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Gay activists on front line of Hong Kong protests

Gay activists on front line of Hong Kong protests

It is past 2am in Hong Kong but the fight for democracy politely goes on across the city.

Thousands of protesters sit peacefully on the streets of the Causeway Bay shopping district despite the earlier downpour. The chants of ‘Leung Chun-ying, ha toi [step down]’ quieten down as gay singer Anthony Wong starts to perform.

He shouts, ‘We need to be in unity… it is not just Occupy Central or a student boycott anymore, it has become a citywide movement.’

And in this movement of black T-shirts, hundreds of pink activists are on the front line of the battle for democracy.

Tommy Chen, spokesperson for LGBTI rights group Rainbow Action, told GSN it was hard to have an LGBTI movement without democracy.

‘The queer community actually understands this quite well, so that’s a reason the queer community in Hong Kong has been involved in the social movement for over 10 years,’ he said.

The group is a member of one of the protest organizers Civil Human Rights Front, which Chen said had a ‘disproportionately high’ number of LGBTI volunteers and organizers.

More than 20 Rainbow Action members have been taking turns to maintain a 24-hour presence at all four protest sites.

Occupy Central started on Sunday amid a week-long student strike, demanding Beijing grant universal suffrage and civil nomination in the 2017 electoral reform as promised in Hong Kong’s constitution.

Billy Leung, who successfully challenged Hong Kong’s discriminatory age of consent for gay sex in 2006, has been transferring and distributing donated supplies and making placards since the first day.

He said, ‘LGBT Hongkongers have no legal protection from discrimination even though a good majority of people favor it to be outlawed. This view is also reflected in our legislature, only half of which is democratically elected.

‘The progress is held back by the other half, consisting of special interest and business groups representing 3.2% of the population. This is just one of the many human rights examples why democracy is paramount, not only for LGBT Hongkongers but to all of Hong Kong.’

Joanne Leung, chairperson of the Transgender Resource Center, has been protesting in Mongkok, Admiralty, Central and Causeway Bay.

She said, ‘The atmosphere is very different in different districts. The protestors in Admiralty and Central are mainly students and very well organised. There is more diversity are in other districts.

‘Transgender rights are LGBT rights, which are in fact human rights. If there is no democracy in society, we have no way to advocate for LGBT rights.’

LGBTI activist Lee Faulkner, a British actuary who has lived in Hong Kong for three years, was tear-gassed at the protest.

He said, ‘I went along to the protests on Sunday night and was, for the first time in my life, genuinely terrified. I’ve never tasted tear gas before, nor seen riot police in their menacing kit holding guns for plastic bullets. The atmosphere was frightening.’

‘I will continue to go to the protests every day until they end – just "being there" and adding numbers to support everyone else is enough.’

Henness Wong, who volunteers for several LGBTI rights groups, said his conscience made him join the protest.

He has been manning a first aid point between the government offices in Admiralty and the Central financial district since Sunday.

Wong said, ‘I helped to organize the supplies and resources points. When the medical supplies arrived, along with other first aiders, registered nurses and doctors, we set up the first aid points.

‘Monday was eerily uneventful after the 87 tear gas bombs the day before, so the medical team had plenty of time at hand. So I collected trash and recycled in Statue Square throughout the day.’

Wong has spent more than 20 hours on the streets in the past four days in the heat and rain. Why does he do it?

‘Democracy empowers all people to decide on someone who can represent their voices and needs,’ he said.

‘To LGBT and other minority groups in society, whose views are often neglected, the fight for democracy is a ladder to equality.’