Connie Chan Man-wai (above, left), 34, is a copywriter. Wei Siu-lik (or Ah Lik as she's affectionately known as), 35, is a freelance graphic designer. But together, they're a lesbian couple of four years and probably the most enthusiastic and well-known activists for gay and lesbian rights in Hong Kong. Ah Lik joined as a member in Lui Tung Yuen, a Hong Kong organisation that served as a meeting place for lesbians from 1996 to 1999. There she met Connie who was one of the founding members of that organisation - the perfect formula for a political and romantic pair.
Connie and Ah Lik both have an impressive portfolio of political movements: they led the July 1 march in 2005 in Hong Kong with many other GLBT and women's organisations to raise the awareness of love and equality. They also organised the IDAHO march in Hong Kong in 2005 and 2006 with other activists. Connie and Ah Lik talk to Fridae about fighting for gay and lesbian rights as a team, their political views and getting married in Canada.
æ: How did you start fighting for gay and lesbian rights in Hong Kong?
Connie: I started quite early when I was a member of the 1/10 Club, a long-standing gay and lesbian society that does advocacy work for Hong Kong's GLBT community. It was 1993. I mostly organised recreational activities for our lesbian and bisexual women members. It was a perfect time to discuss our rights because homosexuality was decriminalised in 1991 - the local GLBT community had a general sense of enthusiasm about their own rights. And everyone hoped that the anti-discrimination law would be passed by 1997, a turning point of Hong Kong's recent history. That's how I became more and more active with fighting for the rights of sexual minorities.
Ah Lik: I was a late starter - I was just a member of Lui Tung Yuen until 2003, when Connie and I co-founded the Women Coalition (WC), an organisation that is now very active in the GLBT political scene in Hong Kong. In the beginning, WC was doing mostly cultural activities, such as dramas and forums, to raise awareness and deal with coming-out issues. We however did get a lot of publicity as we were often interviewed by local newspapers.
æ: Why do you think the gay movements in Hong Kong haven't been more active?
Connie: I can't say Hong Kong is very far behind in its gay movements. Say, Billy Leung who won the age of consent case for men in 2005 - that created a big echo effect all over Asia. Taiwan hardly has any anti-discrimination concept. The Home Affairs Bureau has put in HK$500,000 (US$64,300) to promote anti-discrimination for sexual minorities. But yes, most people in Hong Kong are pretty indifferent to their own rights and that needs to be changed.
Ah Lik: I think the indifference is a fruit of the seeds planted during the colonial background of Hong Kong, as everything was planned for and implemented for us. We aren't used to having any say in any legislation and policies.
æ: What can you do to change that then?
Connie: People need to vote for pro-gay or gay-friendly Legislative Councilors, and they in turn will propose changes in the legal system that are in favour of GLBT rights in Hong Kong. But to do that, people need to register as voters first. I often go to gay and lesbian bars to tell people there to register.
Ah Lik: I can already think of a few gay-friendly Legislative Councilors: "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, Cyd Ho, Audrey Yu and Fernando Cheng.
æ: Parents who accept their children as gay or lesbian often find it difficult to accept that they are both gay and politically active. We know that you two are both out to your parents, but what do they have to say about your work?
Connie: One day my uncle saw my interview in a newspaper. He immediately called my mom and said, "Why is she 'like this' even when she's so well-educated?" My mom then taught him a lesson. She said to him that I was fighting for other people's rights, which was a very noble thing. In fact, my mom secretly keeps my news clippings. So I know that she's very supportive.
Ah Lik: My mom knows about my heavy involvement in gay and lesbian politics in Hong Kong but she keeps warning me not to be involved in anything anti-China due to political reasons.
æ: What is it like to be working together as a team while in a relationship? What are the pros and cons?
Ah Lik: Our friends call us "colleagues" rather than lovers.
Connie: Yes, the good thing about it is we can discuss all of our ideas and visions 24/7. And to us, fighting for our rights is passion, not work. We love the fact that we can talk it almost anytime we want. And to be honest, it's difficult to find a lover that shares the same passion as mine, especially a passion that requires you to be very public and totally out. My ex-es were more low profile and one of the reasons we broke up was because gay activism often takes up so much of my time and we didn't have much time together as my ex-es were not involved. It's good to have Ah Lik with me all the time.
Ah Lik: But then when it comes to public holidays, they'd be our workdays, such as July First (handover day in Hong Kong, which is a public holiday). Also right before Valentine's Day we got so many interviews from the press about "How're you going to celebrate?" and Connie will have to tell the reporter in front of me. What's the fun of it!
æ: How do you resolve political differences?
Connie: I'd say we're 70 per cent compatible. But when it comes to differences, we will have to learn to accept people's different opinions. It's often not for us to decide whose idea to adopt - it's the committee, such as that of Women's Coalition or IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia).
Ah Lik: In fact, the committee is so used to seeing us fight and argue in meetings. They'd watch us fight. But we always come to some sort of agreement. We'd never dig out personal stuff for the sake of argument though.
æ: Tell us more about your plans to get married in Canada.
Connie: Ah Lik is "the one." Gay and lesbian couples in Hong Kong are not used to the idea of getting married as marriage is not available to them. I'm already in my 30's and I do feel responsible for Ah Lik. Besides, even after we get married in Canada, we know that the certificate won't be recognised in Hong Kong for a long while - so we're not getting married in order to enjoy the rights, such as tax and spousal benefits, that straight married couples are entitled here. But we won't give up easily.
Ah Lik: I don't have many relatives - Connie is my family. She is someone whom I've been living with for the last three years. So I think we should be given some sort of recognised title, i.e. marriage. And I'm so angry we won't be recognised in Hong Kong.
æ: Are you optimistic about the "gay future" of Hong Kong?
Ah Lik: It'd be very difficult to get Hong Kong's government to marry gay and lesbian people here. I'm not too hopeful.
Connie: Also, Stephen Fisher, a gay-friendly secretary of the Home Affairs Bureau who has been so supportive of the local gay movements, has just been transferred to another department - and in comes a less open secretary. I just worry that the government would be much less pro-active in terms of their support when it comes to money and policy-making.
æ: Would you rather live in somewhere you can enjoy more rights and benefits, such as Canada?
Connie: No, because I love Hong Kong.
Ah Lik: I am very happy to stay here.
Catch Connie in Toronto at the XVI International AIDS Conference from 13-18 August 2006 where Women Coalition of HKSAR, Proud of Lesbos: Rainbow of Hong Kong and F'Union are jointly presenting Brazen Women: Hong Kong Women who have Same-Sex Desires - An Oral History Project. Booth 621, AIDS 2006 Global Village.