At a press conference on Friday 15 March, over 15 LGBT groups in Hong Kong announced their withdrawal from the Sexual Minorities Forum (SMF). The SMF is the consultative body set up in September 2004 “to provide,” as it says on the government website, “a regular and formal channel for non-governmental organisations and the government to exchange views on issues concerning sexual minorities and transgendered persons in Hong Kong.”
Speaking for the assembled representatives of many of the 21 groups that had so far withdrawn, Reggie Ho, Chairman of the Pink Alliance, and its Legal Advisor, human rights solicitor Michael Vidler, accused the government of deliberately rendering the SMF ineffective whilst using it as a cover for its failure to introduce measures to prevent discrimination.
The mass withdrawal was sparked by Hong Kong’s report to the 107th session of the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), sitting in Geneva between 12 and 14 March to review Hong Kong’s Third Report in respect of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Hong Kong signed this covenant before the handover of power in 1997 and is obliged to report progress.
When it submitted its report in 1999, it was criticised by the HRC for not introducing legislation to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. At the time, Hong Kong had legislated against many other forms of discrimination, but had refused to do so to cover sexual orientation or gender identity. Lack of such legislation has prevented any protection being put in place to protect those of sexual minorities from dismissal at work or denial of services in Hong Kong. It has also prevented Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) from taking on any cases concerning LGBT issues.
The Hong Kong government excused its inactivity on the grounds that there was no consensus for change in Hong Kong and that it had done other things instead, such as establishing the SMF and carrying out ‘education’ programmes in the community.
Now, fourteen years later, the Hong Kong government made the same excuses, but this time its arguments were based upon even more shaky foundations. The SMF had achieved no single concrete improvement in LGBT rights since 2004. It had not met since 2010 and the government had not published the minutes of that meeting. The government had admitted to membership of the SMF the Hong Kong arm of Exodus International, a body named the New Creation Association, which is an advocate of ‘reparative therapy’ and fights against LGBT rights.
Government departments had refused to meet LGBT groups because, they said, “LGBT issues are handled by the SMF”. It had become abundantly clear to the LGBT community that the SMF had been deliberately designed as a cover for government inactivity and that its existence was actually detrimental to LGBT interests.
The last few months in Hong Kong had seen developments which undercut the government’s argument that there was no consensus for change. Two independent surveys, one by the EOC and one by Hong Kong University on behalf of Legislative Council Member Cyd Ho, found that over 60% of Hong Kong’s population now supported a bill against discrimination. It is rumoured that government soundings at the end of 2012 found similar results. Yet the new Chief Executive, C.Y Leung, in his first policy address, ruled out even consultation on a bill. The word had it that in so doing he overruled the advice of his own departments and was guided by the small coterie of fundamentalist Christians who surround him. These clearly did not want to find that Hong Kong’s society now really did have a consensus for legislation.
The Pink Alliance, Hong Kong’s Human Rights Monitor and others took up the challenge and sent representatives to Geneva to attend the HRC session to expose the government’s case in person. The delegations are on their way back to Hong Kong as this article is being written, and a report on their activities and experiences there will follow shortly. To help them make the case before the HRC that the government could not claim that the SMF was allowing it to fulfil its commitments, the large majority of Hong Kong’s LGBT groups withdrew en masse from the SMF in a coordinated action between February and March.
At the press conference alongside the Pink Alliance were representatives of Queer Sisters, the Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship (BMCF), the Transgender Resource Center, Dark Angels and AIDS Concern, the Chi Heng Foundation and the Transgender Equality and Acceptance Movement. Pastor Wong of the BMCF and Mimi Wong of Dark Angels both expressed the disappointment of their organisations at the government’s failure to legislate against discrimination and their refusal to be part of a body that was being used by the government to cover this up.
Other organisations that had withdrawn from the SMF included Nutong Xueshe, the Ten Percent Club, HORIZONS, Satsanga, the Gender Rights Research Group, the Hong Kong Christian Institute, and the Amnesty International Hong Kong LGBT Section, the office of the Honorary Emily Lau and Gender Concern.
Withdrawal from the SMF is but one step in the actions being taken now in Hong Kong to fight for a bill against discrimination, but it is a strong sign of the growing move to joint action in support of Legco Member Cyd Ho’s establishment of the Big Love Alliance which has called for joint action by the community.
If the Hong Kong government ever decides to reconvene the SMF, which is now very much in doubt, it will find itself talking to a few groups of marginalised radicals and some supporters of ‘reparative therapy’. One cannot imagine that their deliberations will be very effective.