Meet the lawyer fighting for the rights of Hong Kong’s LGBT community
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on April 20, 2016.
Last night I hosted Fruits in Suits where we were lucky enough to hear a presentation by Micheal Vidler the highly talented lawyer who has done incredible things for the advancement of LGBT rights in Hong Kong and who is currently involved in the high profile legal challenge of QT, a British lesbian who has been refused a dependent visa on same-sex grounds.
Michael is from a political background and told me in a recent interview that his involvement in LGBT rights was triggered by the shock he felt at the ‘in your face discrimination’ he saw directed at gay housemates both in the UK and Hong Kong. This led him to take on the case of Billy in 2005. Billy was 20 at the time, under the age of consent for homosexuals in Hong Kong. According to the law any man engaging in sexual intercourse with another man under the age of 21 could be sentenced to life imprisonment. Vidler and Billy sought to overturn this legislation in court arguing that as the age of consent for heterosexuals was 16, it was both discriminatory and unconstitutional. They won the landmark case at both first instance and appeal in a historical victory for LGBT rights in Hong Kong.
This was followed by another ground-breaking case in 2013 when a court gave another of Michael’s clients, a transgender woman known only as W, the right to marry her boyfriend. The ruling surprised many and delighted the LGBT community.
For Michael, the visa challenge seemed the next logical step but it took him years to find someone willing to fight their case with him. Then along came QT. Having moved to Hong Kong from the UK with SS, her civil partner, QT applied for a dependent visa which would allow her to work in Hong Kong and give her the right to access state healthcare. The visa was denied even though one was granted to the heterosexual spouse of a worker from the same firm as SS who applied at the same time.
QT and Vidler have challenged the decision via the courts on the grounds of discrimination although the lawyer described the process as ‘one struggle after another’ involving lengthy delays in applying for legal aid. The court upheld the Director of Immigration’s decision but an appeal has been filed and Michael remains hopeful of success in spite of clear a religious bias in the judiciary.
He sees victory is an essential step on the long journey towards the recognition of same-sex partnerships in Hong Kong. If the challenge is successful there will be repercussions in many different areas including pensions, access to hospital treatment, tax and housing, a subject which ‘screams out for a challenge’, in Michael’s own words. With over 90% of young people recognising the need for LGBT legislation and the Equal Opportunities Commission pushing the government for a consultation on the issue of same-sex marriage, change is hopefully only a matter of time although ‘no one single thing will break the dam’.
According to Michael, international and local pressure needs to be maintained but it is also important that individuals affected by the lack of LGBT rights are willing to come forward and challenge discriminatory legislation through the official channels. Even though anonymity is granted in court cases, most people are still reticent to come forward.
It has been a true honour to meet such an inspiring man and I sincerely hope that Michael and QT win their appeal and advance another step forward in challenging outdated legislation which penalises same-sex couples in Hong Kong.