and join so many other countries in making the changes that will truly make possible respect, equality and dignity for transgender people.”
Jimmy Sham of sexual minority group Rainbow of Hong Kong, one of the emcees, was touched by Mo’s speech. “It’s very rare to have a transgender person willing to speak so publicly. Momo was very reluctant in the beginning, and then she came out and spoke from her heart,” he said. “And the audience listened closely.” As the event was wrapping up and candles were being extinguished, a question seemed to be hanging in the air: Is it worth continuing these events? The answer was an unequivocal “yes”, at least among the audience.
“If you don’t do anything, you stay where you are. We are still speaking of the issue of visibility here. The event showed that sexual minorities could stand out here and express themselves, despite the pressure,” says another participant Kwan, who also found out about the event online.
Other notable speakers at the events included Cyd Ho Sau-lan, arguably Hong Kong’s most pro-sexual minority legislator; former legislator Dr Lo Wing Lok and Reverend Phyllis Wong, minister of Kowloon Union Church. For more on the event and the names of organisers and supporters, please visit.
Reggie Ho is the Chairman of Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM) and HORIZONS – Hong Kong’s Gay Helpline Service – co-organiser of the IDAHO candlelight vigil.
21 June 2010 – Fridae
Sex and Living – Book review: As normal as possible
by Nigel Collett
Nigel Collett reviews the new fourth volume of Hong Kong University Press’s ‘Queer Asia’ series which explores how sexuality and gender is negotiated in mainland China and Hong Kong
As normal as possible: Negotiating sexuality and gender in mainland China and Hong Kong
Edited by Yau Ching
Published by the Hong Kong University Press, 2010
Paperback 232 Pages
Yau Ching, long a well known figure among activists in Hong Kong’s tongzhi community, and Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, is the editor of the recently published fourth volume of Hong Kong University Press’s ‘Queer Asia’ series. Her collection of essays, As Normal as Possible, is a landmark volume, as is pointed out on its cover by Audrey Yue of the University of Melbourne: "This is the first sustained collection of writings by established and young scholars on how sexualities are negotiated in Hong Kong and China." The geographic division should not, of course, surprise. Though Hong Kong has been part of the motherland since 1997, its political, economic, social and cultural systems still lead to huge differences in an enormous range of issues, of which sexuality and gender, as Yau Ching’s volume shows, are two.
As Normal as Possible from HKU Press.
This is a very wide-ranging volume with chapters that will interest a diverse range of readers. Whilst clearly aimed at the academic world, the writing makes most of the contributions easily accessible for the general reader. Both will find much to be surprised. Yau Ching, in her introduction, makes it clear that she wishes to break away from the concerns and methodology of much of the western-oriented queer studies world, which she sees as refusing to face the fact that things just aren’t the same world-wide. What is ‘normal’ and what is ‘queer’ can be very different, and she links this with the notions raised in the essays she has collected that the negotiation of sexuality and gender in these Chinese societies is often about creating space for what is locally queer to be ‘as normal as possible’ in order for queer people to survive and flourish.
This is particularly the case, for instance, with the married lalas (lesbians) in China investigated by Lucetta Kam Yip Lo, currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Communication at Chu Hai College, Hong Kong, and one of Hong Kong’s most prolific writers on queer subjects. Kam’s chapter, ‘Opening Up Marriage: Married Lalas in Shanghai’, is a beautifully written piece which makes it very clear that lesbians in China need to make accommodation with the social and economic pressures they face to marry, and do so by arrangements unique to their society. Whilst a few manage to maintain same sex partnerships by deception, many choose to be open about them with tolerant heterosexual husbands, and an increasing number of others finds gay men prepared to marry in ‘cooperative marriages’ by which both partners may outwardly conform.
Read entire review
June 18, 2010 – Info. Gov.HK
Appeal for vigilance and support in tackling AIDS
The Under Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Gabriel Leung, has underlined the importance of vigilance and called for unfailing support and active participation in the challenging and meaningful effort against AIDS. Addressing the opening ceremony of the 20th anniversary seminar cum reunion of the Hong Kong Advisory Council on AIDS (ACA) today (June 18), Professor Leung said the rise in HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Hong Kong and the neighbouring region over the past few years had highlighted the importance of vigilance in preventing AIDS.
