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