However, the lack of legislation means LGBT people are vulnerable to hate speech. Last year, legislator Raymond Chan Chi-chuen uploaded a two-minute video onto YouTube. It showed two women mocking Chan’s sexual orientation, calling him a “rubbish councillor” and “a mad dog” on the MTR. They abused Chan using sexually explicit and insulting vulgar language and claimed they had the right to criticise him as taxpayers.
“Even if I totally accept my gay identity, I felt terrible when being verbally abused for three minutes and without grounds,” says Chan.
It was not the only time he has encountered harassment in public nor was it the worst. During the campaign period for this year’s Legislative Council election, one or two homophobic passers-by would call out “faggot” when they passed his campaign stall in the street. He had to call the police when one woman hit him.
Although he describes his public coming out as a “passive” one, Chan is glad it happened. A week before voting day in the 2012 Legislative Council election, a reporter asked him about his sexual orientation. He decided to answer it truthfully and the report was published the day after he won his seat.
“I would say this coming-out is the gift from God, as this paves the easiest path for me [to fighting for LGBT rights]. If I hadn’t come out, I’m not sure whether I would strive for equal rights for LGBT people,” says Chan.
In spite of the subsequent hostility and backlash, Chan thinks his coming out has allowed him to be a role model among the LGBT community. He says a parent once showed her appreciation. She said her son was homosexual, and that she originally thought this was something inferior and negative. Chan made her change her mind and see that gays can have great achievements and contribute to society.
A decade after the government began looking into the possibility of legislating against anti-LGBT discrimination, there is still a long way to go. The 2013 Policy Address states the government “has no plan to conduct consultation” on the anti-discrimination law as “it is highly controversial”.
Suen Yiu-tung, the principal investigator of this year’s EOC report, says the issue of legislation was raised as early as 1995 in the legislative council but the government has been reluctant to start the legislative process. He says it uses the excuse that Hong Kong is not ready for anti-discrimination legislation.
“It is because of controversy that we need to protect LGBT groups; it is because of the lack of a consensus on the definition of discrimination that we need anti-discrimination law,” says Suen, who is an assistant professor of the Gender Studies Programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
He also rejects the freedom of speech arguments against legislating that have been put forward by some conservative Christian groups.
“Freedom of speech should not be abused to harm any groups in society,” says Suen. He stresses that any proposed legislation would only protect LGBT people from discrimination in four basic domains – employment, education, provision of goods and services, and disposal and management of premises.
However, he is aware that what anti-gay groups are most concerned about is that the legislation would mark the start of a slippery slope that would lead to rights that they find unacceptable for religious or moral reasons, such as the right of people of the same sex to marry.
Although he disagrees with the arguments against anti-discrimination legislation, Suen thinks that a backlash against LGBT rights is to be expected given the increased visibility of the LGBT community in recent years. But he believes it is important that LGBT people do not hide or go underground in the face of a potential backlash.
As the debate over discrimination rages on, Suen says the point to remember is that, “everyone should have the right to be protected from discrimination rather than to discriminate against others.”
Edited by Cindy Gu