What do we want? Equal rights!

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The debate over LGBT rights has made big international news this year while Hong Kong has also been caught in its own battle. And it’s never come to a head as much as it did on Wednesday November 7, when the Family Network on Ethics Concern and Society of Truth and Light groups drew up battle-lines in front of the Legislative Council Building to protest against the motion to discuss equal rights for sexual minorities. And, as their war-cries rang out, Pride Parade committee organisers raised their rainbow flags and retorted in defence of what they see as a discussion on human rights and equality. Thus the fight really began – and there’s a long way to go from here.

The initiative for a public consultation was put forth by pro-human rights legislator Cyd Ho, who says that ‘different sexual orientations receive different treatment and are subject to practical forms of discrimination’. There’s no sexual orientation discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT community members in our city at the moment, hence the call for a discussion on a governmental level. There’s legislation which protects race, gender and disability – but nothing for sexual orientation which, according to Ho, is ‘clearly unequal treatment’.

Despite the calls for this discussion, the motion failed to make it past round one on November 7. Though 31 legislators approved it and only 25 opposed, under Hong Kong’s legislative system, there must be more than 50 percent approval from both geographical constituency members (21 for, eight against and four abstentions) and functional constituency members (10 for, 17 against and eight abstentions). According to Ho: “The functional constituency legislators think that it will affect the business environment. Formerly, it wasn’t mandated to pay employee welfare to homosexuals. One can argue that without recognised partnerships for same sex couples, it is a form of economic discrimination. If [businesses] want to save on operation costs, they are only saving on the LGBT community’s behalf.”

Opponents of the motion have stated two reasons for opposing what seems like a progressive move on sexuality discrimination. Legislator Priscilla Leung says she disagrees with it as it would lead to ‘reverse discrimination’. Apple Daily’s coverage of the LegCo meeting caught her saying: “Hong Kong also protects people who do not accept or appreciate homosexuality, adultery or polygamy.” Legislator Tommy Cheung says: “Unwed individuals might marry their friends just to take advantage of marital benefits which would cause distrust between employers and employees.”

It all sounds like a lot of fear-mongering tactics, according to Ho, who feels that we should ‘dismantle fear, contradictions and conflict by using the most peaceful, reasonable attitude to respond to questions raised by the public’. “A lot of fears now stem from biased information,” she adds.

Joseph Cho, executive co-director of Nu Tong Xue She (a group tackling the bullying and stigma the LGBT community faces), responds to the opposition by saying: “By equating homosexuality with adultery and polygamy, Priscilla Leung is basically provoking the negative moral sentiments towards homosexuals and is confusing the public about the nature of the legislation in safeguarding equal opportunities with moral evaluation of homosexuality.” Cho continues: “Tommy Cheung’s argument is also applicable to heterosexuals. It would actually be easier for heterosexuals to ‘take advantage of marital benefits’. It is shameful for Tommy Cheung, who is supposedly representative of the business sector, to seriously lag behind the international consensus that having employees with diverse backgrounds is a valuable asset.”

Ho and her advocates wish to dispel what they label as ‘misleading information’ being put out by those who oppose these sorts of debates. According to a poll conducted by LegCo, 64 percent of the public supports anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people. “Those who oppose the legislation are in the minority,” says Ho, “so why isn’t the government doing anything? A democratic society is not about the majority voting to oppress the minority. And, of course, it can’t be – as it is now – the minority oppressing the majority.”

The future on LGBT rights is still uncertain because it will be at least a year before another motion on the topic can be brought up at LegCo. However, it seems with the changing opinions across the world – including the increase of public figures in Hong Kong making a stand for human rights – we’re heading in the right direction. “No matter whether you’re gay or not,” says Ho, “it’s on the grounds of basic human rights that we must all come out and voice out. Because, if you don’t, today the government can neglect one group of people and tomorrow they can neglect another.” 

Arthur Tam

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