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14 Feb 2011

Lies, damned lies and government surveys

Fridae.com’s Hong Kong correspondent, Nigel Collett, discusses a disturbing survey report by the Hong Kong Women’s Commission.

On 23 November last year, the following report appeared online on the M&G News site:

Survey: Majority of Hong Kong people does not accept homosexuality

More than seven out of 10 Hong Kong people regard homosexuality as unacceptable in society, according to a social survey released Tuesday.

Homosexual relationships were unacceptable, 72.4 per cent of respondents said in the survey of 3,000 people. Only 8.5 per cent of men and 13.7 per cent of women said they could accept homosexuality in society. Among people aged 18 to 34, 22.6 per cent of women and 11.8 per cent of men said homosexuality was acceptable. Around 65 per cent of people in that younger age group said homosexuality was unacceptable. The survey by the government-funded Women's Commission shows stubbornly traditional views on personal morality in the city, where many gays keep their sexual orientation secret from their families.

This report was prompted by a press release which had emanated a few days before from the Women’s Commission (WoC), a QUANGO (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation) established by the Hong Kong Government, according to their website,

to enable women in Hong Kong to fully realise their due status, rights and opportunities in all aspects of life.

Between February and May 2010, Policy 21, a subsidiary of Hong Kong University, acting as consultants for the WoC, had carried out a survey in which 3,000 women and men were interviewed face-to-face (with a response rate of 66%) to answer the question: What do Women and Men in Hong Kong Think About the Status of Women at Home, Work and in Social Environments?

Innocuous enough, one might think, as were the vast majority of the survey’s reported results. But one paragraph of the English survey results, Paragraph 3.5, was anything but. It said:

Same-sex relationship was still generally unacceptable in the society

3.5 Concerning the acceptability of homosexuality in the society, over 70% (72.4%) of persons said they found homosexual relationship unacceptable. More women (13.7%) than men (8.5%) accepted homosexuality, but they were still a minority. A relatively higher proportion of those who indicated acceptance of homosexuality were in the younger age group of 18-34 years old. Among them, more women (22.6%) than men (11.8%) expressed acceptance. This notwithstanding, 66.8% of males and 64.1% of females in this age group indicated that they did not accept homosexuality.

For those with knowledge of the recent history of the Hong Kong Government’s policies towards the LGBT community, this survey result was alarming. The Government continues to refuse publicly to implement the obligations it undertook when it signed a series of UN human rights conventions, obligations which include enacting legislation to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It does this because, it claims, there is no consensus in Hong Kong society for such reform, and it bases its views upon survey results and the mound of anti-LGBT hate mail it receives from the religious right. Apparently, here was yet another piece of ammunition for the Government and opponents of the LGBT community to use to deny the latter its rights.

The survey was doubly dangerous in that it appeared to show not only a dismally poor level of acceptance of homosexuality in Hong Kong society, but actually a worsening trend. Back in 2006, a Government sponsored survey (the results can be viewed here in PDF) was carried out by Market Research and Transport Planning, a consultant. It found, based on results from 2,040 telephone respondents, that:

  • 47% said homosexuality was normal.
  • 41% said it did not conflict with family values.
  • 49% said it did not conflict with the morals of the city.
  • 78.9% accepted gay people as colleagues.
  • 78% accepted them as neighbours.
  • 77.5% accepted them as work superiors.
  • 76.1% accepted them as friends.
  • 60.2% accepted them as teachers.
  • 40% accepted them as family members.

Whilst still not a cause for rejoicing, the 2006 survey did give cause for quiet satisfaction and showed that the views of Hong Kong’s generally conservative society were moving in the right direction. As recently as 1996, for instance a similar survey had found that over 95% of the population opposed legislation to outlaw discrimination, and it was that survey which had stymied efforts then underway in the Legislative Council to introduce such legislation. The Hong Kong Government kept pretty quiet about the 2006 results.

In May 2005, to keep the UN off its back, the Government established the Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Unit (GISOU) inside the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. Its website is at cmab.gov.hk/en/issues/equal_gender.htm. It was set up supposedly:

to enhance the equal opportunities for people of different sexual orientation and transgendered persons.

In its almost six year lifetime, GISOU has achieved nothing other than to design a few posters, create a crossword competition and alienate the entire LGBT community by inviting an ‘ex-gay’ organisation, New Creation (a christian-funded body advocating ‘reparative therapy’) to join the Sexual Minorities Forum (SMF). This is a council that meets several times a year and was intended to be the forum in which the Government meets the LGBT community. The SMF was at its inception a very small acorn and the Government has deliberately planted a worm at its core. GISOU itself is, in fact, a fig leaf for Government inactivity and history makes it plain that the Government is not exactly impartial in the way it interprets ‘public consensus’. At its best, Government policy can be interpreted as ‘anything for a quiet life’. At its worst, many suspect that Government policy is swayed by far too great a Christian influence inside the ranks of its officials.

