Under blazing skies, in high humidity and temperatures up in the low thirties centigrade, Hong Kong’s LGBT groups commemorated the 8th International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Central’s Chater Gardens during the afternoon of Saturday 14 May. Somewhere around 500 to 600 people turned up to register their support during the two hour programme which kicked off at 3.15 pm, though at any one time the crowd was at a maximum of about 350.
In Hong Kong, the organisation of the IDAHOT event continues to be led by the Pink Alliance, a grouping of various LGBT organisations and individuals which has been doing this work for the last three years, along with many others in the LGBT community here.
The Organising Committee, headed by Michael Lam and Reggie Ho, had decided to alter the name of the event this year by adding a ‘T’ to the old acronym IDAHO. “It was time to make it plain that this event is equally about transphobia, which is, if anything, nastier and more dangerous worldwide than homophobia”, Lam commented.
“The slogan for the day was ‘What To Fear?’, which we thought would address both sides of the issue; people often discriminate out of ignorance and fear of the unknown, and discrimination cannot be eliminated unless we conquer our own fear and stand up to bigotry,” added Ho.
Anthony Wong. Photo by Magie Tang/ Facebook
Photo at top of page: Evan Steer/ Facebook
To drive this message home, one really prominent Hong Kong figure was present to show that he had just overcome his own fears by coming out on stage; the Cantopop star, singer and song writer, Anthony Wong Yiu Ming spoke of how he had at last decided to live openly as a gay man and to banish the fears that had hitherto held him back. He ended the event by singing two songs for the crowd with the passion of a man who was free at last.
One was his own song "Forbidden Colours", written in 1991 when he could not be open about what it really meant. This year’s IDAHOT was the first public LGBT event Wong has attended as an openly gay man, and the media scrum that surrounded his visit was evident of the huge effect this news has had in Hong Kong. Wong seems to have started a trend; TV and radio personality Suzie Wong came out in public for the first time here on the morning of the IDAHOT commemoration.
The event was also a new departure in its inclusion of messages of political support from politicians of a wide spectrum of political views. Legislative Councillors Audrey Eu, founder of the Civic Party, and Cyd Ho and Lee Cheuk Yan, founders of the Labour Party, were present in force to speak of the need for the LGBT community to press for political action against discrimination and to commit themselves to help. They are old friends of the LGBT community. Lee is also General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and the chairman of Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.
The Labour Party was the first Hong Kong political party to include LGBT rights in their platform in November 2011. More surprising were the long messages pre-recorded in both Cantonese and English by Regina Ip, Chair of the New People’s Party, a Hong Kong centre-right grouping. Ip’s party had also adopted a pro-LGBT stance in its public platform in February 2012. Her inclusion in the event had caused controversy amongst more radical LGBT activists, who had neither forgotten nor forgiven her earlier actions and views when she held public office in the ‘90s, a time before she had begun her journey towards democratic politics.
Some of these activists were present at the IDAHOT event, showing a small banner in Chinese for ‘grass roots activism’ and handing out leaflets attacking the inclusion of Regina Ip in the list of those invited to support IDAHOT.
In the event, Ip’s clear and powerful words of support for the LGBT community came as something of a surprise to listeners and drew only applause when they ended. Ip spoke out against homophobic bullying in schools and pledged herself and her party to fight it in Legco.
Photo by Sagittariuscity Lam/ Facebook
Photo at top of page: Evan Steer/ Facebook
On stage throughout the event, Michael Lam and his fellow MC, Venus Tjang, introduced a number of other speakers. Both MCs have come to LGBT activism through Hong Kong University’s Queer Straight Alliance, the city’s only tertiary education LGBT group. They introduced Medeleine Mok, veteran campaigner for Amnesty International; Joanne Leung and Siu Keung of the Transgender Resource Center; and Kevin Burns of NGO Community Business, which is spear-heading Hong Kong’s business diversity campaign.
Most touchingly, well-known Hong Kong activist Billy Leung and his mother took the stage together. It was Billy who, as a teenager, stood up in 2004 and brought about the judicial review of the gay age of consent in Hong Kong, a review which succeeded in 2006 in bringing the age down from 21 to 16, the same now as that for heterosexuals. Billy’s mother spoke movingly of her pride in her son’s bravery. There were few dry eyes at that point, and this correspondent was glad of the sun glasses he was wearing.
Towards the end of the afternoon, hundreds of white roses and carnations were handed out to the crowd, which then filed past a coffin laid before the stage, placing their flowers on its top as a tribute to those who have suffered across the world.
Homophobia and transphobia are international phenomena. Hong Kong suffers from them in less dramatic ways than other places, but the effects of prejudice are still widely felt here. The coverage of the IDAHOT event every year brings this back to public attention; ‘lest they forget’, it could be said.
“It is important”, concludes Reggie, “that the public and the politicians know that the LGBT community is prepared to stand up for itself. Without that, why would they bother to come to our help?”
Nigel Collett is the Joint English secretary of Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM) and Pink Alliance.