It's no secret that Hong Kong has quite a way to go in terms of LGBTI acceptance. Lee Phillips talks to Feiman Luk of HKU’s Queer Straight Alliance to ask whether the city’s youngsters can turn the tide and create an inclusive 'out of the closet' environment
A spring 2016 study by Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission discovered that 92 percent of young people aged 18 to 24 in the city support legal protection against discrimination of LGBTI people. Unlike in countries such as the US and UK, in Hong Kong this overwhelmingly positive majority has yet to be confirmed by a matching cultural or political shift. Given the lack of protective legislation and an attitude among older generations that’s best described as passively tolerant, the poll suggests that Hong Kong’s youth appears to be exceptionally progressive when it comes to gender and sexuality.
If anything, heightened support for LGBTI rights among young Hongkongers has emerged in spite of the social context. Members of Hong Kong University’s Queer Straight Alliance describe local same-sex and religiously affiliated high schools as ‘extremely stifling’ for queer individuals. QSA vice president Feiman Luk recalls gender non-conforming and lesbian students being 'singled out and chastised' by disapproving authority figures and having to observe a stigma around any queer visibility. Simply cutting her hair short, for example, caused Luk to be sent to detention, she claims, for 'dressing inappropriately'.
Fuelled by a distinct aversion to open dialogue about any issues regarding sex and sexuality, Hong Kong’s sex education frequently fails to address integral issues that aren’t covered in science textbooks. Luk recalls that her same-sex school never mentioned sexual orientation or gender identity and that there was little information available about protected sex and contraception. For Luk, this is a reflection of Hong Kong’s societal attitudes. "Hong Kong has a culture of not talking about sex and gender," she says. "It’s very deep rooted and ingrained."
Luk believes that the widespread support for LGBTI rights is a result of more young people going to university and being exposed to an environment that encourages free discussion. "I started being more open when I was in university," Luk states. "Being in a local school restricts you to a very rigid perspective on LGBT issues because you never know how other people feel." In addition, she says, LGBTI visibility in local pop culture – stars such as Denise Ho and Anthony Wong both openly identifying as gay and advocating for LGBTI rights – can go some way to normalising LGBTI individuals in the eyes of Hong Kong’s young people.
Although the overwhelmingly accepting attitudes of Hong Kong’s youth strongly indicate a changing social climate, some believe that this may not influence legislation. The young members of the city’s civil disobedience groups fear the future erasure of their voices in government and are thus worried that Hong Kong’s legal development in terms of LGBTI rights may depend strongly on factors besides societal consensus. Luk and other members of QSA share this outlook, stating that it is 'very hard to say' whether or not growing acceptance would translate to concrete legislation but that they remain cautiously optimistic. But while future legislation may still seem to be a hypothetical, if questionable, prospect, Hong Kong’s young adults continue to question norms, helping to foster understanding and steadily picking apart the closet for future generations.
For more information about the HKU Queer Straight Alliance, visit fb.com/QSAHK.