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4 Oct 2013

Sexual minority rights in HK obstructed by Christian churches

The Hong Kong government is said to have conducted its own surveys in 2012, which found that a majority of respondents support having a law against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, though the results of the survey remain a secret. Fridae's Hong Kong correspondent Nigel Collett outlines what's stopping the government from implementing anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTs.

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Hong Kong is a secular society proud of the equality enshrined in its Basic Law and legal system. Its population is educated and sophisticated. It is one of the most civilized places in the world to live.

Yet in one area, none of this is so. If you are one of the estimated 5 percent (about 300,000 people) whose sexual orientation or gender identity is different from that of the majority, you can expect to live a life marred by prejudice. True, no one gets tied to a fence and beaten to death here for being gay, but the harm discrimination does is real, even if it takes less extreme forms.

In 2012, NGO Community Business carried out the most thorough survey of public opinion on this issue to date. It found that 85 percent of the general public felt that Hong Kong needed to be more inclusive. 80 percent believed that LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) individuals needed to be treated more fairly at work. Of those individuals polled who self-identified as LGBT, 77 percent said they had been treated disrespectfully at work and 40 percent claimed their careers had suffered. To avoid this, 71 percent confessed that they had been forced to lie about their sexual orientation.

LGBT people are forced to hide in the closet. The effect of this is an estimated 30 percent reduction in work efficiency, according to Barclays Bank. More insidiously, hiding allows those who seek to deny LGBT people equal treatment to say that there really isn't a problem at all.

There is, of course, a big problem, one with hidden costs. Living a lie stunts development and warps character. Abuse and disrespect scar victims' psyche. Being treated as if you are different hurts; most would do anything to avoid it. Exhausting attempts to hide prevent people from reaching their full potential; they are always holding themselves back. The closet approach loses business money.

Yet until LGBT people are protected by law from discrimination, they will have no protection from dismissal or maltreatment at work, from eviction, from being refused access to a loved one in hospital, from rude and discriminatory treatment in commercial outlets. It is just not safe for most LGBT people to be open about themselves in Hong Kong. Small wonder that Community Business found that 57 percent of people say they do not know a single person who is LGBT.

Hong Kong has laws to ensure equal treatment in matters of sex, family status, disability and race. Why not, then, protect our sexual minorities? The government has been telling us for a long time that, whilst it recognizes the justice of the arguments for protection, it will not act because of "a lack of consensus". This is never an argument for failing to protect minorities, though in itself it may once have been true.

No more. The sands of public opinion have shifted beneath the government's feet. Its line is now a lie that has been exposed by survey after survey. Community Business found that 58 percent of Hong Kong people were "accepting" of LGBT individuals. The survey conducted for Legislative Council (LegCo) member Cyd Ho Sau-lan found that 75.2 percent of respondents thought that there should be a law against discrimination on grounds of sexuality. It is now widely known that the government conducted its own surveys in late 2012, which found similar figures, though it kept both that fact and the results secret.

Yet in his first policy address in January 2013 Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying refused even to allow public consultation on the issue. He was, it seems, advised that it would be just too difficult a fight. How could this be? The government accepts the need to protect its minorities. The public, it is clear, now does too. There can be only one reason for this failure to act, and that is the power of the opposition.


Some 5,000 anti-gay protesters from Christian right groups converged
outside the Hong Kong government’s headquarters in Tamar, Central
on Sunday, Jan 13, 2013 to rally against the enactment of
anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ individuals.

Who is this opposition? We have to be clear about this; there is only one source of opposition to reform, and that is the majority of Hong Kong's Christian churches. They alone demonstrate against LGBT rights outside government offices. They alone spend money to place their views in newspapers and on billboards. Only their priests galvanize their congregations; and their teachers the parents of the children they teach to lobby government. The fundamentalist Protestant churches and their proxy organizations do this openly. The Roman Catholic Church does so quietly behind the scenes.

