Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan metropolis with a diverse population, has long touted itself as “Asia’s World City” – a global hub for commerce, fashion, gastronomy and art.

In 2017, it was announced as host for the 2022 Gay Games, after fighting off rival bids from Washington DC and Guadalajara in Mexico. The Hong Kong bid received support from over 120 organisations.

Gay Games 9
Opening ceremony of Gay Games 9. Photo: Koji Kawano via Flickr.

The Gay Games, formerly known as the Gay Olympics, is a global event that strives to promote acceptance of sexual diversity through competitive sport. It began in 1982 and like the regular Olympics takes place every four years hosted by a different city each time.

This is the first time that the Gay Games will be held in Asia. The Games aim to promote a more equal, diverse, and accepting world for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, under the motto “Unity in Diversity.”

Hong Kong’s winning bid for the 11th Gay Games was hailed as a major step forward for the LGBT+ rights in Asia. Hong Kong AIDS Concern lauded the “exciting, positive news,” describing it as a “tremendous opportunity to build the health of people across Asia and showcase Hong Kong as a world city.” The bid was also supported by government organisations and seen as a positive development for a traditionally conservative city.

Hong Kong Mixed Volleyball team. Photo: Gay Games 11 Hong Kong 2022 via Facebook.

Fast forward four years and the excitement for the event has waned. During this period, many of the city’s notable pro-LGBT+ politicians were incarcerated pending trial under the National Security Law. This is seen to have contributed directly to the hostility directed at LGBT+ events and LGBT+ individuals.

Several Legislative Council members have expressed reservations about or hostility to the event. “It is your business what you do in your own room, but if you go out and do it in public, it is disgraceful,” said Junius Ho, a prominent pro-establishment lawmaker.

“On the surface, it is about equal opportunities and it is about inclusion. But it does not take a genius to figure out it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he added later. Other legislators have expressed concern that the Games might “tear society apart.”

Potential revenue generated by the Games was described by Ho as “dirty money,” and any official sponsorship for it was discouraged by another legislator.

It’s ironic to hear homophobic remarks from legislators who once emphasised the importance of diversity and inclusiveness. What might “tear society apart” isn’t the Games itself, rather, it’s the prejudice and homophobic sentiments from those who believe a significant portion of society is inferior to them. What’s even more disheartening is the government’s unprogressive response to these discriminatory remarks. Despite the possible benefits to the economy and the city’s international reputation, they have been hesitant to fully endorse the event.

Carrie Lam Gay Games
Photo: RTHK and GGHK screenshots.

With just over a year until the projected opening ceremony in November 2022, Regina Ip, the chairperson of the New People’s Party, has emerged as a rare voice of reason, urging the government to support the event.

The Games are perceived as a terrific opportunity to demonstrate what Hong Kong is capable of and why the moniker of “Asia’s World City” is well-deserved. If Hong Kong is to embrace its role as a global metropolis, it must become more accepting of homosexuality and gender diversity in sports.

It is not only morally acceptable but also financially sound to favour the Games. More than 12,000 international athletes are expected to take part in an event which will be broadcast live around the world and is expected to generate more than HK$1 billion (US$128 million) in revenue. Supporters also see a long-term economic and cultural impact, with positive media coverage and an increase in tourism. This is a tremendous opportunity for Hong Kong to boost its soft power and international prestige, both of which are vital for the city’s economic success.

Opponents of the games appear to be oblivious to how far Hong Kong has progressed since a landmark court decision decriminalising homosexuality in 1991. Hong Kong is no longer the conservative society it once was. According to the most recent polls, more than half of Hong Kong residents support same-sex marriage, a considerable increase over the previous year’s 38 per cent. A survey by Hong Kong University’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law found 69 per cent of respondents would support a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Civil society is really supportive, citizens really support LGBT. We have never had so many businesses supporting Pride Month as this year… it’s just the people remaining in the Legislative Council who are out of touch… they are the ones dividing Hong Kong,” said Wylie Yeo, director of Hong Kong Pride.

As the debate rages on, the Hong Kong administration will have to address the discrepancy between its vision for the city and the aspirations of its citizens in order to live up to its nickname of “Asia’s World City.” A city that promotes unity in diversity, where everyone is respected and their opinions are heard.

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Adrian Ho graduated from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania. He is a lawmaker, the Founder of Save HK Facebook Group and also a member of the Central Committee of the New People's Party. He also has 10 years of experience in wind power development in Xinjiang.