So the survey results seemed a windfall for the LGBT community’s fundamentalist enemies and for the Hong Kong Government’s policy of perpetual delay.

Things were not, though, exactly as they seemed. Swift research found that the Chinese version of the survey (which, of course, was the original, as the research was conducted in Cantonese) mentioned ‘homosexuality’ nowhere, and that where the English version has ‘homosexuality’ the Chinese reads ‘same sex partnership’. Was this a slip or something more sinister? The reputation of the WoC amongst the LGBT community prior to this incident had not been good; it was seen as a bureaucratic and unresponsive arm of the Government, though one perhaps, that could still be credited with possessing good feminist intentions. The community was not, though, about to credit it with anything positive without confirmation. In December, Hong Kong’s LGBT alliance, the Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM), took up the cudgels and attempted to open a dialogue with the WoC; to date it has had no response at all to requests for either public clarification of the survey results or for a meeting.

The TCJM took the issue up at the SMF held in December. Perhaps as a result of GISOU’s committing itself at that meeting to further the investigation, on 11 February the WoC amended the English published survey results. Yet, they still did not get it right. Instead of reference to ‘homosexuality’, Paragraph 3.5 of the survey results now refers to ‘same-sex relationship’. The amended version can be seen in full here.

No public announcement of this change was made and no explanation was given. Of course, this is no benefit at all to those seeking to repair the damage done by the original wording, for the meaning is little different from the first mis-translation. What the Chinese survey reports as a majority antipathetic to ‘same-sex partnerships’ - ie to an officially recognised form of partnership bringing legal rights and responsibilities approximate to marriage - now reads in the English as a hostility to same-sex relationships, ie homosexuality by another name.

The issue is by no means ended. The TCJM is determined that this error should not go into the record for use in future against the community. It continues to seek a meeting with the WoC and intends to initiate a campaign against the mis-reported survey if the WoC gives no adequate response.

I should add that Fridae.com has sought on four separate occasions to interview a representative from the WoC or to elicit a comment from them. To date, we have received not even an acknowledgement of our communications.

If lines are ever opened with WoC, it will be possible to make some evaluation of their survey’s methodology. This may yet reveal something of importance even in the reported disapproval of same-sex partnerships. It is now recognised in academia that opinion poll results differ greatly depending on the words chosen for a survey’s questions. For instance, responses to ‘homosexuals’ have been found to differ from those to ‘gay men’ and ‘lesbians.’ Phrasing survey questions in a way that focusses on people instead of on abstract phenomena may adversely affect results, for it is possible that respondents in Hong Kong are less accepting of abstract phenomena (eg ‘same-sex partnerships’) than they are of people (‘gays’ or ‘tongzhi’). Focussing attention on people helps to humanise issues; note that the 2006 government survey's questions on acceptability focussed on people. Furthermore, face to face interviews on socially-sensitive topics may produce different results from those produced by more anonymous methods allowing respondents to be more truthful. How Policy 21 went about its task, we just don’t know.

Until the WoC comes out of its closet, the validity of its survey, even on the subject of Hong Kong’s views of same-sex partnerships, will remain to be determined.

Correction: The article has been corrected to read that "3,000 women and men were interviewed face-to-face (with a response rate of 66%) to answer the question: What do Women and Men in Hong Kong Think About the Status of Women at Home, Work and in Social Environments?"

Hong Kong

Reader's Comments

1. 2011-02-14 21:59  
Hahaha..the women are just afraid of losing their men to other men. After all, in nature, the male is more attractive. The women...aah....are just 'made up!'
2. 2011-02-14 21:59  
Who cares whether they find it acceptable or not, since the private lives of people is nobody's business.
3. 2011-02-14 22:10  
Who gives a shit what Hong Kong think... ask them Hong Kong people if they accept Jews, or blacks, Arabs, mentally disabled, physically disabled... Ask them if they want to their children to marry a white or another from an other race... ask Hong Kong people if their children should have a say in their lives...

There are prejudices everywhere... 70% against? Hey, wow! that's great progress!

