There’s been a lot said, written and speculated about the horrific mass shooting in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Three of the most decisive issues in recent American politics – namely terrorism, gun control and LGBTI rights – came to the most destructive and bloody intersection imaginable on the evening of June 12, when 49 innocent people were gunned down. These victims are now posthumously caught up in what looks to be, sadly, another display of inaction by a legislative chamber that’s seemingly more concerned with playing politics than saving lives.
Make no mistake, either – the attack on gay club Pulse was an attack on the global LGBTI community. While reports about the sexuality of the shooter are contested, the fact remains that this was a calculated and deliberate attack on an already marginalised and, worse, politicised section of society. So while the shockwaves will be felt around the world for the foreseeable future, now is as good a time as ever to get back to basics. And we mean that in Hong Kong as much as anywhere else. We need to remember why our voices still need a platform to be heard – loud, proud and powerful.
Hong Kong’s LGBTI community immediately responded to the Orlando attacks. There was a candlelit vigil at Central bar Linq the night after the shooting and a memorial service at Central’s St John’s Cathedral later that week. These shows of solidarity beautifully illustrated that our gay community is just as much about standing shoulder-to-shoulder as it is about fighting for acceptance on a wider stage. For Billy Leung, vice chairman of Pink Alliance, one of Hong Kong’s largest and most prominent umbrella organisations for the LGBTI community, any event that brings together the community, despite the tragic circumstances, is ‘a way for LGBTI people to come together for solidarity and also to know that their journey is not walked alone’.
Betty Grisoni, co-founder of Les Peches, Hong Kong’s largest lesbian organisation, and Pink Dot, our city’s largest annual diversity event, agrees with Leung. She notes the Orlando shootings were horrific but that just cements the fact that the gay community has much more to do. Events that celebrate pride are of massive importance as these are ‘days that we say no to being hidden and yes to acceptance’. These events, for Grisoni, are particularly important in the Hong Kong context, too. “Despite being known as a world city,” she says, “Hong Kong does not have any anti-discrimination laws protecting our community, which means that, in 2016, people can still be fired or discriminated against because of who they are. This is why it’s essential that our voices are heard at events like the political Pride March or the more all-encompassing Pink Dot or Pink Season.”
Indeed, Hong Kong’s lack of legislative protection for LGBTI people means that we lag behind many other global metropolises which, rather than being more progressive than we are, are fundamentally just more inclusive. While Grisoni has seen steadily increased participation year-to-year, Leung points out that community events ‘are important to bring awareness to the LGBTI community that’s long been misunderstood, underrepresented and poorly portrayed’ in Hong Kong. He says that the increased participation at annual LGBTI events is a sign that Hong Kong is, increasingly, ready for change to deal with the ‘pink elephant’ in the legislative room.
But, of course, legislative change doesn’t always bring about a change of opinion. Indeed, the US Supreme Court ruling in favour of marriage equality last year arguably brought out the worst of the bigots, who suddenly found themselves with a platform and a timely context to air their views – views that came to a violent head in Orlando. Now, more than ever, though, the LGBTI community, whether it’s in the USA or in Hong Kong, needs to focus on the future. And any event that helps us celebrate who we are is fundamental and necessary. Says Leung: “Knowing that you’re accepted for who you are is a powerful thing for the mind and spirit.” The Orlando attack is a stark reminder that our struggle really does begin from within.