Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive Carrie Lam is usually full of sweet-sounding words and photo op smiles. But her composure was rattled and her inner prejudices revealed at an informal briefing given to diplomats and journalists at a reception at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club.
Hong Kong has, it had just been learned, been selected to host the 2022 Gay Games, an athletic and cultural gathering for members of the international gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) communities. It is both a celebration and of their identity and a way of pushing their demands for equal social and legal rights, such as gay marriage.
Hong Kong won the right thanks to the efforts of the local LGBT community, which is abundant and active but still faces discrimination despite the efforts of the territory’s Equal Opportunities Commission. The quest to host the games was backed by the Commission and also by the Tourist Board and Cathay Pacific Airways, who realized this was a great opportunity to attract large numbers of visitors.
It is just the sort of international event which Hong Kong normally aspires to host. It would also show the city’s liberal attitudes by being the first Asian host of the games, which began in San Francisco in 1982 and have been held in Canada, Germany and Australia as well as other US cities.
But, as described to Asia Sentinel, Lam appeared none too keen on the idea and refused to commit to allowing government-owned venues – sports stadiums, etc – to be used for the event. She also resisted the idea of legalizing gay marriage, as Taiwan has recently done. Hong Kong’s courts already accept gay marriages performed elsewhere and required that they are given married status under Hong Kong law.
Lam bizarrely brought her Catholic religion, a minority belief in mostly nominally Buddhist Hong Kong, into the issue by saying she could not approve gay marriage. On being asked by a reporter for the English section of Radio Television Hong Kong who suggested that most of his listeners backed gay marriage, she claimed this was very much a minority among Chinese listeners. This point was itself highly disputable but Lam went on to sneer that few people listened to English radio anyway. This flash of arrogance addressing an audience of diplomats and correspondent, most of whom were far more comfortable with English than Cantonese, drew audible dissent which one of those present characterised as “booing.”
That ruffled Lam, who left the meeting shortly afterwards scowling. It was a small incident but a big indicator of Hong Kong’s leader’s attitude of mind.