Kicking off this year's Pink Dot celebrations early, Walk in Hong Kong is hosting a 2.5 hour night walking tour through Central and Sheung Wan to explore the vibrant LGBT culture in our city. We grab five minutes with Benita Chick, the brains behind the LGBT in the City Special Pink Dot Edition Tour on September 23, to talk partying in Propaganda, changing attitudes in the community, and the significance of the Mid-Levels Escalator.
What can we expect from the special LGBT tour?
This special edition will shed light on the history and anecdotes about Pink Dot, an annual festival which is already in its third year in Hong Kong. Pink Dot is an annual, non-profit, free-for-all event which started in 2009 in Singapore. Attendees of Pink Dot gather to form a 'pink dot' to show support for inclusiveness, diversity, and the freedom to love. Pink Dot usually also features concert performances and community booths by organisations supporting the LGBT community. Pink Dot HK is Hong Kong’s largest gay equality and diversity event, which has attracted celebrities, diplomatic dignitaries, and corporate supporters. The colourful annual event rallies an “all-inclusive event advocating for diversity and love equality”. Our tour will serve as a prelude to the Sunday, September 25 major Pink Dot event.
What does the tour signal for the city's LGBT community?
This is not only the first LGBT tour in Hong Kong, but also - we believe - the first LGBT tour in Asia. While other Asian cities also have a very active gay scene, nobody else has presented it in a format that is so informative for both tourists and locals. In short, this tour signals our efforts in welcoming locals, tourists, straights, and gays, to learn more about the unique culture and history of this Hong Kong community.
Why do you think the tour hasn't been done before?
Actually I was quite surprised that none of the LGBT groups in Hong Kong had initiated such walks before. I suspect that nobody thought a guided tour would be a workable and attractive format in which to present the LGBT community in the city. I'm glad that the response has been very positive and that we have support from many groups.
So it's not just for members of the LGBT community?
Absolutely NOT. We welcome everybody above the age of 18, regardless of their sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and so on. I'm proud to say that we have welcomed participants from all over the world, including an 80-year old gay couple from New York City, as well as local allies and expats from different walks of lives. We ensure that the tour is inclusive and accommodating for all.
What should people expect to take away from the tour?
From my experience so far, our participants walk away with a fresh perception of this community and a new understanding of the unique challenges we face. You'll learn some hard facts, terms, and jokes too.
And your personal highlight?
Learning the back story about the Mid-Levels Escalator and its significance for the LGBT community was very enlightening for me as a local citizen. There are many stories about the area and the surrounding gay businesses and hangouts which, I myself, was not aware of before curating this tour.
What's the LGBT nightlife like in the city?
While Hong Kong doesn't have a specific "gay district" per se, like in Sydney or San Francisco, there is quite an active scene in Hong Kong, with more than 10 established gay bars and regular special-themed events, including drag shows, special parties, and gay sauna gatherings.
The gay bars range from old classics and “beer” bars, to karaokes and clubbing venues. Unfortunately though, while there are still up-and-coming gay bars in the city, a lot of them face high rent and many have closed down - such as the famous Propaganda. Some gays choose to spend their weekends away in Bangkok or Taiwan for some serious gay partying. Plus, as a lesbian, I would say that the gay nightlife tends to be much more exciting than the lesbian scene - there are far fewer lesbian hangouts in Hong Kong.
What other recent developments have occurred for the LGBT community in Hong Kong?
There are a lot more LGBT groups in Hong Kong with different focuses, from arts (Pride.Lab) to advocacy (Out&Vote), and sports (Out in Hong Kong) to the "Interbank" network from the banking and finance industry. Plus, there are more general events which cater for the public, including Pink Dot, which are spear-headed by the Pink Alliance among others. Our community is coming together as a stronger, more positive voice and presence both within the community and for the general public.
The first LGBTIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Allies) choir in Hong Kong, "The Harmonics", is very popular at both gay and local cultural events. Our running group "Out Runners" is representing Hong Kong at the Paris 2018 Gay Games. There is a growing pride presence in Hong Kong, with Pink Season, the HKLGFF festival, Pink Dot, and other events which are very popular with a wide range of citizens. Academically, there are now a lot more engaging courses which focus on sexuality and gender studies in Hong Kong. All of these groups and activities are very positive developments, but the sad reality is that the LGBT community in Hong Kong is still fighting for some basic human rights.
How have attitudes towards the LGBT community changed in the city?
Hong Kong remains years behind other international cities on the LGBT front. Homosexuality was legalised in 1991, and the age of consent was equalised for gay couples in 2006. In 2008, a judge upheld a ruling against RTHK for broadcasting a programme about homosexuality which failed to give air-time to homophobic counter viewpoints. And, until as recently as 2009, cohabiting gay couples were not recognised in the Domestic Violence Ordinance. Anti-discrimination laws remain flimsy for LGBT workers, and same-sex marriage and civil unions are illegal. There are still no specific laws targeting hate crimes against the Hong Kong gay community.
However, with the coming out of several high-profile Hong Kong celebrities in recent years, the community has become more receptive to the LGBT community and there is a much more positive media portrayal. That being said, there are still certain groups in the city who are close-minded and will do every thing they can to forbid LGBT rights to advance. It is a sad truth that for some families and religions, LGBT is still very much a taboo topic - but that is something we hope to change.
Join the LGBT in the City Tour!
Discover more about Hong Kong and it's LGBT community on the LGBT in the City Special Pink Dot Edition Tour on September 23, (9pm - 11.30pm)
. Tickets cost $380
and includes one drink in the gay bars of Central and Sheung Wan!
Click here to buy your tickets.
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