An estimated two to three hundred people braved the wet weather to join the 2nd International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) march on Sunday afternoon in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
Roddy Shaw, a veteran gay rights advocate, said that although the rain caused some to stay in, it united those who turned out.
Held for the second consecutive year, the march was organised by 19 gay and gay-friendly organisations including Rainbow of Hong Kong, Women Coalition of HKSAR, HK 10% Club, Nutongxueshe and Amnesty International.
While last year's parade reportedly attracted 350 people - some donning masks to prevent being photographed or being recognised, none of the marchers this year wore masks although they were available.
"I think people generally do not fear being out and perhaps are proud about being out because they are not alone - that's precisely a good reason to be at the IDAHO rally. I hope the IDAHO march can show our brothers and sisters who are still in the closet that they are well supported and coming out becomes an easier thing to do. Having a public demonstration is the first step to the public's understanding of our community," Shaw told Fridae.
This was highlighted when a middle-aged woman asked a volunteer - after the march had ended - what the event was for. When told it was a gay and lesbian march, she expressed surprise that the marchers "looked normal" and were wearing regular clothes.
From around 2pm, participants armed with an umbrella in one hand and a rainbow flag in another gathered at East Point Road waiting for the march to start at 3.20pm.
Led by organisers Ken Cheung of Rainbow of Hong Kong, Connie Chan and LikLik of Women Coalition and Tomcatt, a former radio DJ, marchers chanted and carried placards that read: "Gay or straight, we're all part of Hong Kong society," and "Fear not gays and lesbians, but fear hatred and bigotry."
Marchers made their way through several pedestrian streets as well as alongside traffic in one of Hong Kong's busiest shopping districts which is also known for it's collection of lesbian-orientated bars and shops. They were joined by representatives from Beijing-based lesbian organisation Common Language, Chengdu Les Care group, Shenzhen-based Nanxinghui, Guangzhou Tongzhi, Gay Chinese (Aibai) - Information Clearinghouse for Chinese Gays and Lesbians and Aizhixing Institute of Health Education as well as prominent Chinese AIDS activist Dr Wan Yanhai.
The march ended at East Point Road where the crowd reassembled and chanted repeatedly "ngo hai tong zi" and "wo shi tong zhi" meaning "I'm gay" in Cantonese and Mandarin respectively.
In the midst of the rain and singing of the march's theme song about not giving up the fight against equality and acceptance, a young marcher's face was seen drenched with tears.
Siu Ya, a member of Women Coalition, explained in Cantonese that she was moved by the turnout of those who believed in the cause and marched in the rain which signifies the difficulties gays and lesbians face in society.
The first march for the 16-year-old student; she told Fridae that despite her age, to march and be counted as an indivdual who believes in acceptance and equality for gays and lesbians was something she could do as part of the community.
Observed in 50 countries, the original May 17 date is to commemorate the day when the General Assembly of the World Health Organization deleted homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1990. Now in its second year in Hong Kong and worldwide, the march aims to call for the elimination of homophobia and discrimination. The IDAHO march in Hong Kong last year was the first public LGBT rally ever held.
The proposed Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SOD) Bill has come to a standstill after a public survey revealed that while most people acknowledged that there is discrimination against lesbians and gays in Hong Kong, did not support having the bill at this time. Two anti-discrimination bills were proposed in 1995 and 1997 respectively and were both defeated narrowly in the Legislative Council.
Shaw said while legislators have been pushing for a "White Bill" meaning a draft bill for public consultation, the government has not tabled it for debate.
Meanwhile, four pro-gay organisations including Civil Rights for Sexual diversities have published a book, The Visible Truth - the Hong Kong Report on LGBT Equal Rights (in Chinese), documenting cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation with legal analysis showing that a discrimination law would have protected victims with legal recourse and possibly reduce incidences of discrimination.