Comment #4 was deleted by its author on 2011-02-15 08:55
5. 2011-02-14 23:18  
my mum is a homophobe.. -_-"
6. 2011-02-14 23:22  
i imagine, if gay men had been surveyed, the results would have been similar...the majority would find opposite sex relationships unacceptable (for themselves). surveys, statistics...leave them in the hands of the misguided and what do you get? in most cases, Dr. Seuss is more factual reading. :-(
7. 2011-02-15 00:39  
ya i dun really care abt statistic or expert's say that much now a day.
8. 2011-02-15 02:46  
Well, to have stats vary by a factor of almost 4, in five years, is way suspicious. Perhaps even the calculations themselves were gun-decked ... and often the wording of the question can have major effects...
Comment #9 was deleted by its author on 2011-02-15 04:59
10. 2011-02-15 04:59  
The survey results don't surprise me in the least.
Out of every 10 HK-ers I meet 9 of them are not only homophobic, but incredibly racist...sometimes disturbingly so.
11. 2011-02-15 05:21  
confused..how did they go from interviewing 3000 women to getting what '8.5 per cent of men' think? how did they sample their participants? how were the questions phrased? unless they are more open about their methodology, which is standard for academia, i don't see how anyone can take the results seriously, except to confirm what they already believe in. but i am curious as to why more women than men are 'accepting' of homosexuality. i would love to see a proper survey done in singapore.
12. 2011-02-15 08:54  
No offence to the Hongkong people. I used to live and work in that former British colony. They appear to me as a group of sad , bitter and most of all pathetic people who complaints a lot.

I think it's got to do with the tight , small and congested environment they live in. Don't get me wrong , I have many nice and friendly friends from there , but they still portray that personality trait especially the ladies. Anyway it's just my 2 cents. And it's my own personal opinion. You can beg to differ.

Now that they are back to the mainland , they tend to be slightly better. Have a great day !
13. 2011-02-15 09:14  
yeah I agree I never give any credence to surveys, they target a particular demograhic to get a required out come and I have noticed how come I never get questioned? political motivated surveys are questionable in the least , I suspect the Government there is corrupt any way they are just
lackeys to the Communist dictatorship in the Imperial capital of Peking who hold onto power ruthlessly, wouldn't it be nice if Tunisia's & Egypt's example spilled over into China, Iran and Burma to name but a few deserving candidates but then I guess just more blatant murdering of their populations would take place I'll never forgive those rotten communists in Peking for the 1984 massacre of young Chinese patriots at Tianamen Square never will... string 'em all up I say or in the old tradition 'Off with their heads and put them on spikes lining roads leading into the city' throw 'em to the Lions like the Romans did christians and hunt them down to the last dying cronies like the Cambodians do the Khmer Rouge murderers or the brave Israelis do with nazis and Islamic terrorists.
Comment edited on 2011-02-15 09:26:00
14. 2011-02-15 10:13  
One would presume that the Chinese media reported the survey results correctly - i.e. that the majority of Hong Kong people do not accept same-sex partnerships - with legal papers and such. So what is the problem really? The majority of people in Hong Kong, Cantonese speaking folk, would read the Chinese press; they were the ones who took part in the survey, and I would assume that much of the debate about same-sex relationships and partnerships would be conducted in Cantonese anyway. I don't see an issue here.
15. 2011-02-15 10:18  
Zactooh #2 has summed it up perfectly ... what people do in their private lives has nothing to do with anyone else. But like good chinese everywhere the Honkies would rather interfere in other people's lives than sort out their own problems
16. 2011-02-15 10:23  
Who really gives a shit what a survey says especially in a place like HK.I lived there from 1986-2009 and found most HK Chinese double faced and racist towards anything that did not fit into what they consider the "norm".Yet behind closed doors they do almost everything they resent or don't accept when asked.
17. 2011-02-15 11:12  
Tyranny of the majority is not in the nature of HK society. Hong kong has been a bastion indeed a shining example of individual liberty which is the root of its vast success. Hong Kong has been a place moderated by a constitution that emphasizes the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, and which places constraints on the leaders and on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised against the rights of minorities.

There is no logical excuse to exclude the rights of competent adults in their personal decisions on whom to love. Nor is there any possible way (without employing religious dogma) to interpret the actions of those adults as harmful to the society.

In short, as many above have said, such public opinion is irrelevant to secular justice.
18. 2011-02-15 12:30  
I dont think we should blame them ...its all about lack of exposure ..lack of awareness in education , society , workplace and public in general ...

for someone who is unaware ..their perceptions are shaped by what they heard (which might not be representative, which might not be accurate or even biased) , they seen in movies perhaps (where gays are often being stereotyped, generalised and reduced to laughing stock) and what other people (who are as misinformed as they are) told them ...

if you asked them list of questions where they do not really know on
where it is a taboo for the culture, for society and most family prefer to sweep under the carpet ...what is the point , may I ask ? only when they experience some sort of discrimination and start to think like a human being ( stealing from Dalai Lama ..."we are all the same" ...yearning for love, care, acceptance, company , happiness etc etc )

do not judge otherwise we too will be judged , with the measure we used , it will be measured to you ...discrimination should be on all front not just for specific group ...becare we are all human being

~ Metta

19. 2011-02-15 16:02  
its no surprise to me since I know some HK chinese.
20. 2011-02-15 16:17  
Being gay is not a lifestyle choice its just how people are...like having brown eyes or blue, or being Jewish or black or Caucasian its just how you are born, so for anybody to say they "accept" or not is pure and utter bigotry, such people should wear swastikas and "come out" as the real nazi's that they are.
21. 2011-02-15 16:17  

93% of gay men in Hong Kong said they found women unacceptable. 53% said women in Hong Kong were rude and had bad manners, 23% said HK women had no fashion sense, a surprisingly large 15% said women stink, especially in the third quarter, and 4% of the gay men interviewed said they could not respond, as they had never seen one.

