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Student Blogger: Advocating for LGBT Rights

How are students around the world advocating for LGBT rights? Today, 17-year-old Jenny from Diocesan Girls' School in Hong Kong shares the situation there as well as the actions she is taking. U.S. students can be inspired by this work and think about the similarities and differences between attitudes in Hong Kong and the U.S. This blog is part of our ongoing series by young adults who participated in the Global Citizens Youth Summit hosted by Global Citizens Initiative

By guest blogger Jenny Ng Hong Yu

While the West has been making impressive progress on marriage equality and protection of LGBT minorities, the same can not be said for Asian countries. Hong Kong's LGBT civil rights movement has been advancing at a painfully slow rate due to opposition from religious groups and educational institutions. Though local Chinese culture has undergone drastic changes due to previous colonial times and the city's metropolitan nature, the traditional expectation of carrying on the family line contributes to negative attitudes towards LGBT people.  

ARH_9014.jpegApathy is equally detrimental to the development of social equality. Though Hong Kong has a relatively low rate of physical assault cases towards LGBT members compared to other cities, a Chinese cultural emphasis on restraint in personal relationships may help prevent violence against sexual minorities. Society's collective unwillingness to call out the ever-existing homophobia and heteronormativity across generations perpetuates the unhealthy stereotype of "gay is abnormal." In order to de-stigmatize sex and sexualities, we, as a society, need to be open to different voices and encourage healthy, open discussions. The infrequency of hate crimes does not equate with progressiveness: by adopting a passive, apathetic attitude towards the subliminal discrimination against people of different sexual orientations, we are accommodating intolerance. The problem of homophobia and transphobia exists, even if we ignore it.

Only in 2011 did the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists publish an announcement stating that homosexuality is not a mental illness. While we celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's decision for legalizing gay marriage across all states, we need to be grounded in reality: Hong Kong is not the United States. Hong Kong's advancement in equal rights has been painfully slow, if not stagnant. LGBT protection policies have never been considered a pressing concern and are hardly a priority in the Legislative Council and the high courts. We cannot blindly push for the legalization of gay marriage without changing society's fundamental prejudice against sexual minorities due to lack of education.

Lack of Education
Sex education has never been a part of local educational curriculum, and sex remains a taboo topic. As Christian missionaries founded the majority of schools in Hong Kong during British colonial rule, and because they condemn the idea of premarital sex, schools often forgo sexual education. The lack of sexual health information, coupled with sexual stigmatization, is one of the major hindrances of the local LGBT movement, and undoubtedly, contributes to the lack of understanding about different sexualities and gender identities.

Discrimination stems from ignorance. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (To Kill a Mockingbird). Sexual empowerment and adequate education are critical to teenagers' healthy development: an inclusive sexual education assists LGBT youths, as well as non-LGBT peers, in understanding gender identities and sexual orientations under the guidance of professionals. This encourages healthy discussions within an academic setting and dispels misconceptions and stereotypes of the LGBT community. The fact that adolescents in Hong Kong are deprived of sex education contributes to everyday homophobia, be it Internet hate comments, gay slurs, or general apathy towards sexual minorities. In the past, LGBT activists have pushed for legal protection of people with different sexual orientations. However, anti-gay rights groups like the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group have vehemently opposed the proposal on the basis that this would infringe upon their freedom of speech and encourage homosexual behaviors among younger generations. Therefore, despite conscious efforts from local LGBT support groups, anti-discrimination laws remain flawed. 

Student Action
Homophobia penetrates deep into my daily experience: students using "gay" as an insult, teachers' condemnation of LGBT communities in school, and the fetishization of gay men on prime time TV programs. So, while I have always been open about my support for LGBT rights, my involvement with the civil rights movement always ended there. I never tried to change the status quo. I always assured myself that there were always other activist groups pushing for equality, that this was not an urgent concern, and that my individual efforts were negligible and futile. My recent experience at the Global Citizens Youth Summit gave me a new perspective on the issue: my passivity on this issue is an act of cowardice. I realized the root cause of my passivity was not actually that I thought my effort might be futile, but rather my fear of being deemed strange or radical in my social circles. I have been privileged with access to information on different sexual orientations, and the least I could do is to be vocal.

After the Youth Summit, I, along with a few of my friends who represent different spectrums in the LGBT community, decided to set up an LGBT support website. We will write articles on local and international LGBT news in order to shed light and give perspective, as well as accept art submissions from LGBT teens that wish to express their feelings through creativity. We will also include educational material on our website in hopes that through education we can unveil the misconceptions and prejudice against sexual minorities. Setting up the website will allow us to bring the topic to the table and initiate dialogues that are typically discouraged at school and within our communities. By utilizing the potency of social media, we can reach a larger group of teens through a communication platform they are comfortable with. The peer-to-peer nature also eliminates the Pecksniffian tone that teenagers may perceive from organizations overseen by adults, even if it's not intended.

We have received art submissions from local youth, which will be published in later stages of our project, as well as much positive feedback from our schoolmates and students from other schools. Though our project is in its nascent phase, the incredible response signifies we are heading in the right direction. In the future, we hope to establish a network between local LGBT members and straight allies, as well as connect with teenager-driven initiatives from other parts of the world. 

We hope to show through our actions that we, as teenagers, would like to be well-informed on social issues, and that we care.  We need not be protected from sexual content, but rather, educational institutions have the responsibility to provide basic sex education, as well as a comprehensive curriculum addressing different sexualities to cultivate a set of principles coherent with the universal values of respect and acceptance.

We should not generalize everyone who is unfamiliar with different sexualities as close-minded and backwards. We need to take into account their upbringing, their culture, and the society they are accustomed to. Only by considering the cultural context of the city we live in, refusing to indulge in the comfort of the backseat, and providing information and sexual health education can we make a sizeable push in LGBT activism towards the right direction and truly embrace the idea of equality enshrined in the Hong Kong basic law.  

Follow Global Citizens Initiative, Inc. and The Center for Global Education at Asia Society on Twitter.

Photo caption: The author at the GCI Youth Summit. Photo credit: Brenden Drumm.

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