The 11th Gay Games – and the first-ever in Asia – has officially kicked off in Hong Kong, as top government adviser Regina Ip spoke at the opening ceremony despite criticism from anti-gay groups and lawmakers.

Lawmaker and Executive Council convener Regina Ip attends the opening ceremony of Hong Kong's Gay Games on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Lawmaker and Executive Council convener Regina Ip attends the opening ceremony of Hong Kong’s Gay Games on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The hosting of the Gay Games Hong Kong was strong testimony to the city’s diversity, inclusion and unity, Executive Council convener Ip said during a speech at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium on Saturday. Representatives from more than 40 countries and regions were gathered to mark the opening of the international multi-sport and cultural event.

Hong Kong's Gay Games officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Hong Kong’s Gay Games officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The organisers “really have come a long way” since submitting a bid to organise the Gay Games in the city in late 2016, Ip said, adding it was a “bold attempt to put Hong Kong in the forefront of the world’s most liberal and open cities.”

“History is being created today… we are proud to be the first Asian city to co-host Gay Games 23 along with Guadalajara of Mexico,” the New People’s Party chairperson told a crowd waving national, regional and rainbow flags.

Hong Kong's Gay Games officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Hong Kong’s Gay Games officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Opposition to Hong Kong’s Gay Games from anti-LGBTQ groups and legislators grew in the days leading up to Saturday’s opening ceremony, with some calling the event a national security threat. Ip, who rejected claims that the Gay Games was illegal, also came under fire as some groups called for her resignation from the Executive Council.

Lawmaker and Executive Council convener Regina Ip attends the opening ceremony of Hong Kong's Gay Games on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Lawmaker and Executive Council convener Regina Ip attends the opening ceremony of Hong Kong’s Gay Games on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Citing judgements handed down over the past decade, Ip said on Saturday that local courts consistently upheld the rights of the LGBTQ community to marriage, privacy, dependent visas, civil service benefits, eligibility to public housing and parenthood. Equal opportunity and non-discrimination were highly treasured by the Hong Kong government and Hong Kong people. she said.

“Thumbs up for our independent courts,” she said.

Lawmaker and Executive Council convener Regina Ip delivers a speech at Hong Kong's Gay Games, which officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Lawmaker and Executive Council convener Regina Ip delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong’s Gay Games on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Ip previously said she supported the Gay Games because she was “anti-discrimination.” But she has also said that neither she nor her party, New People’s Party, have ever advocated for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Hong Kong.

See also: Explainer: What is Hong Kong’s Gay Games and why has it seen so much controversy?

The audience cheered and applauded throughout Ip’s speech. “Thank you Ip Lau!” Some people chanted, calling her by her Chinese name.

Representatives from Australia at Hong Kong's Gay Games, which officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Representatives from Australia at Hong Kong’s Gay Games, which officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Saturday’s opening ceremony began with the march-in of representative teams. Athletes from San Francisco, where the first Gay Games was founded by Olympian Tom Waddell in 1982, were the first to enter the stadium in Wan Chai, provided by the Hong Kong government as a competition venue.

Lawmaker Adrian Ho attends the opening ceremony of Hong Kong's Gay Games on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Lawmaker Adrian Ho attends the opening ceremony of Hong Kong’s Gay Games on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Other participating countries and cities included Australia, Chinese Taipei, Denmark, Japan, the UK, and the US. Mainland China, where the LGBTQ community faces increasing censorship and crackdown, also saw athletes take part in the event.

Hong Kong's Gay Games officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Hong Kong’s Gay Games officially opens on November 4, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Whilst same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1991, Hong Kong has no laws to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, the provision of goods and services, or from hate speech. Same-sex marriage remains illegal, although a 2023 survey showed that 60 per cent of Hongkongers support it. Despite repeated government appeals, courts have granted those who married – or who entered civil partnerships – abroad some recognition in terms of tax, spousal visas and public housing.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.