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Pink Dot and LGBT+ rights in Hong Kong

On the 22nd of October, my friends and I decided to attend Pink Dot, an annual event that celebrates LGBT+ diversity. Pink Dot was initiated in 2009 as a gay pride carnival in Singapore. Its iconic name is derived from the lion city’s nickname “Little Red Dot”, and the national flag colors red and white, which merge to create pink. According to Pink Dot SG, "Pink Dot stands for an open, inclusive society within our Red Dot, where sexual orientation represents a feature, not a barrier.”

Pink Dot 2015 (Source: Pink Alliance)

My thoughts on the LGBT community in Hong Kong

I first came across the fete in Singapore when it made headlines in Hong Kong newspapers this July. Instead of broadcasting its successes, journalists reported the local government’s banning of foreigners from participation and international corporate sponsors. Although the Hong Kong government did not impose similar restrictions, there is no denying that both cities hold conservative attitudes towards LGBT rights. In Hong Kong, there is no anti-discrimination legislation for sexual orientation, and gay marriage remains illicit; Singapore’s legal system even outlaws sexual intercourse between men. In this respect, the two world cities’ socio-cultural development is lagging behind their western liberal democratic counterparts and more recently their neighbor, Taiwan, which legalized gay marriage in May.

I used to view Hong Kong’s LGBT rights progression from a pessimistic light. To this day, I think there is still ample room for improvement. For one, the local LBGT community is beyond marginalised. Their voices are seldom heard in our society, making it easy for the traces of whispers to be brushed off. For the past 17 years I have lived in this city, rarely do I hear debates on gay rights through official channels. It appears to me that this place has almost grown too comfortable with negligence.

Secondly, popular culture on mainstream television shows normalises the derision of homosexuality. As I am writing this article, the latest example of such would be when I saw a scene aired just last week, which featured the playing of over-the-top dramatic music when two male characters embraced. The way their voices softened to match the effeminate stereotype and the suggestive wink by one of the characters to exaggerate flirtation for comedy bespeaks the blatant mockery towards male-male relationships. On a more fundamental level, traditional Chinese values are no less deep-seated than casual discrimination in the media. In Chinese culture, sons bear the responsibility to carry on the family name and there is an acute emphasis on upholding the good reputation of the family. These factors explain in part the occasional disgusted stares directed towards homosexual couples on the street and the countless closeted individuals caged in this minute city. However, attending Pink Dot might have reignited a flicker of hope in me.

The way forward

Pink Dot 2017

The overwhelming turnout rate at Pink Dot shows that the LGBT community in Hong Kong has not been forgotten. Of course, there were people who participated solely for the festivities, the food and booze, the music and dancing; nonetheless, the gala serves its purpose as a celebration of individuality. I was especially encouraged to hear a band speak to its audience about accepting oneself for one’s uniqueness and staying true to one’s identity even if it might be different to another’s. I can only imagine how liberating those words must have been to those who are afraid to express their sexual orientation. There is no doubt this society needs more empowering platforms like Pink Dot to validate individualism for those who have yet to claim it for themselves.

An unexpected observation I made was the large number of families that showed up at the event. It was not uncommon to see parents with their children queuing up for drag queen storytelling sessions and looking at information boards on LGBT advocacy. I believe exposing kids to the vast spectrum of gender identity is crucial in fostering a positive mindset towards plurality. This is the sex education we need for the younger generation if we want to rid them of heteronormative thinking and binary gender codes.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence that proves Hong Kong’s progress in pushing for LGBT rights is the granting of a dependent visa to a British expat through her same-sex partner in September, an immigration status that was exclusive to heterosexual couples. This case sets a legal precedent to recognise same-sex couples’ immigration rights. More importantly, it entails that Hong Kong’s courts are taking the lead in instigating social change through legal overhaul. Though this is not as monumental as America’s nationwide legalisation of gay marriage, it is a milestone for Hong Kong’s long-stagnated social growth.

So what’s next for this city of 7 million? How many more Pink Dots will it take for us to begin to truly respect each other’s differences? Are we going to wait for magistrates to decide on our social progress or are we willing to take ownership of our future? Pink Dot was the pleasant reminder of its slogan “Love is Natural”. But in the unjust world we live in, the right to legitimise a love also needs to be fought for.

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