Fighting back against homophobic bullying in schools has been a lonely and dispiriting task till now for the Hong Kong NGO, the Boys and Girls Clubs Association (BGCA). They raised this issue almost alone and initially unnoticed once they started to realise there was a problem that had so far not been recognised in Hong Kong’s schools and so which no one had so far addressed. In July 2009, they conducted an online survey which found alarming levels of homophobic bullying in schools accompanied by a complete lack of any institutional protection for the students suffering from it. They released the results to the press that year, to little notice. You can read detail of their findings in the article Fridae.com carried on 13 August 2010, ‘Hong Kong NGO fights homophobia in schools’.
The BGCA were alarmed enough by what they had found to make them determined not to give up the issue, so set out to raise awareness of the problem by mounting a series of showings of the film Prayers for Bobby in a major Hong Kong cinema in June and July 2010. At that stage, the leader of BGCA’s Project Touch, CY Chau, who was leading their effort, reached out to the Hong Kong LGBT alliance, the Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM), which immediately saw the need and took up the issue, deciding to make it their major campaign for 2011.
The TCJM appointed a task force led by Barry Lee, the TCJM’s Treasurer and a figure well known in the Hong Kong LGBT community for his long service in the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation. Aided by Brian Yeung, the TCJM’s Joint Chinese Secretary, and others, Barry committed TCJM resources to further research and planned a programme of activism and lobbying that will unroll this year.
The BGCA survey of 2009 had sought views and comments from students alone, so the task force believed that the next step was to gather supporting information from teachers. An online survey was placed on the TCJM website (you can find it at http://tcjm.org/surveys, where the survey will close at the end of January). It is intended that this, with the original student survey of 2009, will enable the team to attract the interest of one of Hong Kong’s university departments to fund an academic study that will give a published, peer-reviewed report that can be used in lobbying Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Legco), the Government and the public.
The task force took up the issue last year with Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), and found considerable support from its new Chairperson, Mr Lam Woon-kwong, who, though having no statutory powers to take up the matter (Hong Kong has no legislation yet against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender) offered his support. Mr Lam has already started to speak in public on the issue and has indicated in his statements that he would like to see the EOC empowered to protect bullied students (for more on Mr Lam, see below).
While this was going on, James Gannaban, also a TCJM Committee member and promoter of the annual Mr Gay Hong Kong (MGHK), saw the opportunity to make use of the publicity that surrounds the MGHK pageant to focus public awareness on homophobic bullying. The six contestants for November’s MGHK competition were enlisted in what James entitled the Tongzhi Tsai (???) campaign (which roughly translates as ‘gay little brother’; details are online at: tcjm.oirg/tongzhi-tsai. The competition featured an essay competition for bullied students. You can listen to the impassioned plea for bullied students Barry Lee made at the pageant on Youtube.
This year’s Mr Gay Hong Kong, Heihei Yau, who took the crown at the grand finale on 26 November, will be the champion of the Tongzhi Tsai campaign during the year. He has already appeared in public speaking on the issue, this at Hong Kong’s Human Rights Day Fair on 12 December. After he has taken part in the Mr Gay World final in Manila in March, he will return to Hong Kong to carry on the fight during his tenure.
At the end of the summer of 2010, Chris Lincoln, presenter of TVB’s Pearl Report (a topical and hard-hitting current affairs programme broadcast in English), contacted the task force with the idea of making a programme on homophobic bullying. He conducted a series of interviews which resulted in a show that appeared on Hong Kong’s screens on 27 and 28 December and on 1 January. The programme included an interview with Mr Lam, Chairperson of the EOC, who confirmed his belief in the need for the problem of school bullying to be addressed officially.
Change is far from being achieved so far, and the Pearl Report’s investigation revealed a dark side of the attitudes to sexual minorities that lurk below the surface in Hong Kong’s schools. Many of these are run by Christian denominations (Hong Kong has traditionally had its education system on the cheap, with all varieties of missionaries active for over a century in founding and running schools at all levels; the Roman Catholic Church runs over a hundred schools here alone). Chris Lincoln discovered that the Roman Catholic Church has issued an advisory booklet to all its schools on the subject of what it describes as ‘SSA’, or same-sex attraction, by which it means diverse sexual orientation and gender. The booklet stigmatises gay students and peddles the usual mishmash of discredited psychological arguments to support a ‘change of lifestyle’. The protestant denominations are not to be outbid here; the Society for Truth and Light, mouthpiece for many of the fundamentalist churches here, and ally of New Creation, an organisation that seeks to ‘heal’ homosexuality, has issued its own booklet advocating reparative therapy. Alarmingly, the Hong Kong Government’s Education Bureau is quoted in the Pearl Report as finding nothing wrong with the use of such booklets in schools on the grounds that they offer students ‘an alternative view’, a line straight out of the creationalists’ phrase book.
So where does the campaign go from here? The LGBT community is gearing itself up for a long struggle, one which aims at countering the pernicious influence of the homophobic lobbies in schools, persuading the Hong Kong Government to prevent the circulation of religiously-inspired homophobic propaganda there and forcing it to take official measures to counsel and protect its LGBT students. The campaign will clearly seek to have the EOC involved in protecting students. This is something the religious right will oppose vigorously, as, of course, Hong Kong’s schools are where they seek to ‘groom’ young minds, and one can expect a lively reaction from them. Lobbying political parties and Legco, publicising the issue at public gatherings and the use of the media will inevitably all play a part. We will follow the campaign as it unfolds over the years ahead.
Nigel Collett is the Joint English secretary of Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM).