The first Gay Games in Asia finally took place in Hong Kong last week after being postponed due to the pandemic. Almost 2,400 athletes participated in the event. During the opening ceremony, Regina Ip, the leader of Hong Kong’s executive council, emphasized the city’s dedication to providing equal opportunities and eliminating discrimination. She also acknowledged the courts in Hong Kong for issuing multiple rulings in favor of the LGBTQ+ community over the last ten years.
Activists and attorneys were puzzled by this, as they noted that Ip’s administration has consistently opposed these rulings and has lost in the majority of them. Over the past few years, there have been at least seven cases concerning LGBTQ+ rights that have been brought before Hong Kong’s courts, with several making it to the highest court in the city, the Court of Final Appeal. Human rights lawyer Mark Daly, who has been involved in several of these cases, questioned why the government continues to use taxpayer money to fight these battles when they consistently present the same arguments and ultimately lose.
According to Ip, the Observer was informed that the government followed the Court of Final Appeal’s decisions in all cases that reached the highest court.
The Gay Games took place following a series of legal triumphs for the LGBTQ+ community, which starkly contrasts with the growing hostility towards gay and transgender individuals in mainland China.
In February, the highest court in Hong Kong declared that the practice of mandating transgender individuals to undergo surgery in order to legally change their gender, which is also mandated by law in mainland China, was against the constitution. Later in September, the court determined that the government must establish a different system for acknowledging same-sex unions, without fully supporting gay marriage.
In recent occurrences, Henry Li, a 37-year-old lawyer, has been at the center of attention. In 2019, he became an activist against his own will when he and his deceased spouse, Edgar Ng, discovered that they could not legally reside together in the subsidized flat they purchased due to Li’s inability to register as a “spouse” or “family member.” Despite marrying in the UK in 2017, their marriage was not acknowledged by the law in Hong Kong.
Li stated that the legal proceedings were not primarily about achieving equality, but rather about legally remaining together in their own home. Li gives credit to Ng for initiating the judicial review in order to protect him. In the previous month, the Court of Appeal ruled in Li’s favor, although the housing authority is currently appealing the decision.
Ng initiated a legal action to seek equal treatment for the inheritance rights of same-sex couples. In the previous month, the Court of Appeal supported a lower court’s decision in favor of Ng. However, Ng passed away in 2020 by suicide, and his assets are still frozen as the government plans to appeal the ruling.
After Ng passed away, there were further legal proceedings when the morgue denied Li the opportunity to identify Ng’s body. Li described the experience as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.” She was informed that her husband was not in fact in the room next to her, despite his body being present.
In October 2021, he withdrew his request for a court review after the government clarified that the coroner’s office should treat same-sex partners equally.
The government’s refusal to provide LGBTQ+ individuals with equal rights aligns with Beijing’s stance, but is becoming more conflicting with the views of the public in Hong Kong. According to a recent survey, 60% of individuals now support the concept of same-sex marriage, a significant increase from 38% ten years ago. Additionally, over 70% believe that Hong Kong should have legislation to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.
LGBTQ+ individuals have faced conflicts with authorities not only in the courts, but also in other areas. In July, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster made the decision to suspend the long-running LGBTQ+-related radio show, We Are Family. The show had been on air for 17 years, but no official explanation was given for its cancellation. This decision may be linked to the implementation of a controversial national security law in 2020, which was enforced by Beijing in response to pro-democracy protests. Since then, anything that could be seen as critical of the Chinese authorities has been considered sensitive. The annual Pride march was unable to take place in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions, and it is uncertain if it will return. However, a temporary Pride exhibition is in the works.
According to Evelyn Tsao, a lawyer specializing in human rights for the LGBTQ+ community, there has been a trend among nonprofit organizations to limit their advocacy efforts to public education rather than actively speaking out against discriminatory policies and participating in political lobbying. This shift is concerning for LGBT rights groups.
According to Daly, the current political climate has not had a direct impact on civil rights lawsuits. However, there may be a slight hesitation for those who seek to challenge the government in court.
Some individuals in the pro-democracy group oppose the notion that LGBTQ+ rights can be considered separately from the overall suppression of freedoms in Hong Kong. In June, a collection of activists demanded for the cancellation of the Gay Games and accused the organizers of supporting those who have played a role in the widespread mistreatment of the people of Hong Kong. On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Junius Ho, a fervent pro-Beijing lawmaker, has openly stated that the games may go against the national security law.
David Ko, the communications director for the games, said that the event was not aligned “with any political ideologies or figures … Our primary goal is to create a platform where individuals from all walks of life can come together to celebrate diversity, inclusivity and the human spirit.”
However, the sporting events have faced difficulty in avoiding involvement in political matters. Despite being the lone Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage, Taiwan chose not to partake in the competition in Hong Kong due to apprehensions over the safety of their athletes given the implementation of the national security law.