Advisory Group on Eliminating Discrimination against Sexual Minorities

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The cogs are turning slowly but at least they’re moving – as far as gay activists see it – in the right direction. A few weeks ago, on June 18, the first Advisory Group on Eliminating Discrimination against Sexual Minorities – or AGEDASM – met to discuss the future of sexual minority rights in Hong Kong – a perpetually polarising topic. And, by all accounts, it went pretty well, which has surprised some observers, given that the forum’s predecessor folded earlier in the year due the dissatisfaction of many members.

The new group, though, is being championed due to its promising start. There are 13 members in AGEDASM and they’ve all been appointed by the government. There are LGBT activists, liberal and conservative legislators, fundamentalist Christians, academics and businessmen. Each member gets a term of two years on the panel and is free to weigh in with their perspectives and advise the Secretary of the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau on topics concerning rights for sexual minorities. “The government has shown sincerity and responsibility in establishing the advisory group, unlike the SMF,” says Tommy Chen of Rainbow Action. The SMF – the Sexual Minorities Forum – was disbanded in March after some LGBT members made a mass exodus, saying they were utterly disappointed with what they saw as ineffective management of the forum. But the new AGEDASM is being taken ‘very optimistically’, according to Chen. “After the first meeting,” he says, “I noticed there was a sincerity to communicate. It finally seems like Hong Kong is taking the UN’s human rights ordinance of 1999 seriously.” 

There are key elements that distinguish AGEDASM from the SMF. Firstly, the chairman is not a civil servant. In this group, it’s Fanny Cheung Miu-ching, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who many view as an objective voice. Secondly, representatives of Exodus International, the group believing in ‘reparative therapy’ (the highly controversial practice of changing one’s sexuality) have been removed (though they have been replaced with another Christian fundamentalist representative). Thirdly, Reggie Ho, chairman of the Pink Alliance, says: “The members are actually appointed so meetings have to be held on time. People can’t come in and out as they please and waste time. Especially when you have someone like Cheung as chairperson. She wouldn’t stand for it.” And fourthly, possibly one of the more crucial changes, as Ho points out, is the inclusion of members from the business sector. “The culture of Hong Kong bends to influences of business and corporations,” says Ho. “Now we have Lavina Lau, general manager for Cathay Pacific Airways, and Cathay was one of the first companies to be progressive in providing benefits to employees in same-sex relationships.”

So, there’s a good pro-sexual minority rights representation on the new board, perhaps the major reason for renewed hope. But what about those who oppose rights for sexual minorities? Unfortunately they’ve been too busy to return our calls – but member of the Women Coalition of Hong Kong, Yeung Wai-wai, has had this to tell us about them: “After the first meeting I realised that the divide between those for and those against sexual minority rights isn’t that big. Our friends who seemingly oppose the rights are merely unclear and misunderstand what it means to have an anti-discrimination ordinance. I really hope that we can form a bridge and decrease the levels of misunderstanding. When I brought up an example of blatant discrimination like firing or refusing service to sexual minorities as reasons for legislation, I wasn’t really met with much opposition, which makes me believe there can be progress.”

There’s still a great deal of work to be done, but in the meantime Chen says: “The goal should be to try and show the government that we can agree and that we are trying to work towards the same goal.” Hopefully, the time for action and forward-thinking legislation is on the horizon.

AGEDASM To find out more, see fmcoprc.gov.hk

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