TV & Radio
|| News ||
Hong Kong gays fight sodomy laws, triggering debate in traditional society
When William Roy Leung made legal history in Hong Kong by successfully challenging antigay laws, the 20-year-old gay man told a crowd outside the courthouse he could finally be in love without living in fear of being thrown in jail. But the legal threat might soon be back in Leung's life. The government is appealing the decision that found sodomy laws discriminatory and unconstitutional. One of the laws demanded a life sentence for gay sex when one or both men are younger than 21.
The appeal surprised Leung, who works for a medical aid group. "We're not asking for anything new. This is about equality, about everybody having the same rights," he told the Associated Press.
But others think differently in this Chinese city—where sex, let alone homosexuality, is a subject almost never brought up in the family. Though Hong Kong does not actively persecute or repress its sexual minorities, few would venture to say the city is open or tolerant about gays and lesbians. The ruling sparked a big controversy. Some predicted that August's court case meant the legal age for gay sex will be lowered from 21 to 16—the same as that for heterosexual intercourse.
In an ensuing city-wide debate over the "appropriate" age for homosexual behavior, everything from "traditional morals" and "Asian culture" to religion have been called upon as defense against the ruling. Hong Kong is more tolerant of homosexuality than Singapore, which bans gay sex and bars gay groups from registering as organizations. Prosecutions of gays are rare in Singapore, which tolerates them as long as they keep a low profile.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Hong Kong 14 years ago, but it is legal only for men 21 years of age or older. Consensual sodomy between men, when one or both are under 21, could mean life imprisonment, and both men would be held criminally liable. The same punishment applies to sodomy between straight couples, but in that case only the man—not the woman if she is under 21—is considered a criminal. There are no corresponding laws for lesbians.
High court judge Michael Hartmann said such differences contradicted the spirit of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, which says all individuals are to be equally protected by the law. He also criticized the laws as "disproportionate punishment" for gay men, who at the time of drafting were probably assumed to be deviant in "choosing" to be gay—in the same way people have a choice over drug addiction.
Gay rights activist Nigel Collett agrees with the judge. "The disparity in the age of consent law sends a message to all gay young men that this society views them as different and somehow criminal. It imposes a stigma," said Collett, a writer and businessman.
Meanwhile, Hartmann's ruling was greeted with bitter resentment by conservative groups. Even Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang—a Catholic who attends Mass daily—felt compelled to speak out. "We must look after the interests of people whom we believe need to be protected," Tsang told reporters. "I think we have to look at not only points of equity—which I fully espouse—but also look at the interests of the minor as well."
The Christian group Society for Truth and Light has been leading a fierce campaign against gay rights, maintaining that teenage boys must be protected from "dangerous activities" and AIDS. Taking out large newspaper ads and staging protests, the group also warned that Hong Kong is in danger of overindulging in equality for homosexuals, which it believes will give gays license to demand more and more—eventually bringing about same-sex marriage.
Many gays in Hong Kong say same-sex marriage is an unrealistic expectation and that they harbor only modest hopes. Some, like Collett, would like to see committed gay couples given legal rights to pensions and hospital visits. (AP)
Gay Chinese a presence but discreet in Hong Kong
2005-12-31 Beijing Time - Shanghai Daily
JERVOIS Street runs through what looks like an ordinary Hong Kong neighborhood with sleepy car repair shops and tiny noodle eateries. But as night falls it gets a makeover, becoming one of the few places in town where the gay community can be seen relaxing and partying in public.
Every weekend, two trendy gay bars — probably the first such establishments in Hong Kong to open on the street front — draw flashy cars, celebrities, designers and masses of men in silk shirts and tight tank tops. As the evening wears on, the surging crowds spill out on the sidewalk, drinking and socializing.
Hong Kong may be among the most cosmopolitan of Asian cities, but its pink economy remains largely underground.
Unlike Jervois Street, most of the sprinkling of openly gay or gay-friendly clubs and karaoke bars are discreetly tucked away in alleyways or upstairs of buildings.
Like the clubs they patronize, most homosexuals in Hong Kong prefer not to draw attention to their sexual preference, despite apparently improving tolerance and emergency of the gay rights movement over the past decade or so.
In the genteel Boris and Matthew bar, many youths leaning against each other and hunching over drinks intimately will have to hide their sexuality from the world. But Herman Au is an exception.
The tanned, fashion-savvy 24-year-old event organizer said he came out to his family a year ago, and has never suffered any discrimination in the workplace.
"My whole company knows. I don't ever have to hide myself," he said, admitting however that his parents are "definitely more open-minded" than most.
Even so, Au said he has had to coax his mother into accepting that she would never have any grandchildren. The family is the single most important unit of society in Chinese culture, and knowledge that their sons will never form a family or fulfill their perceived duty in continuing the family line is immensely difficult for most Chinese parents to accept.