In many modern societies, heterosexual relationships are considered the ‘norm’, institutionalized as what is ‘right’ by various sectors of different societies: in religion, in law, in popular culture and more throughout history. As a social construct, the ‘default’ identity of heterosexuality was further enforced in 1934, when it was defined as the “manifestation of sexual passion for one of the opposite sex; normal sexuality.” by the second edition of the Merriam-Webster New International Dictionary. In this age of “heteronormativity”, as coined in 1991 by U.S. social theorist Michael Warner, where do homosexual individuals stand in our society of Hong Kong?
According to a study by the University of Hong Kong, in 2017, only 21.0% of respondents were ‘very accepting of gays and lesbians’, while 21.9% of respondents were ‘not at all accepting of gays and lesbians’. When asked whether same sex couples should have ‘all the rights heterosexual (male-female) couples have’, 38.2% of respondents agreed, while 22.5% of respondents said same-sex couples should have ‘none of the rights that male-female couples have’. It can be observed that in 2017, the percentage of respondents agreeing that same-sex couples should have ‘all the rights male-female couples have’ (38.2%) was significantly higher than the percentage of respondents that were ‘very accepting of gays and lesbians’ (21.0%). This difference shows that many Hong Kong people do not necessarily base their opinions about the protection and rights of homosexual couples on their personal moral values such as their religious beliefs, possibly due to the common notion that Hong Kong’s laws should uphold equality for all individuals no matter their sexuality, race, gender etc. The phenomenon of general non-acceptance yet a willingness to support equal rights of same-sex couples can be observed in the attitudes of Hong Kong people towards specific rights for homosexual couples as well. According to the study, in 2017, 78% of the public supported hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples; 67% agreed that same-sex couples should be protected from housing discrimination; 72% supported permitting homosexual individuals to sue for the wrongful death of their same-sex partners in cases of fatal accidents; 61% agreed that same-sex partners should inherit property from each other; and 50% agreed that same-sex couples should be given the right to marriage, like heterosexual couples. The study also found that in 2017, 69% of the public favored anti-discrimination legislation for homosexual individuals in Hong Kong.
At the Hong Kong Pride Parade on the 16th of November, 2019 in Hong Kong, interviewees were asked the question of ‘Do you think Hong Kong society is accepting of people in same-sex relationships?’ Cleo Lo, a social worker who has worked at AIDS Concern (a non-government charity organisation committed to the service of AIDS care) and is currently working at Tung Wah Group of Hospitals’ Pride Line (a 24-hour Supporting Hotline for Sexual Minorities), believes that when it comes to homosexuality, many in Hong Kong ‘are not very familiar’ with it, so ‘it is normal for people to have an unaccepting attitude towards these relationships’. According to Asha Cuthbert, a well-known local Youtuber, in Hong Kong, there is ‘underlying discrimination against it [homosexual relationships]’. She believes many Hong Kong people hold a rather nonchalant, selfish and apathetic attitude towards homosexual relationships and individuals, stating that they think ‘it’s [homosexual relationships] fine’, ‘as long as you don’t affect me’ and ‘you don’t tell me about it’. According to Karma Samtani, a Hong Kong student who runs Inclusivity Hong Kong, a student-led organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination and promoting inclusivity in educational environments, ‘Hong Kong is somewhat of a socially conservative society’, with ‘many people who are affiliated with certain religious groups that do not believe that LGBT people should be provided the right to have same-sex relationships’. He also said that many in Hong Kong ‘don’t really care’, so they ‘are not as willing to just come forward and support’. According to Mr. Sue, a father of two who brought his children to the Pride rally, Hong Kong has ‘a Chinese-based culture, and China has traditionally been very closed about same-sex relationships.’
In conclusion, many Hong Kong citizens are not very accepting of homosexual relationships; this could possibly be due to a lack of understanding and knowledge of homosexuality, personal religious beliefs, or the fact that Hong Kong has a basis in traditional Chinese culture. However, many still support the legal protection of rights and liberties of homosexual individuals, such as the establishment of anti-discrimination laws and granting them the right to marry in Hong Kong, possibly due to the ingrained value of equality before the law of all individuals.
The article above was featured in the first edition of the ISSIA Magazine. You can find the full magazine here.