The Red Ribbon Centre of the Department of Health has responded by actively working with the local MSM community and forming an HIV prevention working group targeting MSM. Professor Leung said that for over 20 years, HIV/AIDS had emerged as one of the most devastating public health disasters confronting mankind. However, he noted that unlike many parts of the world, HIV prevalence in Hong Kong had been maintained at a relatively low level for a long time.
Professor Leung commended the ACA for making valuable recommendations on AIDS policy and bringing together local communities to mount a coordinated response to the AIDS challenge. The ACA, established in 1990, comprises members from all sectors of the community including community leaders, professionals and government representatives.
Also at the seminar, the Chairman of the ACA, Professor Chen Char-nie, gave the assurance that the ACA would continue to keep under review local and international trends and developments relating to HIV infection and AIDS, and to advise the government of the response. The Director of Health cum Vice-Chairman of the ACA, Dr PY Lam; three former Chairmen of the ACA, Professor S H Lee, Dr Conrad Lam and Dr Homer Tso; and Controller of the Centre for Health Protection, Dr Thomas Tsang, were among today’s officiating guests.
13 August 2010 – Fridae
Hong Kong NGO fights homophobia in schools
by Nigel Collett
Fridae.com’s Hong Kong correspondent, Nigel Collett, investigates the Boys and Girls Clubs Association campaign against the harassment of LGBT students in Hong Kong schools. “I was bullied from my Secondary Four class. I was groped. When I came out to those whom I thought my best friends in Secondary Five, they told everyone, and I was bullied all the way through Secondary Six and Seven. My classmates would jeer at me and throw paper at me when I came into the classroom. They wrote that I was gay on the blackboard. They would make out that they were gay and grind their bodies into mine.” Jack (not his real name; he is too anxious nowadays to come out in public), a gay Hong Kong Chinese university graduate, told me of his experiences at a Roman Catholic school.
He continued: “I got into arguments in the changing room, where I was trying to avoid them, and they said I was staring at them. On one occasion this led to a fight that had to be stopped by a prefect. The boy I thought was my best friend started to ‘borrow’ money from me in Secondary Four, about HK$20 (US$2.60) a day for ‘food’ for lunch, and when I asked for it back he wouldn’t give it to me. When he found out I was gay he told me if I asked for the money back he’d have me boycotted as a queer by everyone. After about a year and a half, I eventually asked him for the money. All he gave me was HK$360 (US$46), and he then told everyone to isolate me. Most of them never spoke to me again. Only one of my teachers ever talked to the class about sexual orientation sympathetically. I didn’t complain as I feared retaliation. The greatest impact was that I lost all trust in my classmates and even now, after university, I am still feeling the same.”
Jack is one among many LGBT pupils who are bullied in our schools, though one of the few brave enough now to speak out about it. It is a problem that has so far not been addressed. Now, though, unbeknownst to most of us, for over a year, the Boys and Girls Clubs Association (BGCA), a mainstream NGO, has been beavering away in Hong Kong’s background to bring some much-needed help to young LBGT people who are suffering homophobic harassment at school. The BGCA was formed back in 1936 to provide facilities for Hong Kong’s youth. This makes it one of the oldest and most prestigious NGOs in the Hong Kong SAR; nowadays, it has over 1,000 full time workers running hostels, social groups and special projects (such as helping children with learning difficulties).
For the first time, in 2007, taking advantage of the funds being channelled at that point by the Government into HIV prevention, the BCGA set up a programme to reach out to young LGBT people. The BGCA decided to create what they saw as ‘healthy’ places for young gays and lesbians but which would not segregate them from the mainstream, so that they could heal and grow. It was able to build upon its unique place in schools and in youth clubs to offer counselling, activities and safe places to meet. LGBT groups were treated just like other groups, such a s the Boy Scouts, using BGCA facilities, so could meet discreetly, something that made it easier for those faced with the difficulty or impossibility of coming out. The groups were and remain independent, and engage in a wide variety of activities. The group known as Elements, for instance, took part in organising this year’s Hong Kong IDAHO commemoration.
