Breaking The LGBT ‘Conspiracy of Silence’
At 2am on Saturday 11th June a man walked into a gay club in Orlando Florida and killed 49 people. United States authorities are calling it the worst terror attack on the country since 9/11. It is a sad reminder that despite the progress that continues to be made for acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities around the globe there is still a long way to go. The event underlines the importance and pertinence of the Ogilvy Pride talk that took place a day earlier where LGBT activist Gigi Chao and Hong Kong based Solicitor Michael Vidler came together to highlight and tackle some thorny issues facing gay people in Hong Kong.
One of the biggest hurdles according to Chao is the Harvey Milk coined phrase, ‘overcoming the conspiracy of silence’. “We need to call out the elephant in the room and say what we can do about it.” She is no stranger to conservative Asian views. Her father, Hong Kong property tycoon Cecil Chao offered a $500 million Hong Kong dollar dowry publicly to any man who would marry Gigi despite her marrying her long term partner Sean Eav in France two years earlier. This only appeared to cement her drive to push forward the LGBT cause. She wants more for the LGBT community than just acceptance, she wants them to be celebrated, “we need to get to the final step, dare I say it: I see you being gay, LGBT, bisexual, transsexual and I think it’s a good idea!”
Declaring one’s sexuality publicly is something Michael Vidler and Gigi Chao steadfastly agree on. For Vidler though, the key to changing public perception also involves changes in legislation and support from the business community. A lawyer in the field for more than a decade, he’s won two landmark cases. The ‘W’ case in 2013 that gave a transgender woman the right to marry her boyfriend and his successful case with Billy Leung to overturn the age of sexual consent from 21 to 16 in 2006. Change in Hong Kong though is slow, Vidler says, and despite his successes his latest challenge against Hong Kong Immigration’s refusal to grant a dependent visa to a lesbian’s spouse has been lost. But he says his fight is not yet over, telling the Ogilvy audience, “thank god for the court of appeal” where he intends to take his case armed with an amicus brief.
In Hong Kong homosexuality was decriminalized in 1991 yet Asian family values seem to still hold the traditional course. Chao says, she feels the pressure of self-censorship “not just in the media but on a personal level, relating to my family on an everyday basis”. Attitudes in the city though do appear to be more positive, especially among the youth. According to a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission, 91 percent of 18-24 year olds are in favour of the government passing legislation to protect the LGBTI community. “And if they support anti discrimination legislation, then they are going to support same-sex marriage”, he says, although that’s something the Hong Kong government still does not recognise.
Not only that, he says companies lose out financially when same-sex partnerships are not acknowledged. It costs to recruit and train people, so to lose one because of the denial of a spousal visa or an uncomfortable working environment doesn’t make financial sense. British LGBT charity Stonewall says that concealing sexual orientation at work decreases productivity by up to 30% which is also detrimental to the business at large.
Chao, who is an executive at her father’s locally based property firm Cheuk Nang Holdings also admits that they uphold a conservative approach, “We are very behind and passive in embracing anything … the family patriarch is still running the company in all its dimensions”. While Vidler is hoping the effect on the company coffers will lead businesses to get moving on LGBT equality ahead of the law, Chao is keeping her eyes on society as a whole, ‘What we can do is drive it from a business point of view…but also… what we need to do is make the change within society and that’s something I think Ogilvy is exceptionally good at.”
So what’s next? Chao says, come out if you’re in the closet! Don’t let conservative Asian family values hold you back. Push the boundaries. Communicate. “I think it’s a good idea to express who you are truly”. They both want you to get involved, “we do have elections coming up in September” Chao says, “educate them on your view”. As for Vidler, he wants to see more diversity policies, support of gay staff and no more counterproductive hiding in the workplace. In a nod to the Ogilvy audience he encouraged them to set the bar high in business, “You’re an advertising agency… you mould the way we think. Get out there and encourage companies to be more open and realistic, less [portrayal] of the flamboyant gay… [portray] more of a realistic scenario.”