Games People Play

Homosexuality has been documented in China for many hundreds of years. Several early Chinese emperors are thought to have had homosexual relationships in addition to heterosexual ones. Emperor Ai, for example, is reported to have had a long running affair with one of his male concubines. Bian Er Chai, a collection of short stories published in the late Ming Dynasty covering similar ground, is famous in Chinese literature. But all emperors had to take female partners in order to ensure an heir. Homosexuality for both men and women is legal in Hong Kong and the mainland and in the latter case was so for most of the last century except for a brief period between 1979 and 1997.

Therefore the suggestion, which is sometimes advanced, that homosexuality is somehow un-Chinese and a recent import from the decadent West, is simply absurd and does not correspond to historical fact.

All of which is by way of introduction to the subject of the so-called “Gay Games” which are due to be held concurrently in Hong Kong and Guadalajara in Mexico in early November. The first such games were held in San Francisco in 1982, this will be the first time they are being held in Asia. Now some may think we already have enough sporting contests – the Olympics, the Asian Games, the All-China Games etc – but the objective of these games is to garner acceptance of the LGBTQ etc community. In other words, there is a socio-political purpose not just a sporting one. Organisers of the local version want to showcase our city as a caring, inclusive and vibrant international city. That all seems harmless enough, but the response has been somewhat mixed.

The most vociferous opponents have been Legislative Councillors Junius Ho Kwan-yiu and Priscilla Leung Mei-fun. As far back as 2021 they objected to Hong Kong staging the games. Ho described the $1 billion projected economic gain as “dirty money” which might lead to legalising of same-sex marriage. Last month he went a step further and launched an on-line petition seeking to secure 120,000 signatures against the games. He claimed hosting them would damage the revival of the great Chinese civilisation and could even raise national security concerns. He pointed to Article 23 of the National Security Law which requires that we carry forward the traditional culture of the Chinese people and guard against and resist the impact of harmful culture.

I hesitate to challenge Ho on a security issue but I find that claim far-fetched for the reasons set out earlier.

The Government’s response to all this has been cautious. Former chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor only “noted” the news when asked in 2017 for her response to Hong Kong’s winning bid to play host. More recently Secretary for Home Affairs Casper Tsui Ying-wai said the government would be “neutral” while observing that the declared objective was to promote a culture of integration. Advance booking of public sports facilities would be possible if partnering with recognised sports associations. So far organisers have only managed to secure a single booking of a government facility.

Response from various government linked bodies has also been mixed. The Equal Opportunities Commission is listed on the Games website as a supporting organisation which is hardly surprising as its aims are exactly the same as the organisers. Brand Hong Kong, part of the Information Services Department, sees the games as a useful contribution to overseas image building. InvestHK is there as well, together with 10 of the international chambers of commerce registered here. Finally the Hong Kong Tourism Board, though I gather games events have yet to feature in its forthcoming diary highlights. But silence so far from the Home Affairs Bureau despite its policy remit including both sports and anti-discrimination.

From the private sector, a variety of companies have signed up including some tourism related ones such as hotel groups and our airline, Cathay Pacific. Many sports organisations are lending support, though there are some notable absentees.

Among prominent local political leaders, Exco Convenor, legislative councillor and New People’s Party leader Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has spoken up strongly in support of the games. She sees it as an opportunity to demonstrate our devotion to protection of human rights. Her predecessor as Convenor, Bernard Charnwart Chan, has taken a similar position.

I have absolutely no trouble accepting that some people are homosexual or bisexual and should be accepted in our society. I suspect my views are fairly reflective of majority local opinion. I also understand that there may be a very small number of people who feel uncomfortable in the gender to which they were assigned at birth. In extreme cases they may even wish to transition to the other sex. Such people deserve our empathy. But many people, including myself, find this whole QTI+ area a difficult one to get our heads around. There have been troubling reports from overseas of some cases not being handled well with disastrous results for the young people concerned. A local case raised several important questions.

To sum up, everyone needs to calm down and cool the debate. Advocates of the community should not be too militant, opponents should be kinder. Let the games begin.