Lee Hong How summed up attitudes when he said in answer to the question: how do you feel about women? "I just don't see the point of them, frankly."
22. 2011-02-15 16:48  
Gee... What are they trying to do? Create more hate crimes?
23. 2011-02-15 18:33  
oh my god!!
i thought HK gay precedes other members in Asian besides Thailand.
HK got Mr.Gay, and regularly people buzz about gay issues amongst on air media, print media...
Now... i guess Singapore is on 1st runner up for gay rights publicly...
24. 2011-02-15 20:13  
I should point out that this article only gives one side of the story. That said, assuming it's largely true, it does indeed raise several alarming points, and not just about the organisations tasked with taking care of Hong Kong's (broadly) 'gay' community.

Do they really have religious groups buried within them? This can't be right, surely?

Governments in progressive societies are overwhelmingly secular in nature; very aware of and respectful of religion and Faith, no matter the hues, but secular nonetheless. They must be - the moment that one God, or all, start affecting policies and decision-making, you automatically start discriminating against citizens and minority groups. If there's a particularly dodgy 'Christian' group involved in shaping a Governmental department's policies etc, that is Very alarming.

Not only that, but Governments have to sometimes ignore the general feeling of the population to drive forward progressive, ppositive change. If a survey - which are Always open to intrepretation, and Always flawed - says that most people in HK were against homosexuality, that sends a clear signal to the government - it has to change this outlook. Otherwise, it's not fulfilling its (secular) duty of care to treat all citizens EQUALLY, and fostering acceptance of a group that is regularly disciminated against.

Aren't there equality groups in Hong Kong? I mean, not gay equality group, but simply Any general equality groups? This is the kind of call to action that they need; to change things for the better and truly create a fairer, more balanced society in HK, where All citizens are equal...
25. 2011-02-16 11:43  
A true story..............when I lived in HK I had offered to donate some of my spare time to work with the largest government backed HK gay organization.This offer was based on my years of experience in NYC working with the LGBT community.I attended some meetings and found that the leader of the group was so uninformed about the needs of the LGBT community.The icing on the cake was when she asked for locations to give out free condoms on AIDS Day.I included prisons,saunas and public toilets which are 3 of the top locations for most gay HK men. Her retort was that there is no gay sex allowed in HK prisons (DUH) and that the saunas were for relaxing (DUH) and that it would be embarrassing to hand out condoms at public toilets(DUH). Needless to say that was the end of my offer to donate valuable spare time.
26. 2011-02-16 13:03  
Many of these posts hit the nail on the head. The problem is that many HK people have little to no exposure to the outside world.
27. 2011-02-16 17:05  
This is hardly surprising. The Chinese culture is traditionally very conformist. Perhaps all the radicals have been eliminated from the breeding stock by execution over the centuries???

I am not surprise they frown on anything non-main stream. How many parents would welcome their children becoming rock stars, or even *gasp* choose not to dye their hair, choose a non mainstream career (perhaps one that is based on living a good life and not making money) or refusing to buy brand name clothing?

Civilisation is still a long time coming.
28. 2011-02-16 22:57  
# 12: Quote " They appear to me as a group of sad , bitter and most of all pathetic people who complaints a lot.."

That reminds me of...the Old World Brits LOL
29. 2011-02-16 23:39  
#13 atzlan_oz: For someone who does not live in HK and neither understands Cantonese or Mandarin, I'd say yr comments are at best that of a pompous ass. Just like...OLD WORLD BRITS!!! LOL
Oops sorry...forgot you're Aussie...bt still, blood is thicker than water, no?
30. 2011-02-17 02:14  
hahaha, lol... troll-la-la
31. 2011-02-17 10:36  
to faceless contributor..'Bains' as we say here..."what ever.".. roll of eyes at pitiful attempts at 'cutting commentry' you should F.U.C.K buddy (Friends U Can Keep) up with Kumabro_oz between the two of you you may come up with some thing half less pitiful to cut me 'down to size' but I even doubt that.
32. 2011-03-27 12:52  
hk is a seriously fucked up place. it's pretty sad that they are so economically and technologically advanced but they still behind thailand and even china in the open mindedness.

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