Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Hong Kong Pink Season

Here’s an article on Hong Kong’s Pink Season written by Tony Ed Lo for Fridae.asia a few months back but not published.  My thanks to Tony for permission to publish it.

The Pink Season is going be the next big thing in Hong Kong

 

I guess some of you might have heard of Hong Kong’s Pink Season, but few will know what it is really about. Maybe you have seen its logo somewhere, the adorable pink panda wearing a tiara of the famous Hong Kong skyscraper skyline. You might have wondered where the name Pink Season comes from.  Anshuman Das (AD for short, the event’s founding Coordinator) told me that it was the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) who came up with the name. So in a way, for once in a blue moon, the Hong Kong Government has supported the LGBT community by backing this event from the start.

 

No one thought that the Pink Season would actually launch its first year in 2011.  When the group of activists who conceived the idea approached the HKTB in late 2010, there was limited time to meet the deadline for submission of events for the HKTB 2011 calendar.  The team that dreamed up the idea and went to see the HKTB consisted of a lot of the key players responsible for Hong Kong’s LGBT calendar: Joe Lam for the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and DimSum Magazine, Wai Wai for the Pride Parade, James Gannaban for Mr Gay Hong Kong and Nigel Collett representing Greg Crandall and Edowan Bersma of Floatilla plus the Pink Alliance, then operating as the Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM).  As it was a newborn baby, the organisers thought the Pink Season needed a little longer gestation time to gather together the various organisations already mounting events and to convince people to get onboard. The HKTB thought otherwise and encouraged the team to go ahead. They pressed for action and bombarded the team with emails asking “How’s the “Pink Season” getting together?” So the team went ahead anyway and moved along with the events they had in hand by that time, despite the fact that they were planned to spread over more than two months. They also decided to go ahead with the name HKTB had suggested. “The name seemed relevant and just right, so they decided to stick to it,” AD explained.

 

It was pretty clear from early on that the Pink Season would need a lot of work to pull it all together, so the TCJM appointed AD as the founding Coordinator. AD has been contributing to the gay community since he moved to Hong Kong. He runs the Pink Alliance (TCJM)’s communications and IT, he’s deeply involved in the diversity world of Hong Kong’s banks and businesses, and he finds time amongst all this to write books.  His debut novel The Memory of a Face (http://anshdas.com/books/) came out last year and he is currently working on his second one.

Brian Leung, presenter of RTHK’s We Are Family programme and creator of Gay Station Hong Kong, agreed to head the Season as the first ‘Mr Pink’. The TCJM is a not-for-profit NGO, and so the Pink Season evolved in the same way. All the funds it raised for the events were spent on them or kept for the next year’s Season; you can see the accounts on the Season’s website. No one got paid or made a profit for working to make it all happen.

 

AD got together a team of volunteers who set up a website, contacted possible partners and sponsors, designed and distributed the promotional material, encouraged more and more organisers of new events to list and even some to create new events specifically for the Season. In total, 22 listed for 2011. Around the events which formed the pillars of the season (the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Floatilla and Mr Gay Hong Kong) a series of other events coalesced. There were dance and beach parties, dramas, talks and shows. Drama included Clifton Kwan’s play It’s Oh so Queer while movement and dance were represented by Tony Wong and Allen Lam’s take on homophobic bulling, The Invincible Truth, specially created for the Season. Pichead Amornsomboom and Frankie Ho revived the musical One Night in Falsettoland. In Drag on Halloween, Les Fleurs Sauvage and Drag Overdose made sure there was plenty of cross dressing and lip-synching for aficionados of those arts, and the TCJM’s own beach party, Out in the Open hit Middle Bay for the second year. You can check out the full list of events at 2011’s site, http://pinkseason.hk/about/past-seasons/ps2011/.  “There was only one major event missing for the Pink Season,” AD reflected. “The Pride Parade Committee backed out in mid-2011.” There’s no clear reason why, though the fact that they only set the date for the November Pride Parade just over two months before that, in August 2011, may have had something to do with it.  I guess we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed that they’ll get their act together in time for the 2nd Pink Season this year.

