A study commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has found that more than half of Hongkongers surveyed are in favour of legislation against sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status discrimination, indicating a visible shift in public opinion over the past decade.

More than half – 55.7 percent – of the 1,005 surveyed agreed with enacting legislation – almost double the 28.7 percent who agreed in 2005. The shift was even more defined among young people – 91.8 percent considered legislation necessary, and nearly half – 48.9 percent – with religious views concurred. The findings of the Study on Legislation against Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status were released on Monday.

Photo: HKFP.

The study also revealed the prevalence of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) in Hong Kong. In the study’s focus groups, LGBTI respondents feel that discrimination frequently takes place in areas of employment, education, provision of services, disposal and management of premises, as well as government functions. They also feel that they have little or no means of redress. They therefore saw legal protection from discrimination as the necessary first step in the protection of basic human rights and dignity.

The study, which the EOC called the most comprehensive of its kind in Hong Kong, included a telephone survey with 1,005 respondents, findings from public forums, focus groups, interviews with respondents from the LGBTI community, and opinions submitted online and by post. It also analysed the legislation in different jurisdictions, some of which, like Hong Kong, are influenced by Chinese culture.

York Chow. File Photo: Stand News.

EOC Chairperson Dr. York Chow said at a press conference on Monday that the study is expected to serve as a useful reference for efforts to advance equality and legislation on the matter. The report will be submitted to the government for consideration, as the EOC urges it to conduct a public consultation as soon as possible and step up its efforts by providing education and opening up a dialogue.

Lagging behind

Chow noted that various United Nations human rights monitoring bodies have repeatedly called on Hong Kong to legislate against discrimination on these grounds, and that Hong Kong lags behind other jurisdictions in legislation in the area.

LGBT activist group The Pink Alliance said that it welcomed the study’s findings and similarly urged the government to implement its suggestions. “Commencing the legislative process helps [bridge] the views of all key stakeholders and to balance the diverse perspectives in the society,” said Billy Leung, Vice-chair of the Pink Alliance. “It also avoids costly litigation arising from outdated and unfair policies.”

The Pink Alliance noted that some may feel such legislation would threaten their freedom of speech and expression, and therefore the government should commence consultation to allow the public to engage in the process of preparing the draft bill. It also observed that “little or no negative impacts brought on to the freedom of speech and expression to the other countries examined by the study, such as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the UK”.

File Photo: Stand News.

“Discriminatory treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status has no place in an international city and business centre such as Hong Kong,” Chow said. “Such discrimination harms LGBTI individuals physically, emotionally, and financially. They also hurt the city’s ability to attract and retain talent, as well as our longstanding reputation as an open and welcoming society. It is time that the Government considers the next steps to ensuring legal protection against discrimination for the LGBTI community.”

“It is vital to remember that, whatever our differences in opinions, we all share a commitment and belief that discrimination is unacceptable and should be eliminated,” said Chow. “In commissioning this study, the EOC hopes to lay the groundwork for Hong Kong to engage in rational dialogue on the way forward. The EOC will continue its advocacy on this front to ensure that no one will face discrimination and prejudice because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.