Diplomats, corporations join call for legislation to protect LGBT rights

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Hong Kong’s equality watchdog has taken a stronger stance with the support of the business community on LGBT issues in face of lukewarm response from the government.

(Photo credit: Ludovic Bertron via www.flickr.com)

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) released a statement last Thursday (9 Match) calling on the government to launch a public consultation as soon as possible for the introduction of appropriate legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status in Hong Kong.

A total of 75 major organisations have backed the statement, among them leading companies with the likes Google and Goldman Sachs.

Professor Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, Chairperson of the EOC, said it was a “historical moment” with an unprecedented support from the business community. Chan, however, noted that it would be inappropriate for the equality watchdog as a statutory body to lobby Chief Executive candidates.

Currently, there are only two situations in which there is a degree of recognition with limited effect in the Hong Kong legislation. Hong Kong does recognise same-sex cohabiting couples regarding domestic violence, and where a person has to make a medical decision on behalf of their same-sex cohabiting partner who is unable to do so themselves. Employers in Hong Kong are guided by the Government’s ‘Code of Practice’ against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Sexual Orientation’; however, the ‘Code of Practice’ is not legally binding and only applies to sexual orientation, not gender identity or intersex status.

According to a telephone study, conducted on 26 January, 2016, by the Gender Research Centre of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and commissioned by the EOC, public support for the introduction of the legislation to protect the rights of the LGBT community has increased dramatically – nearly double the comparable figure from a decade ago – a trend in line with growing global growing consciousness on human rights and justice.

It has been estimated that sexual minorities constitute about 6% of the Hong Kong population.

Also echoing the call was the European Union Office in Hong Kong, which has long been actively proponent of the prohibition of discrimination.

According to an LGBTI report published following a forum co-organized by the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao, the Gender Research Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Consulate General of Germany in Hong Kong with the support of the EOC last November, comprehensive legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status in Hong Kong is currently lacking specificity, if not inexistent.

As with the previous calls for public consultations regarding discrimination on sexual orientation, the Hong Kong government has yet to entertain the issue with gravitas, rejecting a 2012 motion by former Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho to the Legislative Council. Last year’s opening for public consultation regarding discrimination on sexual orientation was concluded with “further study”, later criticised by Brian Leung Siu-fai, a member of LGBT rights group Big Love Alliance, as “unacceptable”.

The EOC’s press conference is believed to be more vehement as compared to previous clamors, drawing on the joint study paper and parallel comparisons to the EU’s appropriation and practice of the topic in question, as well as multiple backings from 74 different organisations and academics. It is yet to be determined if the Legislative Council and the Hong Kong Government will entertain such clamors this time around.

(Printer – R&R Publishing, Suite 705, 7/F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road Central, HK)