As this was happening, the BGCA hired a full-time gay social worker, CY Chau, to coordinate the programme. CY had been a social worker with the Hong Kong charity, the St James’s Settlement, where he’d worked to fight for better social provisions in Hong Kong’s redevelopment projects. He set up a network of volunteers to counsel queer kids and to bring them together with others, including teachers, to share their problems. This was called Project Touch. It had never been done before and was very popular. It soon gave rise to a growing realisation that there was a huge amount of homophobia lurking beneath the surface of Hong Kong’s education system.
This was not in itself a surprise, for those who know anything about Hong Kong’s educational establishment will have long ago understood that it is very heavily dominated by the Christian missionary organisations that have stepped in over the years to provide schooling where the Government hadn’t. Getting education thus on the cheap has saddled Hong Kong with a system where many teachers are motivated by homophobic religious beliefs. Anecdotal evidence has always circulated in Hong Kong of the problems this causes gay teachers (who face arbitrary dismissal) and pupils (who suffer from a range of problems, including labelling as sinful in assembly to verbal abuse by staff). The BCGA uncovered a much more widespread problem. Whilst Hong Kong may not see anything of the violent physical attacks visited on LGBT victims in other countries, it soon became clear to the BCGA that there is a very deep undercurrent of verbal and minor physical harassment and that there is no redress for the victims or even any recognition by the system that there is a problem.
October 5, 2010 – PinkNews
Hong Kong trans woman barred from marrying boyfriend
by PinkNews.co.uk Staff Writer
A trans woman in Hong Kong has been barred from marrying her boyfriend. The woman, known only as ‘W’, was born male and transitioned several years ago. However, she is barred under city law from changing her birth certificate to female, meaning she has been unable to marry. She began a legal fight but a court ruled against her today.
High court judge Andrew Cheung said there was insufficient evidence "to demonstrate a shifted societal consensus in present-day Hong Kong regarding marriage to encompass a post-operative transsexual". He added: "The court must not rush to substitute its own judgment in place of that of … the government or legislature in Hong Kong." Most of China allows trans people to marry once they have completed transition. However, the law is different in Hong Kong. Bizarrely, city law would allow W to marry a woman, as she would be recognised by the marriage registry as a man.
W’s lawyer, Mike Vidler, has said she will appeal.
14 October 2010 – Fidae
Why no pride?
by Nigel Collett
Fridae.com’s Hong Kong correspondent, Nigel Collett, examines the story behind the cancellation of this year’s Hong Kong Pride Parade.
“Due to the disappointing results of the fundraising campaign for the Hong Kong Pride Parade 2009, our committee has decided to suspend the event this year. Simultaneously we have launched the fundraising campaign for the Pride Parade 2011, and target to reach a minimum of HK$140,000 (US$18,000) before March 2011. In order to have an impressive event for our community again, we sincerely invite you to proudly support us.” The statement issued in August this year (in Chinese) by the Hong Kong Pride Organizing Committee was something of a shock, though the news had started to filter out after the Pride Committee had met back in July. The baldness of the statement did little to explain the situation and aroused more curiosity than it perhaps warranted. Speculation was rife.
Was the Committee throwing in the towel? Was infighting within the community behind the apparent collapse of this year’s plans? And just what had happened to make 2009 such a disastrous year financially for the Parade?
The issue quickly became a small controversy that reached the pages of Hong Kong’s major English language daily the South China Morning Post, which carried a piece in September focussing on allegations from an unnamed source at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a source apparently taking the opportunity of criticising the Pride Committee for kowtowing to the forces of exhibitionism and commercialism. The cancellation of the event, according to this line, had some sort of political significance and the Parade was ripe for reform. The story was muddied by repetition of the ‘source’s’ own idiosyncratic prejudices; he or she objected to drag queens and bdsm exhibitionists joining the parade, and seemingly to anyone having fun, preferring, it seemed, a sedate stroll down the street in Sunday best. In itself, perhaps, this was an indication that the Post didn’t really have a story after all. But there was more to this than the Post’s stringer had discovered, for there is genuine anger in the community that the event has been cancelled, that it was cancelled at such short notice that no one else could step in to rescue it, and that this had been allowed to happen apparently without much consultation.
