A question of sexuality

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A new LGBT study finds that more Hongkongers are open-minded but discriminatory workplaces persist. By Louise Choi

While rallies and parades are certainly effective ways of promoting LGBT awareness, surveys and studies can be just as important. They provide an up-to-date look at attitudes in the community – and that can’t be a bad thing. Non-profit organisation Community Business’ latest research project, the Hong Kong LGBT Climate Study, did just this when it officially launched on May 17.

While there have been other studies done by the government and various NGOs on LGBT attitudes, this particular piece of research, headed by Amanda Yik and Kevin Burns, and funded by Barclays, looks at both sides of the story. Consisting of two surveys – one of telephone interviews from the general public to understand their attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender identity, and the second an anonymous online survey targeted at LGBT persons working in Hong Kong – this study is the first to investigate the experience of LGBTs in the workplace.

The results showed that Hongkongers are becoming more open-minded, with half of the respondents saying they are accepting of LGBT individuals and a further 80 percent believing it’s unacceptable to exclude LGBTs from social events or deny them a promotion. However, social pressures remain strong – especially in the office. A total of 60 percent of LGBTs aren’t open with colleagues while a further 74 percent are not open with their clients. More worryingly, 80 percent believe that LGBTs face discrimination in the office while 35 percent say their employers do nothing to create an inclusive work environment.

The most common forms of discrimination in the workplace, according to senior project manager of the study, Amanda Yik, aren’t so apparent. “Violent behaviour or verbal abuse – it’s not that,” she says. “It’s about being treated with less respect.” Yik says she finds that discrimination is quieter at work, with examples including being given less favourable training opportunities. She also says that some discrimination stems from ‘hurtful ignorance’. “The workplace can be inherently intimidating,” notes Yik, “because we see that a lot of the respondents hear anti-gay jokes in the office or negative comments on LGBT individuals. So it’s not an attack. It’s quite subtle.”

The results of the study are expected to challenge businesses to take a more serious look at LGBT issues. Yik says that often companies believe there are no gay individuals under their employment – but the reality is, she says, that many LGBTs aren’t open about their sexuality in their workplace. “If you wait until someone who is LGBT comes to you in the office and says there’s a problem, it’s probably too late,” says Yik.

Yik hopes that the study will encourage companies to tackle LGBT discrimination as a business issue instead of just a personal matter. She says that, in terms of inclusivity, same-sex partners are automatically excluded from the same spousal employee benefits that heterosexual married couples would have. Moreover, she notes, while most companies have an equal opportunities policy, there is no explicit practice that states LGBT discrimination is not acceptable in the workplace.

The key players in changing the agenda are the businesses themselves, as well as the government. While Yik believes that Hong Kong still has ‘a long way to go’ to become more inclusive, she at least hopes the study will encourage more discussion about LGBT issues ‘not just in the workplace but in society in general’. We like the sound of that.

For more information about the Community Business’ LGBT Climate Study, head to www.communitybusiness.org/lgbt.

 

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