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Homophobic Discrimination and Bullying in Hong Kong

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Guest Blog: @RikGlauret

Discrimination and bullying due to sexuality is more of a latent malaise in Hong Kong rather than a full-blown epidemic. Compared to some other areas of Asia attitudes are relatively open. There is no law criminalizing same-sex acts, religious groups mainly keep their conservative attitudes to themselves, and there are only rare incidents of violence enacted against homosexuals.

In ‘Asia’s World City’ where great minds buzz from all over the world one would be mistaken for thinking that attitudes match. But they do not. The relative sense of calm belies conservative attitudes that mean the struggle for acceptance is often internalized, at great psychological cost to Hong Kong’s LGBT community.

The experience of many Hong Kongers is that of subtle yet constant jibes or remarks that confirm homosexuality as wrong or abnormal.  At school, friends of mine report being called sissy or gay, creating a horrible identity crisis for people so young.

Kenneth, who works in research at a University explained that “most people are not verbally or physically aggressive but are constantly the victim of mild discrimination. I do not experience verbal or physical aggression on a day-to-day basis, but I have been victim of psychological bullying (discrimination, boycotting, name-calling) my whole life.”

I spoke to a number of homosexuals in Hong Kong about what it’s like to be gay in the workplace. It seems that some industries such as fashion and the media are of course much more open to diversity. Global finance enterprises including JP Morgan, Citi, Goldman Sachs actively encourage diversity in the city, and expats often experience little trouble in being open in the office.

The story is different in local workplaces, and therefore for the majority of Hong Kong’s homosexuals. Individuals talk about it being ‘unnecessary’ to come out at work. Comments in the office ridiculing homosexuals or using ‘gay’ as a derogatory term mean that people would rather hide their identity than confront it.

Nik, an expat working in one of Hong Kong’s hospitals shared his experience of discrimination at work. I genuinely feel disgust at some homophobic comments made by colleagues who work with the public everyday. I have been working for almost 3 years in Hong Kong, and I still do not feel comfortable ‘coming out’ to the people I spend most of my time with in the city.”

Whether you are expat or local, the reality of the Hong Kong workplace is that there is no law in place to ensure equality based on sexuality. Should you be discriminated against for being gay there is no piece of government legislation to protect you from your employer. Whilst the quest for gay marriage may get a lot of press coverage, equality legislation is key to encouraging openness and acceptance.

Integral to many homosexual’s feeling of acceptance is to come out to their family and this remains the biggest obstacle for many Hong Kongers. Kenneth recalls: “When I was sixteen my mother took me aside and asked me, ‘You like girls right? You’re not interested in boys are you? I don’t really mind, so be honest’. I knew it wasn’t necessary to tell the truth so I instinctively replied no and promised that I never would be. Her response was ‘Phew, I’m glad you’re not, it’s just not good.’”

The family is incredibly important in Hong Kong culture, and soaring house prices mean that many will live at home into their late twenties and early thirties. Conservative attitudes in older generations mean that many cannot be open and honest with those they spend the most time with.

Homosexuals in the city may not feel actively discriminated against or persecuted and there is a strong LGBT community in Hong Kong whether that be the gay and lesbian bars, the associations, or advocacy and support groups.

But hiding who you are on a daily basis, both at work and at home takes a psychological toll on the individual. Kenneth explains “I learnt to convince myself that who I love is just a small aspect of life. I learnt to lie and to change my body language. I am sure I still have internalized doubts, and like many in homosexuals in Hong Kong I find trusting people very hard.”

The real damage of homophobic attitudes in Hong Kong is not with bruised faces and limbs from hate crimes. It is not even with overt name-calling and active discrimination in Hong Kong’s streets and businesses. The fatigue is on individuals’ sense of self and mental wellbeing. The general lack of acceptance and of casual discrimination means that Hong Kong’s gays are marginalized, forcing to hide an important part of their identity from those that care most for them and are most around them.

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