Brian Leung took up the issue on his Saturday night RTHK show We Are Family. He invited Wai Wai, a representative of the Women Coalition, to speak on behalf of the Pride Committee (Women Coalition of HKSAR has from its inception been the leading element behind the Parade) and added some other voices from the community, including the Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM)’s Billy Leung, to probe the Committee’s position. The programme can be heard, for the Cantonese speakers amongst you, at: faitunes.com/?p=2081
The Pride Organizing Committee consists of the following Hong Kong LGBT organisations: Women Coalition of HKSAR, Rainbow of Hong Kong, Nutong Xueshe and Gay Harmony. After the programme, these realised that there was a need to further explain their position to the community, so they issued a second statement, also in Chinese. Translated, this commences: “We are sorry! We are sorry that Pride 2010 has been suspended. To understand why, we will have to bring the story back to 2008”, which the statement then does, but its history of the years 2008-9 does not at all clarify what is going on now, though it contains an indication as to part of the trouble in the line describing the parade’s first year, 2008: “in just a little over three months. [my italics] Hong Kong Pride Parade was born.” The statement makes clear that in 2009 the Committee expended HK$118,300 against which they managed to raise only about H$70,000, covering the deficit by using money accumulated for earlier years’ IDAHO parades.
I should add here that up until 2009, IDAHO events had been run by an Organising Committee that was largely the same as that for the Pride Parade. IDAHO had in effect given birth to Hong Kong’s Pride. In March 2010, however, the key organisations that had formed the IDAHO Organizing Committee announced that they would not carry on running IDAHO in May. Despite the short notice, the TCJM led a group of other organisations to run the event in their place and raised new funds to do so. This earlier withdrawal, of course, made the speculation about the subsequent cancellation of the Pride Parade by the same people even more rife. Were they withdrawing from community events altogether?
The Pride Parade Committee’s second statement concludes:
“We know that you can’t bear us not having the Hong Kong Pride Parade this year. We hugged, sweated, laughed, sang on the street and on the stage. Your sweat, laughter, heartbeat and shadows make Pride a lovely, shining picture. Hong Kong Pride Parade belongs to you and me, it belongs to us, it belongs to equality, diversity, and to all those who love life and enjoy freedom. Even though we are back to zero, we know your passion is still there. We look forward seeing you at Pride 2011.”
None of which, of course, explains why they could not plan and raise money in 2010, and so leaves the story hanging, though it does confirm that they intend to go on.
19 November 2010 – Fridae
Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, 19 Nov – 1 Dec
by Nigel Collett
Fridae.com’s Hong Kong correspondent, Nigel Collett, meets Joe Lam, Festival Director and the publisher of Hong Kong’s Dim Sum magazine.
It is astonishing how long the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (HKLGFF) has been going. It’s actually the second oldest extant LGBT institution in Hong Kong, having been founded in 1989, three years after the establishment of the Ten Percent Club (Hong Kong’s first gay club, now sadly almost extinct). This was two years before Hong Kong decriminalised homosexuality for men over 21 and it was at the height of the struggle to get the Crime Amendment Bill that finally achieved that through the Legislative Council. Back then, the Festival started out in the basement of the Arts Centre, a handful of films shown for just a few. Brave days and brave people.
It’s got enormous now, though, and has the support of the likes of the British Council, Propaganda (the disco), Volume (the bar), FINDS (the restaurant), GOD (the store) and, of course, Fridae.com. All over their smart new brochure are logos of organisations now queuing to have their brands displayed. The Hong Kong LGBT Interbank Exchange has a whole page ad displaying the logos of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Nomura and UBS. Though it’s not opened its cinema doors every year since the start, the HKLGFF has managed to do so on most years, and in most people’s memory it is always there for the LGBT community in the late autumn of each year. It’s a totally voluntary event, run without profit and for the good of cinema goers, both gay and straight. This year it’s running in Hong Kong’s cinemas from 19 November to 1 December, based, as usual now, around the Broadway Cinematique in Yau Ma Tei, but also elsewhere like Broadway IFC in Central and AMC Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong. You can check out the programme and venues on www.hklgff.hk.
