A newly-elected lawmaker has become the first politician to come out in Hong Kong, instantly setting off a fierce debate.
Ray Chan Chi-chuen, from the leftist People Power, told Oriental Daily in an interview that he is gay, a day after he won a seat in the Legislative Council on Sunday (9 Sept).
‘A politician should be judged on his political ideals,’ said Chan, a former radio and TV host. ‘Not whether he likes men or women.’
The 40-year-old vows to convince 69 other lawmakers to support bills outlawing sexual orientation discrimination, potentially changing the Marriage Ordinance to include legal rights for gays in the special administrative region in southern China.
Minority rights – whether for the LGBT or the non-Chinese communities – had largely been absent during the election campaign. Instead, the public focused on a proposed compulsory patriotism subject for students, and ideological competition between the pro-Beijing camp and their pan-democratic counterparts.
A lawmaker who eventually failed to return to office made a notable exception by insinuating in his policy platform that gays should be cured, before making another gaffe, suggesting some women stay single for sex.
Chan was among some twenty candidates agreeing to speak to GDotTV, a TV station run by activist group Nu Tong Xue She, about their stance on LGBT issues. He was very supportive and articulate, but did not touch on his own sexuality.
He told Oriental Daily that sexual orientation is part of someone’s privacy, and he had no intention to use it as a selling point or to win votes.
‘I believe the election could have lost its focus if I had talked about (my sexuality),’ said Chan. ‘But had you asked me about it, I would have told you for sure.
I don't feel embarrassed but I just wouldn't go tell everyone about it.’
Chan, a devout Buddhist, has revealed that he started dating at age 18 and was once in a relationship of 16 years.
Some netizens on local forums suggest his decision not to come out earlier may have misled voters. Many others simply made outright homophobic remarks.
On the other hand, fans on Chan’s own Facebook page have remained extremely supportive, but they, together with singer Anthony Wong, do admit he could have lost had he come out during the campaign.
Despite its international exposure, Hong Kong is nowhere as socially liberal as its neighbor Taiwan. Even center-left parties in the city tend to keep mum about LGBT issues for fear of backlashes in society, let alone the conservative pro-Beijing camp.
Joseph Cho from Nu Tong Xue She told Gay Star News that it takes time to ‘listen to his words and watch his moves.’
‘To have a gay lawmaker coming out of the closet is definitely a happy thing and I appreciate his courage very much,’ Cho said. ‘But it is still too soon to tell how supportive his party] is for gay issues.
‘In our interviews, People Power was not very supportive of equal rights for gays and held back from supporting same-sex marriage,’ he added.
People Power won three seats with five party lists through the geographical constituencies. Even if Chan's private LGBT bills chance to get enough votes in his half of the legislative body, they will still get bogged down by functional constituency lawmakers in the coming four years.
'I know well the road ahead will be bumpy, but someone has to make the first step,' Chan said.