There is no mistaking the power these churches have to influence government. The schools, medical institutions and welfare organizations financed and run by Christian churches place them in powerful positions in the most crucial areas of society. Many of the Christians who are to be found in key posts in public service and politics are not afraid to exercise their influence to allow discrimination to continue. To them, issues of human rights and protection from harm count not at all; the belief that same-sex relationships are a sin is all that counts. That is why, despite its much-vaunted code of employment practice, the government is one of the most discriminatory employers in Hong Kong. It is just not possible to be an openly gay teacher, a bisexual social worker or a lesbian doctor in most of our schools, welfare departments or hospitals.

Why adherents of a religion that preaches universal love should contradict itself by discriminating against a weak and helpless minority is a deep question for another day. What is abundantly clear, though, is that Christianity has a hold upon Hong Kong's government that makes a mockery of its claim to be governing a fair society based upon the rights enshrined in its constitution.

If we are to bring an end to the harm that certain twisted Christian beliefs are doing now to Hong Kong's minorities, Christian opposition to a law against discrimination must be faced down.

Nigel Collett is Fridae's Hong Kong correspondent. In 2008 he was appointed English secretary of the Pink Alliance, Hong Kong's largest grouping of LGBT organizations and he remains prominent in LGBT activism in that post. He was a founder in 2011 of Hong Kong's Pink Season, the annual celebration of LGBT culture.

The article was first published by the Hong Kong-edition of China Daily on Oct 3, 2013 and is republished with permission.

Reader's Comments

1. 2013-10-04 22:01
Giving these so-called Christian churches what is effectively a veto over human rights can be seen as a form of corruption.
2. 2013-10-04 23:25
Let's step into the religion arena for a moment, shall we? If god made us all, then why is the church fighting one of god's groups of children? I mean, if the church worships god as they claim, doesn't it seem hypocritical and contrite to act they way they do? Has church lost its way? Do we need to "reform" the church? Hmmm
Maybe the power the church was given by the people needs to be revoked.

I say power to the people and down with the people that twist religion to promote their own ideals and beliefs which has nothing to do with god or religion. Shame on them; keep it up and they may not get into heaven for going against gods will. Just things to think about...........

I was tortured by a grandfather that was a baptist preacher. He loved his "flock" and church way more that he loved his family. I believe I know where he is now and it pretty hot.
3. 2013-10-05 14:49
The same ol' same ol' it seems... where the fringes of a religion advocate and proselytize under the assumption of being the singular righteous moral compass for the state.

It does lead you to wonder why the hoi polloi are okay with letting 12% of the population dictate manners like this- of basic human principle.
4. 2013-10-06 00:20
The hypocrisy of these most un-christian of christians is astounding. It is almost humorous to listen to them complain about how they are persecuted. Too bad the Romans didn't have more lions.
5. 2013-10-06 16:31
I cant believe this religiouse people and now we are in year 2013.
Did we read the same book, i read many years ago?
The religiouse books is only about LOVE.
Nothing about HATE!
Some people make it like HATE...and thats sad.
So Hong Kong LGBT, hope people in your country will see a "rainbow" of beautiful people with lot of LOVE.
We support you, all around the world!
In the end i say like Bob Marley: Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Comment #6 was deleted by an administrator on 2013-10-07 14:06
7. 2013-10-07 05:56
It's interesting to read from time to time of the insidious role of 'Christian' churches in Hong Kong. In other words, of the sort of evangelistic fundamentalism that doesn't exist in my country - Ireland (still incorrectly seen by many foreigners as a super religious country and society, which is, yet isn't, true) - and yet which has settled in for the long haul in Hong Kong, seemingly.

Considering the complex societal divisions with certain (fading) religious fault lines found within my own country/people, perhaps it's fair for me to point out that HK is a political entity that has a primary purpose to be a secular state - that is, that its leaders, policy-makers, advisers, community leaders, analysts, experts and so on have an unshakeable duty to respect, value and support Religion - by whatever flavour, and certainly not just the majority one - BUT its actions and deisions Must be secular.