I tracked down Joe Lam, the Festival Director, and one of Hong Kong’s best known gay figures, in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club to talk to him about this year’s programme and to get him to reveal a bit about himself for Fridae.com’s readers. He will forgive me for relating, I hope, that he was looking mightily fatigued.
“I’ve been sleeping only five hours a night for the last three weeks”, he told me, “and we’ve been working on the Festival since April.” I revived him with coffee. “It’s a slightly unusual programme this year”, he went on, “one with more international films (quite a few from South America) and less of the Asian films we usually spotlight. This is because we’ve got some really good films to show from outside Asia, and, strangely, as this year hasn’t been that productive for Asian gay films.”
The opening movie is Christoph Honoré’s Man at Bath, a study of the perverse nature of love and the effect of distance on the heart (and body), starring the very well known French porn star François Sagat, who has now seemingly taken his amazingly tattooed head and rugby player physique into serious film. The Festival closes with Rikki Beadle Blair’s British film FIT, which brings six students together through dance. In between there’s the usual mix of love, lust and documentary, the latter category including Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s biopic of beat poet Allen Ginsberg, a film appropriately named Howl, which stars James Franco, Jon Hamm and Jeff Daniels.
Quite how Joe manages to juggle all this is beyond even my imagining. The films are all viewed by a team of international screeners who work for free in various countries selecting the films. Joe has to watch a lot of the more marginal ones to make the final decision. “So I always get to watch the shit films,” he tells me ruefully.
Then the films have to be hired, shipped here and screened. Joe has a team of eight volunteer helpers in Hong Kong, two in the United States, all by this stage of the year working flat out. There are endless negotiations over cinemas and ticketing, so the brochure (which this year is a particularly fine one) can’t get printed till the last t is crossed. It’s issued for free, and it costs more than HK$30,000 (US$3,900) to print. Then there are guests that have to be brought in and paid for (François Sagat is coming this year; his hotel has not been disclosed so far, so you’ll have to work that out yourself if you fancy stalking him). When shown, the films, of course, have to be paid for, and as cinemas take on average half of the ticket price, it’s obvious the Festival needs to sell all the tickets they have to break even every year. Which, due to the reputation of the Festival, they pretty much do. It’s just as well, as there’s no Government or big cash sponsor to bail them out.
In between doing all this Joe runs his own business as an art director and fashion stylist, in which capacity he advises many of Hong Kong’s entertainment stars. Born in Hong Kong, he trained as a graphic designer, but gradually established himself as a stylist.
“Art and fashion is my passion”, he told me. Making a success of this allowed him to start Dim Sum, Hong Kong’s first gay life style magazine, in 2002. Dim Sum wasn’t the first gay magazine published in Hong Kong. The honour of this goes to the short-lived Contacts magazine published by Barry Brandon between 1992 and 1998. A few other attempts were made to start a journal after that and Hong Kong Magazine’s G Mag (where this correspondent first launched into print) came out in the early part of this decade before it too folded back in 2007.
Dim Sum is the only one to make a commercial success of the genre and Joe’s still its owner and publisher. It’s grown bigger in both size and content over the years and now has a circulation of some 10,000 copies every month. It’s also spread to the net, where it’s read by 28,000 visitors every issue. You can read it yourself at: www.dimsum-hk.com; this month’s edition has an interview with François Sagat. Dim Sum has its serious side, too; it will be campaigning over the near future alongside Mr Gay Hong Kong (for which Joe is a back of house consultant) against homophobic bullying in Hong Kong schools. Dim Sum has become one of the pillars of the Hong Kong LGBT community.
I let Joe dash off, not to rest but to undertake more of all of the above, and went out to buy my tickets for the Festival. You’re going to have to be quick. Many of the main shows are already sold out. You may just have to go to Les Peches’s or Propaganda’s opening and Volume’s closing parties without seeing the films; and then what would you have to talk about?
For the full schedule of films at the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
6 December 2010 – Fridae
Dancing for love: Andy Wong
by Nigel Collett
Fridae.com’s Hong Kong correspondent, Nigel Collett, interviews choreographer and dancer Andy Wong, known throughout Hong Kong’s dancing and gay worlds as Dancing Andy, about his life and work.
World AIDS Day (WAD) is, as you’ll all know, marked every year on the 1st of December, and has been so since 140 Ministers of Health assembled in London for the World Summit on AIDS decided to establish it back in 1988. Each year, a theme is selected to highlight an issue, and the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation (HKAF), which is customarily the organisation which mounts WAD here, focussed this year on the theme “Positive Lives – Art and AIDS”. In addition to their usual activities distributing red ribbons and collecting cash on 1 December, they put together a programme of performances designed to promote the care and support of people living with HIV (PLHIV) and the building of a harmonious society.
This was run during the afternoon and early evening of Saturday 27 November in Central’s biggest public space, Chater Gardens, by the Legislative Council building. The performances, which included a piece entitled ‘Angels’ Footprints’ by Andy Wong and his Dancing Angels (of which I write more below), as well as a street dance by Oh Regent-No, songs by Wonder Singers, a short drama by Drama Wonderland and a mime by Owen Lee. Following on from this was the WAD opening ceremony and candle-light vigil at 5 pm.
Coordinated as it has been for the last ten years by Hong Kong AIDS Foundation, the programme ran from 4 to 6 pm culminating in a candlelight vigil. The venue was decorated by a display of paintings and a locally made quilt, intended to show care and support for those afflicted with HIV.
HKAF was founded in 1991 as a non-governmental social service organisation with the mission of limiting the spread of HIV and supporting PLHIV. They work extensively in Hong Kong and China and their work includes preventive education; support services like HIV testing (see their contact numbers below); and counselling, support groups, referral and case follow-up for PLHIV. HKAF has also run a Mainland Project since 1996, providing capacity building and technical support for mainland NGOs working in the HIV prevention and care field. In 2007, they collaborated in setting up the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation/Chinese Association of STD/AIDS Prevention and Control Collaboration Centre in Beijing.
For the tenth year in succession, HKAF’s WAD programme included a dance performance by the DancingAngels, thirty youngsters from the age of sixteen and up directed by choreographer and dancer Andy Wong, known throughout Hong Kong’s dancing and gay worlds as Dancing Andy. The short show included original songs, dance and interaction with the audience, all on the theme of showing others how to live passionately in this world and how to show kindness to others. I took the opportunity of his preparation for WAD to meet Dancing Andy at the Fringe Club to ask him about his life and work.
First, though, characteristically, he wanted to tell me about Dancing Angels. "This is just one of the groups I’ve created and been involved in", he told me, "though it’s the most active. It’s a real mixture of professional dancers, students, professionals from all walks of life. They’re like my real family on earth", he added, only half-jokingly.
"We started eight years ago, we meet twice a week and go out to perform in the community every month. We put on all sorts of dance theatre pieces regarding social issues such as love-for-pay, HIV, domestic violence, and addictive gambling. We visit homes for the elderly and mentally retarded, hospitals, special schools, even prisons, and of course we perform in secondary schools and out in public in shopping malls and at social events."
Andy took the group to Sichuan after the earthquake and performed for the child victims. They spent two days in the shattered villages there and then endured the three days of rain and floods which followed. “It was scary”, he confessed.
“There was no drinking water, no power, no food. We cleaned up some classrooms in the village we were trapped in by the floods and performed for the villagers. We taught them to dance. They brought candles down to the school and we all sang and danced together. We couldn’t totally understand each other as they spoke only their local dialect but it didn’t matter. It was one of the most touching moments of my life.”
Andy grew up in an artistic family. His mother was a pianist and she wanted him to be the same, but his eyes weren’t good enough to read the music and he skipped classes to dance with the girls. “I was the only boy”, he chuckled, and they let me dance with them. “I kept going till I was twenty and went for an audition for the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. They took me on to dance classical ballet. My family was so angry; only my mother supported me. I was granted two scholarships from the Asian Cultural Council and went to Durham, North Carolina, to the summer American dance festival and toured USA as a visiting artist in 1989 and 1994 respectively. It was the first time I had been exposed to the English-speaking world and it really changed my whole life, as it made me decide to be a contemporary dancer.”