 

The Pink Season is Hong Kong’s first LGBT festival and it aims to bring the local community closer together. AD told me that once people found the website and realised what the Season was aiming to achieve, many people volunteered their expertise. Some pitched in for design, others for marketing. By the end, there was a team of about 16 volunteers involved. “People with different talents, backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities all united,” AD said. “It was inspiring to see how strong our community was and how much people wanted to contribute.”

 

The Pink Season also aims to promote Hong Kong as a gay-friendly city in order to draw more people to visit, which, of course, is why the HKTB are keen to promote it. It will provide a platform for local LGBT artists to showcase their works to the world. So if you have some wicked talent you want to expose, give it a go and list on the site!

 

The first Pink Season drew attention from the public and the media. It was mentioned in RTHK’s TVB Pearl Report and almost all the local mainstream media. The Pink Season team will be bigger and stronger this year and the team is already putting the second Season together. The media outreach will be correspondingly larger. The effect on the general community in HK was seen to be beneficial. By the positive feedback the organsiers received, they could see that people were being persuaded to be more open-minded towards sexual diversity. At the same time, they could see an increase in the unity of the Hong Kong LGBT community.

 

 

So if you plan a trip to Hong Kong in the autumn, treat the Pink Season site as a guide to what’s on. When the Season is in full swing, you will find the diversity of its activities will cater for almost anything you could think of doing here. The intention is that people from around the world will come to Hong Kong especially for the Pink Season.

 

Check out the site at: http://pinkseason.hk/ and the Facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/PinkSeason.HK.   If you would like to include any event you are planning this year, you can do so by contacting the organizers online at:  http://pinkseason.hk/events/event-entry-form/.  And of course if you have a spare pair of hands and want to volunteer, they’d love you to get in touch with them at: Volunteer@PinkSeason.HK.

Even if you think you have no talents under your belt you can always donate to the Season at: http://pinkseason.hk/about/donate/

Stay tuned for more information on these pages as the Season approaches.

 

 

 

 

 

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Capitalism and the LGBT Community

On Thursday 17 May, Community Business and Barclays launched the report of their LGBT workplace climate study.  This, a big event for the community in itself, came just after the furore over the inclusion of Regina Ip’s video at Hong Kong’s IDAHOT commemoration, and not long after Paul Ramscar went public about his amazing new App to list gay friendly businesses in Hong Kong.  All of these events are connected, I think, as they throw light on the canyon that currently divides the activists in our community, viz their opposing attitudes to capitalism.

The radicals among us see our natural place in the political order of things as lying with the left wing, with others dispossessed by the system and with those politicians who struggle for them.  People like Cyd Ho, Audrey Eu, Emily Lau, Margaret Ng and Long Hair have stood up for us for decades. In their struggles against authoritarianism, for rights, freedom and democracy we have been their natural allies.  Their political enemies, the majority in the centre and the rich on the right, have naturally been seen by many of us so far as our enemies, too.

Underlying this is the unspoken issue of class. Most Hong Kong LGBT people are working class, many are disadvantaged and poor, many comparatively under-educated and so not very literate and not at home in English.  We can’t escape the fact that activism led by wealthier, educated, middle-class people using the English language, and with expat figures prominent among the leadership, alienates many, not just those with radical political ideological beliefs.

This mix makes for a difficult recipe, and if you dust the top of the pudding with a leven of the moral and political purity that can go with radical political ideology, indigestion ensues.  We saw a good illustration of this effect last year over the making of the ‘I Am Me’ videos. The Pink Alliance came up with the idea of copying Dan Savage’s ‘It Gets Better’ videos, but in Cantonese and aimed at Hong Kong kids.  Mr Gay Hong Kong took on the role of funding this project as beneficiary of its ‘Tongzhi Tsai’ campaign. It seemed an ideal project to bridge, for once, the gap between moderates and radicals, so NTXS, the online LGBT TV producer that’s part of the radical grouping 4MyColors was invited to take on the production side.  All was going well until NTXS objected to being part of a project funded by a ‘commercially exploitative’ organisation like Mr Gay HK, and walked out.

I have commented before on our need to seek support from politicians of all parts of the political spectrum if we are to get legislative change, so I won’t bang on about that again here. Instead, I want to make some points about the need to make use of the capitalist system to further our cause.  I should say at the outset that I am not interested here in the merits or demerits of capitalism in its Hong Kong manifestation; just in what it can do for us.

