Earlier this year, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage. This monumental moment led many to reflect on whether or not Hong Kong would follow in its footsteps. But now that the celebrations have died down, for some, the ongoing fight for greater LGBTI rights in Hong Kong feels out of sight and out of mind.
For local Youtuber Asha Cuthbert, being an outspoken advocate for LGBTI rights in the entertainment and media industry made her realise that while many Hongkongers may accept queer people for who they are, few are willing to fight for them. “[When] a brand came out with a soap that supported gay rights, I reached out to some of my influencer friends to support me by filming a little clip saying the words, ‘gay is okay’. They all said no because it was a sensitive topic and wouldn’t work well with their platform,’ Cuthbert recalls. ‘That was such a blow to me because it suddenly became very personal.”
Her partner was born female but identities as male. For him, the debate about whether Hong Kong will ever allow same-sex marriage should start by having open discussions with members of the LGBTI community, an active measure to better understand their views and experiences. “Even within the LGBTI community, we’re still trying to understand each other.
I, for one, don’t understand non-binary people, but there was once a time when people didn’t understand transgenderism. It took years of research to finally realise this exists and is science-proven,” he says. “I may not understand non-binary, but I’m not going to tell people how they should feel or identify, and I don’t think anyone should,” he adds.
International yet rooted in its traditions, Hong Kong is caught between two worlds. That duality complicates local support for the LGBTI community. According to Christian Marco, better known as the drag queen Violette Blanche, drag performances offer a way to spark dialogue. Using wigs, gowns and makeup, drag queens and kings are slowly undoing rigid gender concepts, bringing complicated conversations to mainstream audiences. “While my husband and I have never been discriminated [against] for being gay here, I don’t think many Hongkongers care if LGBTI people have the right to marriage because they don’t think it affects them,” says Marco.
"Everyone should care about marriage equality, because the [basic] family rights everyone else takes for granted can change the lives of so many same-sex couples,” says Angus Leung. A gay senior immigration officer, Leung took the government to court to claim spousal benefits previously denied to same-sex couples – and won. “By showing you support this issue, you are letting the LGBTI community know that they are an integral part of society,” he adds. At its core, the marriage equality movement boils down to basic human rights. As the movement gains momentum, many are hopeful that Hong Kong can follow in the footsteps of Taiwan. “I think same-sex marriage [will] become legal in Hong Kong soon,” says Leung. “Ultimately, there will only be ‘marriage’ between two adults, and the label ‘same-sex marriage’ will no longer be necessary.”