Tackling inequality for the LGBT community in Hong Kong
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on October 15, 2014.
In our quest to uncover inequality for the LGBT community within the world of finance in Hong Kong, we have opened a proverbial Pandora’s box. Lack of legislation is one of the main elements that is holding back the community in comparison to western countries. Hong Kong’s discrimination law was originally based on both Australian and British Law however as these countries have progressed, evolved and adapted their laws, Hong Kong has lagged far behind. Government legislation is constantly under review but so far the LGBT community has been largely excluded from any reforms.
To enable us to get a better understanding of some of the main concerns facing the LGBT community we met up with Palin Ngaotheppitak who is Corporate Communications Officer at the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). Even with many organisations such as the EOC working towards reform, the battle is a long and hard one with no resolution in sight. Having said that, at least dialogue has started and it is a topic that has started people talking. One example of progress is the feasibility study, commissioned by the EOC and being undertaken by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Gender Research Centre, to look at legislating against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status and the possibility of legislating against such acts.
A second example was the symposium on LGBTI rights held in August 2014 and organised by the EOC in conjunction with the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macau and the Gender Research Centre. Experts from Hong Kong and the European Union were invited to provide their views and ideas on many issues including sexual equality. The EOC is also currently undertaking a Discrimination Law Review which is gathering public views on various aspects of discrimination on the lives of people in Hong Kong and use this information to put together recommendations for change in current legislation to improve discrimination laws and promote equality for all. The deadline for the public consultation phase of the Discrimination Law Review is 31 October 2014.
Hong Kong does have a government unit for sexual orientation and gender identity however it is only a small unit. While it does offer advice and other resources it has limited power to intervene or compel settlement for complaints in the public/private sector.
The issue of marital status for same-sex couples in Hong Kong is a major one but there are currently no proposals to recognise same-sex relationships, even those which have legal recognition overseas. As the law currently stands many LGBT expats face problems gaining visas for their married or de facto partners,as well as in many other areas.
Transsexuals face many issues too, one of which was highlighted by the case of W in 2013. Shocking as it may seem, ‘transsexualism’ is still a diagnosis employed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in their current diagnostic manual. Some changes are being proposed concerning the laws regarding to transgender people and their right to marry, which sounds like good news, but in reality the laws are unfortunately moving in the wrong direction.
W is a transsexual lady who was born male but underwent sexual reassignment surgery to become female. Surprisingly, in what was hailed as a landmark case. she won a legal battle to have the right to marry her male partner. As a result, the Government has been forced to address the issue of transsexual marriage however their proposed amendment puts into legislation that transgender people must undergo full surgical reassignment before they can be recognised as their desired gender. Many people view this as a major backward step and are trying to stop the law before it is passed.
Two years ago Hon Cyd Ho Sau-lan, a member of Legco known for promoting equal opportunity, particularly for women and the LGBT community, attempted to put through a motion for the Government to consult the public on new legislation on discrimination against people of different sexual orientations, but it was not passed and the discussion did not even get started. With proposals like this failing to even get off the starting blocks, the future for the legal rights of the LGBT community looks fairly bleak.
So what are the solutions to these problems? The simple answer is that there are few. At present, changing the opinions and sentiment towards LGBT individuals within the wider community seems to be the best method of attack.
There are currently several LGBT groups in Hong Kong which cater for different crowds but all share the same ultimate goal of achieving equality. Groups such as Pink Alliance, Out in the Street, Pink Dot, Queer Alliance and others do work together although not currently in a way that has the unity required to get the message across. In addition, aside from a couple of open singers, there are few LGBT role models in the local community to provide inspiration to younger people.
Given its prominence in the community in Hong Kong, the world of business could play a key role in changing attitudes towards the LGBT community. It does not make business sense to exclude talented individuals because of their sexual orientation and private sector companies, both large and small, have the opportunity to provide a great example to others on diversity and inclusion by employing LGBT staff.
As the ongoing struggle continues for both local and expat members of the LGBT community, Infinity is proud to be able to offer the support and advice that is needed to protect the finances of vulnerable individuals. If you are affected by any of these issues then please contact me today.