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Pink power in Hong Kong

The creator of a new app that harnesses LGBT spending power in Hong Kong talks to Gay Star News
Shopping in Hong Kong where the Pink Dollar will be launched

Paul Ramscar will launch the Pink Dollar in July, giving members the chance to rate Hong Kong businesses on gay-friendliness. He talks to Gay Star News about why gay rights and economics are intermingled in one of the finance giants of Asia.

Why did you decide to create this app, Pink Dollar?

I decided to do it because at the end of 2010 there was a survey called the Pink Dollar survey which was done by [advertisers] Leo Burnett. Some of the statistics in there were quite shocking.

One of the statistics said that 95% of the people surveyed would distrust or boycott a brand if they felt that the brand was not gay friendly.

I've been in Hong Kong since 2007, I too have had some form of discrimination.  Just going into a shop at the weekend with my partner, I've had a couple of instances where the sales assistant has stepped back and I can see that they think 'oh, these two guys, they're here, they're gay'.

It started me off thinking about how I can connect the LGBT community - of which there is quite a high spending power here in Hong Kong - with gay friendly businesses.

We all like to shop at places where we feel comfortable and go to restaurants where we can hold our partner's hand across the table. And this set me off on this mission.

How will it work?

We're not just going to list the names of businesses. We’re going to ask the LGBT community to go to those places and rate them.

It's not just about app. We're also thinking about how we can bring the LGBT community together in Hong Kong. We have some segregation here between the ex-pat community and the local Chinese community.

We're in a conversation with a big retailer at the moment about having a Pink Dollar shopping evening where they'll close down the store and it will just be our members shopping - from both segments of the community.

Also at the heart of our business model is that we're going to give money back to LGBT charities in Hong Kong.

How are you finding the businesses? 

There are certain companies that stand out more than others. With a restaurant for example they're just making it more of a safe zone. They have more of a relaxed attitude. The servers are very gay friendly, similarly with beauty salons.

There are some spas here that are very open and welcoming. You can have a facial, massage, beauty treatments, with your partner and there are no raised eyebrows.

Similarly with bars. There are some bars here which we know are gay friendly because a lot of gay people go there.

But there are a lot of gay bars here that have a happy hour for a couple of hours and then turn the gay community out on to the streets. And that's not good. If you're going to make it gay then make it gay for the whole night. Don't turn us out on to the streets part way through when you've made a few dollars.

Is Hong Kong an LGBT inclusive city?

It's more of a legislation issue. I'm quite disappointed with the way that Hong Kong isn't moving forward in terms of diversity in the workplace.

We would stand out from the crowd so much if we would put through legislation to allow same-sex civil partnerships, for example. I think that would annoy the hell out of Singapore who are always seen to be in competition with us.

Hong Kong should be leading from the front and trying to do something about this because the time is now. There's so many things happening around gay rights with President Obama endorsing gay marriage.

If a company like HSBC for example were to lobby the government and say, look, we need change. We need more diversity in the workplace. We need legislation. Then I think something would get done.

We're not really moving with the pace of change, and what's happening with LGBT at the moment. And I think if we were to do that we would have more people coming to the city and working here. I think it would attract more talent I really do. Gay guys and gay girls are creative by nature.

How has the app been received by the community?

We haven’t launched yet but I’ve been inundated with emails saying well done, congratulations, one of them even went so far as to say 'this could be seen as a historic moment in the evolution of Hong Kong's gay community'. 

Pink Dollar launches at the end of July.

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