A pair of lions painted in rainbow stripes displayed outside HSBC’s main office in Hong Kong have been slammed by anti-gay groups as activists in the city call for more progress on equal rights.

Two plain bronze lions named Stephen and Stitt usually sit outside the office in the city’s Central business district and have been joined by a pair of multi-coloured replicas as part of the bank’s “Celebrate Pride, Celebrate Unity” campaign in support of the LGBT community.

The new statues were decorated by local artist Michael Lam and will be on display throughout December.

“Having a workforce that reflects the diversity of our millions of customers in Hong Kong and which draws on a wide range of perspectives makes us better able to serve the whole community,” HSBC spokesman Adam Harper told AFP.

But the lions have sparked a backlash from conservative sections of Hong Kong society with some groups launching a joint petition against the artworks, calling them “disgusting”.

The petition has been organised by Roger Wong, an outspoken figure against gay rights and the father of Joshua Wong, who famously led the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014.

It says that the statues are “causing annoyance to the feelings of many Hong Kong people as well as trampling on the existing family values”.

The petition adds that the rainbow colours, symbolic of the LGBT community, are emasculating and deprive “all the strength and stamina of the original lions”.

Although Hong Kong is an international finance hub and thousands turned out for its annual pride parade last month, conservative groups regularly hit back at the promotion of what they see as an LGBT agenda.

The government has also been criticised by rights campaigners for a lack of anti-discrimination laws and little progress towards marriage equality.

However, passers-by outside the HSBC building Tuesday were overwhelmingly in favour of the statues, with some stopping to take photos of the lions.

“A bank needs to be more inclusive rather than just cater to one group of people, so it’s actually good for the bank itself,” said Brian Yip, who also works in finance.

Visitors also voiced support.

“With the bank adopting this attitude it shows mainstream society’s tolerance and support for these groups,” Beijing tourist Wendy Lee told AFP.

Billy Leung of the city’s Pink Alliance said Hong Kong must “up its game” on rights if it wants to attract the best talents and stay economically competitive.

“Our Asian neighbors such as Japan, Taiwan and even Vietnam are considering not only prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination but also offering benefits to same-sex couples,” said Leung.

Taiwan’s current president Tsai Ing-wen has openly supported marriage equality and its parliament is currently deliberating a same-sex marriage bill.

AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.