Advancing LGBTI rights in Hong Kong: Lessons from Taiwan
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on November 09, 2017.
Hong Kong’s 7th Pink Season has just wrapped up in fine style. The organisers surpassed themselves this year with a fantastic programme of events encompassing the arts, entertainment, sport, family fun and a brilliant educational programme, all celebrating acceptance, inclusion and awareness for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.
One of the highlights for me was my ‘Equality for LGBTI people in relationships: Lessons Learned from Taiwan’ seminar. In the spirit of building better awareness and addressing LGBTI rights issues in Hong Kong, I was honoured to welcome a panel who discussed the key issues which gay and lesbian face in relationships including marriage, rights relating to immigration and employment benefits for partners. These are rights which straight people take for granted but which can be huge hurdles to members of the LGBTI community, particularly in Asia, where acceptance is not as common as in some other parts of the world.
The panel included a host of Hong Kong equality experts as well as two esteemed guests flown in especially from Taiwan - veteran gay rights activist Mr Chi Chia-wei, who won a ground-breaking same-sex marriage lawsuit in Taiwan earlier this year, and Ms Chih-Chieh Chien, Co-founder and Secretary General of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, who worked closely with Mr Chi’s lawyer on the case.
Mr Chi Chia-wei’s victory provides some hope that, slowly, the tide is turning in Asia as far as equality is concerned. In fact, it was hugely significant, making Taiwan the first jurisdiction in Asia to rule that bans on same-sex marriages were unconstitutional and breached gay and lesbian people’s human rights. This essentially means that the country must now introduce legislation enabling same-sex marriage.
Taiwan and Hong Kong both have deep-rooted Chinese cultures and it is from here that the communalities between the two countries stem. In both it is the younger generations who are driving change and LGBTI communities should look to alliances with them to bring about equality. Those of us pushing for change here in Hong Kong should be encouraged by developments there. As Ms Chih-Chieh Chien said ‘I hope the success of Mr.Chi’s case can inject positive energy for LGBTI+ friends in Hong Kong to be more assertive and confident along their journey to advocate for equal rights that every human being deserves.’
And there is cause for optimism with two landmark rulings in Hong Kong this year. In April, the High Court ruled that an employee of the Immigration Department had been discriminated against on grounds of his sexual orientation under the Bill of Rights by not providing his same sex partner employment benefits. This case concerned a same-sex marriage registered in New Zealand.
More recently, in September, a British lesbian expatriate won her battle in the Court of Appeal to obtain a dependent visa for her same-sex partner of a UK civil partnership. The Court found that the refusal discriminated against her on grounds of her sexual orientation and breached the Bill of Rights.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission continues to pressurise for a consultation on the issues of discrimination and is calling for the legal recognition of all cohabitation relationships in Hong Kong (same-sex or otherwise) including those made overseas. Sadly, the government has yet to implement their recommendations, published in a Discrimination Law Review in March 2016.
Nevertheless, the two rulings show that small steps are being made in the right direction. It’s important to keep up the momentum and that is one of the things we hope to achieve with events such as Pink Season.