Money, obviously, is the simplest thing. We, and in particular the poorest of our LGBT organisations like the Rainbow Centre, need cash, and the best place to get that is business sponsorship. Things like Pride Parades cost a lot of money and raising these sums by private donation every year will soon end in donor fatigue.  To get sponsorship cash you need to give business something back. They’ll always need professional budgeting, accounting, transparency. They’ll always need exposure of their brand name and logo and acknowledgement in the most public way that they have paid up.  So maybe we have to hold our noses if we don’t like the institution that’s forking out the money and maybe we have to pander a bit to their whims, but if that’s the price to pay for making sure our stuff happens, then I say so be it.

In any case, having commercial names attached to our activity has a positive effect on the great majority of the public who are still wary about us and don’t consider us part of normal life.  If Barclays, Goldman Sachs and IBM publicly associate themselves with us, it gets noticed.  It makes us ordinary, part of the furniture.  The Interbank LGBT Forum banner carried down Hennessy Road in the last Pride Parade did just that.

Which brings me back to Community Business’s project, now over two years old, to educate Hong Kong businesses of the commercial and social need for diversity policies and LGBT networks within their firms.  Their message has now reached hundreds of companies.  Many of these have started to take the message onboard and are implementing change.  International companies are slowly being shamed into bringing their worldwide HR practices to Hong Kong.  That means that the daily working lives of some LGBT people in Hong Kong have got better. So far, this is principally in the banks and some major international corporations, but it is spreading slowly. Competition for good PR, desire to look good on the soon-to-be published diversity index, need to comply as a sub-contractor with tender rules demanding diversity policies among other CSR stuff, all these will slowly leach into the local Hong Kong companies and eventually even the SMEs that are always the most resistant to change.

Five years ago, there were no diversity organisations in business in Hong Kong, and no one was out at work. Now, there are young men and women working in major firms coming out at work, appearing on videos and leading their LGBT colleagues to win equal treatment.  Change has already begun and we, in LGBT activism, should do everything we can to help this, because it will make everyone’s lives at work better, safer, more secure and better remunerated.

This all leads back to politics.  We all know that what makes the Hong Kong system tick is capitalism.  Whatever we feel about this is irrelevant to the fact that under the current system democratic politicians can cry to the moon for as long as it shines calling for human rights but no one need take much notice.  Hong Kong’s government and civil service are actively resisting any positive action to bring equality for LGBT people.  Our opponents on the religious right are more vocal and richer than we are and their voice carries into more administration in trays than does ours. We all also know, though, that if business speaks in this town, Government listens.  Commercial clout will trump any amount of  religious rage. If HSBC, for instance, were to just drop the hint to the administration that it thought there was a need for spousal visas for the same-sex partners of its employees, it’s more than likely that the government would start to listen. Lloyd Blankfein spoke out for same-sex marriage in New York.  If his head of station in Hong Kong did the same here, there’d be shock waves.

Big business is beginning to see the commercial case for implementing diversity policies.  To fulfil Hong Kong’s dream of being ‘Asia’s World City’ they’re going to need to make it attractive to the world’s business, and that will include social policies that attract business here.  And that, for one, will make the case for a bill against discrimination stronger.

So what is to be done? We must use the capitalist system to get what we need.  We must cold-heartedly make use of commerce like it makes use of all of us.  We should not shy away from business but rather reach out to it in whatever way we can.  Paradoxically, capitalism in this town is a force for change.  Let us harness its power.

Nigel

 

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The Day of IDAHOT 2012

Some 500 to 600 of us celebrated IDAHOT in Hong Kong at Chater Garden last Saturday, but today, 17 May, is the day fixed in the calendar every year for the commemoration worldwide.  Today, some of us will go to the China Club to listen to the results of NGO Community Business’s survey of Hong Kong’s views on diversity in the workplace.  This is a first, a survey we hope will give us ammunition to bring change to benefit many at work, as well to speed up political change. For if the business community awakes to the benefits of inclusiviity, it will find itself willy-nilly leaning on the government to bring about change.