Rules made for the betterment of All of HK's citizens, of any belief - or none - as well as the whole gamut of equality issues, which also include LGBT rights. Regardless of objections from the Church - or any religion - HK's rulers must legislate to drive forward a modern, progressive and inclusive society, which includes supporting LGBT people, and fostering meaningful equality, step by step.

My own country is a mess for many reasons, with **much** to criticise about our people, leaders and culture - however, one thing we're doing right is that Ireland continues to make progressive, meaningful steps towards LGBT rights. (Which is why civil ceremonies for gay men/lesbians are on the rise here, while widespread polls show a majority approval for full gay marriage - something that is expected to pop up in a future Referendum soon enough.)

None of this is to say: "Oh, aren't the Irish great..." Not at all. However, it bears some sharp reflection that a country that's ostensibly much, *much* religious than Hong Kong has ever been - our many historical graveyards and battlefields are littered with the bones of countless men who died in battles led by religious ideologies - well, if religious Ireland can have all kinds of government-led laws and policies to protect and normalise LGBT people (with more work to do, of course), how the hell can Hong Kong's legislators claim to be constrained by 'Christian' concerns?

Frankly, That doesn't wash with This Irishman...
8. 2013-10-07 11:40
We must stand togethers to protect lgbt and fight for justice. ?.
9. 2013-10-07 11:41
Go go go lgbt
10. 2013-10-07 15:20
COURT ASKED TO DECLARE ON EMPLOYMENT EQUALITY IN SINGAPORE

This media release out at 7:00PM Friday, 4 Oct, 2013 on Trevvy.com :

As equality laws are being revised worldwide, the Singapore courts have been petitioned to declare that Constitutional equality should apply in the workplace.

Lawrence Wee Kim San was recently dismissed by Robinsons, the iconic department store, on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In a historic application, Wee, a former senior management executive, is applying to the High Court here to declare that Article 12 should apply to all forms of discrimination at work.

The city state, heavily dependent on high-skilled labour, has sought to make Singapore attractive to professionals. In recent years, the economy has stepped up efforts to stem the outflow of Singaporean and foreign professionals, attracted by rapid development in neighbouring countries.

In May 2011, at the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Review, the Singapore government declared, “The principle of equality of all persons before the law is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Wee’s application, widely regarded as a test case, is expected to declare the law in respect of workplace discrimination. Having significant implications for labour relations, it will be watched closely when it is heard in November.

A group of concerned citizens, calling themselves Article 12 Non-discrimination @ Workplace Committee, have come together to support the application. Dr Roy Tan, a spokesperson for the committee said, “Our name makes reference to the Constitutional provision that entitles everybody to equal protection of the law.”

Wee’s lawyers noted, “With the challenge before the Court, Mr Wee, on behalf of all Singaporeans, is seeking a declaration that Article 12 should be interpreted to confirm the government’s position that all persons, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, are indeed and in fact protected by Singapore’s employment laws.”

Dr Tan added, “In the coming days, the Article 12 Non-discrimination @ Workplace Committee will release further information on the campaign and opportunities for like-minded individuals to show their support.”

For further information, please contact Article 12 Non-discrimination @ Workplace Committee at: article12campaign@gmail.com.

Trevvy:This declaration on employment equality is of great importance largely because it directly concerns the bread and butter of members within our community. We hope that you will do your part to spread the message, support the cause and for a workplace without discrimination.
11. 2013-10-07 23:53
It takes decades for women to establish their right and equality in the society. Human right is something everyone should fight for. Now it is our turn for LGBT to fight for our equality and right. It is crucial for all of us to support each other to make this happens!
12. 2013-10-11 18:06
As if we didn't have enough bother with Islamic fundamentalists we have the other lot, so called "Christians" ruling the roost in HK.
It never ceases to amaze me how these religious minorities weald such power.
Its bad enough in avowedly non-secular states but is quite unacceptable in s secular state like HK.
Deary deary me. So upsetting and downright unfair.

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