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They’ve slowly gained acceptance, but Hong Kong’s sexual minorities still crave legal protection

They’ve slowly gained acceptance, but Hong Kong’s sexual minorities still crave legal protection

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on May 26, 2016.

They may be separated by a generation but Tommy Chen, 42, and Money Wong Man-lai, 21, are united in their experiences as part of Hong Kong’s LGBT community.

Chen is one of the city’s frontline activists fighting for gay rights.

“I was 19 when I came out to myself. At that time, I didn’t have a gay friend. I came out to my parents five years later,” Chen says. “I was depressed and suicidal for six years.”

Chen is executive officer of Rainbow of Hong Kong, an LGBT rights organisation he helped found in 1998. The shift in the city’s attitude towards homosexuals can be seen through the transformation of Hong Kong’s media coverage – which has become drastically more positive – as well as entertainment venues for the gay community, he says.

But despite these advances, the community still needs to overcome fierce challenges for equality – the biggest being legislation.

Chen supports the need for specific laws protecting people against discrimination based on sexual orientation, which are currently lacking in Hong Kong.

This lack creates a void that discourages many from coming out or openly advocating for gay rights. As a result, discrimination in the workplace and in schools are still critical problems, Chen says.

“The strongest educational tool is actually the law. Once we have an anti-discrimination law, the culture will change, beginning with education,” Chen says. “[But] the government always procrastinates and is unwilling to take a step forward.”

Wong says that although awareness about LGBT issues is spreading in Hong Kong, sexuality is still a taboo topic in schools and mainstream society. The communication shortfall not only means that people like Wong, who have questions about sexuality, are left to figure things out on their own, but also that many are discouraged from speaking out and fostering a culture of acceptance.

“A lot of people are scared to come out. They think: what is there to gain? There’s no special need,” Wong says. “If these people remain indifferent, the effects [of activism] will remain limited.”

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