Participants hold the rainbow flag at the AIDS Quilt Memorial Ceremony, ahead of the Gay Games in Hong Kong, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023 Source: AP Photo/Chan Long Hei

Supporters Celebrate Opening of Gay Games in Hong Kong, First in Asia, Despite Lawmakers' Opposition

Kanis Leung READ TIME: 4 MIN.

Scores of athletes celebrated the opening of the Gay Games in Hong Kong on Saturday despite opposition from anti-LGBTQ lawmakers, marking the first time the international sporting event to be held in Asia.

Nearly 2,400 participants from about 45 territories, including Britain, the United States, and Australia, will compete in a variety of games, from tennis and swimming to culturally rich activities like dragon boat racing and mahjong in the nine-day event.

The games are being held concurrently in the Mexican city of Guadalajara featuring many of the same events, a first for the competition that was first held in San Francisco in 1982.

Following the procession of athletes, a series of performances followed, highlighting Hong Kong's Chinese culture, but also incorporating modern dance, musical theater and lion dancers.

LGBTQ+ activism is a rare spot that is still making considerable progress in Hong Kong under a government crackdown on its civil society following the 2019 pro-democracy protests. The games foster hopes for a wider inclusion of sexual minorities in the Asian financial hub after court wins last month over housing and inheritance rights for same-sex couples married overseas.

The city is also moving toward a framework for recognizing same-sex partnerships following a landmark ruling in September.

But the city's LGBTQ+ development is uneven. There is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation and same-sex marriage is not recognized. While there is growing social acceptance for sexual minorities, especially among the younger generation, a portion of the local society remains conservative.

Several pro-establishment lawmakers, including Junius Ho, have publicly opposed the event, which runs from Friday to the following Saturday.

Ho asked Chief Executive John Lee to beware of "bad ideologies" infiltrating Hong Kong and acts of "soft resistance," according to a letter he posted on Facebook on Friday. He agreed with other critics who argued that the games advocate for legalizing same-sex marriage, a move they claimed breaches a national security law Beijing imposed on the former British colony following the protests.

Earlier this week, prominent pro-establishment politcian Regina Ip, a leading member of the Executive Council, Hong Kong's Cabinet, faced criticism from gay rights skeptics for her support for the games.

Ip, a stalwart of the establishment and long a target of liberal politicians, attended the opening ceremony and delivered a welcoming address, saying ""history is being created today." Hong Kong, she said, is proud to be the first Asian city to host the Gay Games, adding that showed the financial center's commitment to place itself "in the forefront of the world's most open and liberal cities."

Ip also cheered that the two largest contingents came from Hong Kong and mainland China. Gay rights and expression in China have proceeded only in fits and starts in the face of a highly authoritarian, conservative and patriarchal regime.

"Equal opportunity and non-discrimination are highly treasured by our government and our people," Ip said, citing court rulings upholding legal rights for LGBTQ+ people and the establishment of a legal framework for same-sex partnerships.

The event has encountered various challenges since the organizers won the bid to host the games six years ago, with limited support from the government.

Asked Saturday about opposition to the games, Hong Kong's recently installed Cardinal Stephen Chow responded that he understood some might be uncomfortable with the concept, but that "Hong Kong is a diverse society and we should respect diversity."

"Even when you feel uncomfortable, some space should be given to others," Chow told reporters.

The COVID-19 pandemic not only forced a year-long delay of the event but also indirectly led to its downsizing. This occurred when Guadalajara in Mexico was named as a co-host for the games, at a time when the city was grappling with uncertainty about when travel restrictions would be lifted.

Concerns about the security law – which has been used to arrest some of Hong Kong's leading human rights activists – have deterred some LGBTQ+ supporters from visiting Hong Kong. However, some from Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, visited the city under the name Chinese Taipei under which it competes in international sporting events.

Hong Kong and Beijing have defended the security law saying it brought back stability to the city.

Self-governing democratic Taiwan is the only region in Asia to allow same-sex marriages. Last month it hosted the latest in more than 20 annual pride parades, drawing an estimated 176,000 onlookers and participants.

Alonso Chen, a frequent participant in the Taipei event, said that while some in Taiwanese society remain highly unacceptable of the LGBTQ+ community, the presence of parents with their children at recent events shows a growing acceptance.

"For me, this is very important, because parents are showing their kids that this is part of normal life. They are saying to kids, 'Look, they are just like your classmates or teachers. We are the same and there is nothing different'."

The first Gay Games were first held in San Francisco in 1982.

by Kanis Leung

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