Abstract

In Hong Kong, the debate about whether or not there shall be legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status has been ongoing for 20 years. This presentation will report on the ‘Study on Legislation against Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status’ conducted by the Gender Research Centre, commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission, an independent statutory body of the Hong Kong government. The Study featured a territory-wide telephone public opinion survey with 1,005 respondents; qualitative findings collected from three public forums, 14 LGBTI focus groups, 13 public focus groups including those with strong concerns, as well as online and postal submission of opinions.

According to the findings of the Study, the discrimination that LGBTI people reported is notable. Based on the telephone survey, 55.7% of respondents agree with protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. This is almost a twofold increase from the corresponding figure (28.7%) in a 2005 Government survey. Support was particularly strong among those aged 18-24, 91.8% of whom agreed with legislation. Although there were strong views expressed against legislation from some religiously-affiliated groups during the Study, nearly half (48.9%) of survey respondents who identified as having religious beliefs agreed that there should be legal protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

The Study also conducted legal review and analysis of comparable anti-discrimination legislation in other jurisdictions, including those with similar legal systems to Hong Kong and those which share similar Chinese cultural characteristics and influences, including Taiwan and Macau. However, a difficult question remains: in addressing public concerns, do exemptions in antidiscrimination legislations balance seemingly competing rights or perpetuate stereotypes? Through surveying the provision of exemptions in legislations against discrimination of LGBTI people in different jurisdictions, this paper argues that although exemptions can perform the social and political function of balancing seemingly competing rights, they risk perpetuating stereotypes against LGBTI people in society. The paper contributes to the sociology of law and human rights by arguing that exemptions in antidiscrimination legislations shall be examined critically and analyzed through the lens of power and heteronormativity. It argues that exemptions in antidiscrimination legislations shall constantly be examined with regard to their legitimacy and proportionality. It also cautions legislators against blindly copying existing emptions from overseas jurisdictions when drafting new antidiscrimination legislations.

About the Speaker 

Yiu Tung Suen (D.Phil. in Sociology, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford) is currently Assistant Professor at Department of Sociology, Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also an incoming Associate Director of the Gender Research Centre of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at CUHK from August 2016.  His research is inter-disciplinary in nature, and his current research interests include sexualities, ageing and generations, gender, and health. His academic writings can be found published or forthcoming in such journals as Journal of Homosexuality, Sociological Research Online, Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Higher Education Research and Development, Social Theory and Health, and others. His co-edited book (with Andrew King, Kathryn Almack and Sue Westwood) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Minding the Knowledge Gaps is under contract with Routledge (London).

Dr Suen is the Principal Investigator of the ‘Study on Legislation against Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status’. The report of the study was submitted by the Equal Opportunities Commission to the major relevant government units, including the Chief Executive of the HKSAR and Chief Secretary for Administration as well as all members of the Legislative Council. The then EOC Chairperson also presented the report at the Hong Kong Legislative Council in a Panel on Constitutional Affairs in February 2016. Dr Suen has also given invited presentations on the report to relevant professionals such as the legal, political and financial communities. For the research, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Gender Research Centre were awarded the Community Business LGBT Advocacy Award 2016.