Yes, she’s a lesbian. Cantopop star HOCC tells us why ‘silence was no longer an option’. Words Arthur Tam.  Portrait Calvin Sit

On November 10 this year, Denise Ho Wan-si stood on a stage in Central’s Chater Garden in front of an audience waving rainbow flags and announced she is lesbian. Most of the crowd roared. Some wept. And others watched on in amazement as the 35-year-old singer-songwriter made history, becoming Hong Kong’s first openly lesbian celebrity.

“In the face of discrimination, silence is no longer an option,” she went on to say in an emotional speech. “If I can speak out and say something that might – even in the smallest inkling – push us further down the path towards equal rights, I feel that all of my own reservations and concerns are insignificant.”

With pop icon Anthony Wong coming out of the closet, Raymond Chan becoming the first openly gay legislator in Hong Kong, the Gigi Chao $500m bounty fiasco and, of course, Ho’s own announcement, this year has seen gay issues placed firmly on the table in our generally conservative city. And, as 2012 draws to a close, Time Out sits down with the beauty to discuss these landmark past 12 months, to reflect on
her coming out and to chat a bit about her music as well…

Hi Denise. Thanks for sitting down with us. Your coming out has been quite momentous and has had a lot of people talking. How do you feel about being the first openly lesbian celebrity in Hong Kong?
May I add, not only Hong Kong, but in the Greater China Region as well [laughs], so I especially felt that I needed to quickly come out – to be the first. I had already been singing songs related to gay topics, so I felt like it made sense that I was
the first.

When was the exact moment when it clicked in your mind that you would come out?
It was really when LegCo rejected the public consultation regarding gay rights. That was a major reason why I needed to come out.

So before the LegCo decision, there was never a moment you wanted to tell the world you’re gay?
Really, I never did. Whenever I was asked about coming out, it was always from an entertainment media gossip perspective. I didn’t think I needed to take something so personal and entertain people with it. But once things started to affect society as a whole, with people fighting for their rights, then why not come out? Why not try to contribute something?

Anthony Wong, of course, came out earlier this year. Did you ever talk to him?
Anthony is definitely someone who influenced me. Because of his example, it made me question if I should do the same thing. I asked his advice and he really took his experience and helped me analyse the whole situation.

When you were growing up, did you ever suffer from discrimination relating to your sexual identity?
When you’re in school, on the surface everyone is straight. So, especially when you’re growing up, it’s hard to talk about being gay with anyone. But why does this happen? It’s because there are still certain prejudices and inequalities that exist. Everyone has suffered discrimination or prejudice at some point in their life. You don’t have to be gay to have suffered discrimination. But that’s the point of why it’s important to stand up for gay rights. We have to let people know that discrimination affects us all. And no-one wants to be discriminated against – so why impose it on someone else?

What do you hope to achieve by coming out?
I just want to let people who are struggling with their sexuality know they’re not alone – especially children and young adults going through this period of confusion. I just want them to know that there are, in fact, a lot of gay people! [Laughs] I want people to know that being gay isn’t a life path that’s shrouded in darkness. Instead, it can be something really happy.

Are you happier now after coming out?
Well, I’m pretty much the same. I’ve always been who I am. But now I’ll take on more social responsibilities.

Do feel that you have an obligation to the gay community? Like going to Pride again?
Yes. These are the basic things I’ll need to do – but I also want to let people who do have prejudices against the LGBT community know that being gay does not equal being a freak. I want to be a good role model, especially for kids.

You’ve worked a lot in recent years in Taiwan. How would you compare Taiwan’s gay scene with Hong Kong’s?
It seems like their gay scene is bigger. They are also more united, which is the biggest difference. I feel like they really have people who want to stand up and do something. Hong Kong Pride, for example – there is no way that Hong Kong only has 4,000 gays and lesbians. A lot of people just think that it doesn’t affect them. You know how Hong Kong people are… they won’t care until the flames are burning on their doorsteps. So maybe it takes people like Anthony Wong, Raymond Chan, me and other public figures to push for more involvement and progress.

How important was this year for gay rights? In 2012 we’ve seen major improvements globally. Do you think we’re heading in the right direction?
I think there’s long way to go, even though steps have been taken. The outlook is positive though. The world is becoming more and more gay friendly from what I can see – but obviously there are still factions in our society who are against homosexuals. So we need to find some kind of common ground. It’s good when people come out and bring the spotlight on to this topic. Even if we argue, it’s better than putting the issue aside.

When you first entered the music industry did you ever think that sexuality was something you had to worry about?
No, not really. Well I’m sure you know what my attitude has been all these years. I don’t really care what people write about me, say about me or guess about me. I have a ‘so what?’ attitude. Were there any missed opportunities because of it? Perhaps. But if there are people discriminating against me because of my sexuality and don’t want me… well, I also hope they don’t want me. I think if you discriminate against me because of this issue, I’ll discriminate against your kind of discrimination. You know, I’ve always felt that I needed to do something. Ever since I was little, I knew that I had a mission to start some kind of revolution. What kind of revolution? I wasn’t quite sure – but definitely something.

What do you think about Hong Kong’s entertainment industry? Is it gay friendly?
[Chuckles] Umm… it’s strange. In the entertainment industry we are surrounded by gays but there are those who worry if their colleagues or bosses would mind, even though they might not. But when people come to the point of actually coming out, everyone always struggles with crossing their own psychological barrier.

Do you think it’s due to the environment or do you think gays and lesbians also in some way hinder themselves?
It’s hard to say. The environment definitely plays a factor. I can say that the audience is accepting but when it comes to the clients, people start getting worried. Especially now, with a lot of Hong Kong artists going to China. They think – would coming out pose troubles there? I think these questions stir up worries.

Do you think you’ll have a tougher time in China now?
I’m sure, in some ways, there will be repercussions. But like I said earlier, let it be, because there are just some things I must do. When there is something you really need to do, you just do it.

Would you have come out if your music label disapproved?
[Chuckles] To be honest I think I would have done it anyway – but I would try to help them understand why I needed to do it.

Is marriage something that’s important to you?
Yes it is. It wasn’t before when I was little. I thought it was just a piece of paper. But, the older I got, I started understanding that it’s something very special and emotional that two people have a promise to each other. I also really like kids. I’d want kids.

Since it’s not legal in Hong Kong, would you fly back to Canada to get married?
I think I’d have to. By the time I wait for things to catch up in Hong Kong I might be 70 or 80! [Laughs]

Would you give it all up to have a family?
Why would I have to give it up?

Well, if you were married in Canada, it wouldn’t be recognised in Hong Kong…
I guess I didn’t really think of it that way – but I’ve always been someone who can have a simple lifestyle. It’s because of this mentality that I’ve been able to come out. In my career, money isn’t my very top priority. Obviously it’s important – it’s just not the main point. I think I can let it all go and start a different kind of life if I have to.

When is your next major concert? We’ve all been waiting patiently…
I know, right? It’s been about four years since I’ve performed at the Coliseum. It should be next year. It will be in 2013 but we’re still confirming a date right now, so nothing has been released.

You’ve also been working on your upcoming Putonghua album. We know you’ve just released your new MV, Faceless Person. What can you tell us about the album?
This is going to be my second Putonghua album. My first was an opportunity to try a lot of new things going into the Taiwanese market. I got a lot of support and the response was generally positive, so for my second album I feel like I have an even greater range to experiment with. There are more themes I think I can tackle with this album, which should be released in March.

What still keeps you motivated in your music career? Are there any goals you’ve set yourself?
For me, as a singer or a public figure in this society, there are so many things you can do that don’t necessarily just have to do with your own career. I can use music to bring some positive vibes and impact society. My goal is to contribute something to society. Music is my medium to do that.

Will gay rights be part of the social issues you want to tackle?
It will be one of the issues that I want to tackle – but not the only one. During these past six years I’ve put a lot of effort into making my music have more of a societal value. I think gay rights is definitely one of the issues but there are so many others too that we also need to pay attention to.



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