This is also, sadly, a day when radical LGBT activists will hold a meeting to decry the inclusion in Saturday’s IDAHOT programme of a video made by Regina Ip, centre-right Hong Kong politician, whose New People’s Party came out with a pro-LGBT platform last February.  These activists accuse the IDAHOT organisers of betraying the movement by including the right wing.  Instead of persuading conservative elements of Hong Kong society of the justice of our cause, we should, it seems, be excluding them. Such lack of inclusivity damages the whole Hong Kong LGBT movement, but it is a timely reminder of what is wrong with that movement now.

So all of this gives us much ground upon which to reflect today.  What does the LGBT movement need to do in Hong Kong to further its cause?

First, I think, we need to be clear about what we are fighting for.  In the first stage, we aim for a bill to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.  If we can pass this, much will follow, including better diversity policies at work, policies to deal with bullying at schools, sensible behaviour by government departments, better treatment of LGBT people and issues in the media, legally binding aid for victims of discrimination from the Equal Opportunities Commission. In sum, freedom from discrimination for us all.  To get this we need poliitcal help, and we shall need the votes of the majority, not just the left wing. 

Secondly, in the longer run, there is the struggle for recognition of same-sex relationships. Maybe this will start with recognition of foreign partnerships; maybe later there’ll be some form of civil partnership; eventually, there’ll be marriage. This may look like pie in the sky now, and it’ll take many years, but we need to be clear that that is the way we are heading.  This will need a lot of education and persuasion, and this means reaching out to the conservative majority in Hong Kong, not excluding them.

What follows from this?  Simply, that we need to reach out to all politiicians and political parties not just our friends.  And that we need to get out to as many places as we can to get our message across.  We’ll have to come out and stand up if we want our friends to support us and if we want the rest to respect us.  We will not make headway here by hiding in the closet.

The second point we need to understand is that the LGBT activists involved in the struggle need to avoid wasting energy by fighting each other and to avoid losing respect by quarrelling in public. We may not agree with each other all the time, but every time any of us makes some form of public pronouncement aimed at another LGBT group, our overall credibility diminishes, both within the LGBT community and amongst the wider public. 

Best, then, that we work together, keeping each other informed and working towards the same aims. But if this is not possible, at the very least we should work in parallel and not attack each other in public.

The radical groups of 4MyColors have achieved so much already in HK and are absoluetly necessary to the struggle. Only they will hit the streets to protest.  The moderate groups in the Pink Alliance are better at the slower, steadier work of committees, education, lobbying.  They have access to funds. Both groups have strengths which are complementary.  Both could work together or in parallel to the benefit of the cause.

It is a cause which cries out for tolerance and collaboration.  For it is at root based on a very simple proposition: that our forms of love are as valid as those of the majority.  To show the majority that this is so, we need to love one another, too.  On the IDAHOT day of 2012, it is good to reflect on the love that seems to be missing now and how we might find it and show it again. 

 Let us work together in the year ahead.  One cause, many loves.

Nigel

 

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Our Tribes

This is my first ever blog.  So I should, I think, do a little explaining.  First, why ‘Our Tribes’?

Christopher Isherwood famously called gay men ‘my tribe’.  Since then, things have moved on in directions he’d never have dreamed of, and instead of just ‘gay’ we’ve now got an ever growing number of initials to take onboard, LGBTQI and so on as our consciousness of the great diversity of creation expands.   We’re conscious of the differences, too, so it seems to me that we’re not just a tribe but a group of tribes.  ‘We’ is still appropriate though, as we’ve got a lot in common, and our fight for our rights is one fight and one we’ll see through together.

So, when I came to think of what to call this, my first blog, ‘Our Tribes’ seemed right to me.   Second, why am I bothering?

I’m going to use this blog to say some of the things I can’t say in my articles on Fridae or on the Pink Alliance website.  There’s a place for the personal thought that’s not to be blamed on the organisations that have given me a soap box. I’ve loved the chance they have given me to say what I think.  It’s addictive, and it’s one of the reasons I am taking up my pen here.  Yet if you write for others you can’t escape the need for a little sobriety, restraint and responsibility.

On then, to what I hope may lack very much of all of these three!

Nigel

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