The EOC Announces Findings of the Study on Legislation against Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) released today (26 January 2016) the findings of the Study on Legislation against Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity (SOGI) and Intersex Status, which was commissioned to the Gender Research Centre of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
The study revealed that discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people is a common occurrence in Hong Kong. Importantly, the study also found that public opinion has visibly shifted in favour of legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status. Over half (55.7%) of the telephone survey respondents agreed with legislation – nearly double the comparable figure from a decade ago. Notably, the vast majority (91.8%) of youth considered anti-discrimination legislation necessary, while nearly half (48.9%) of those with religious views also concurred.
Speaking at the press conference today, Dr. York CHOW, Chairperson of the EOC, said, “This study is the most comprehensive of its kind in Hong Kong. It employs both qualitative and quantitative approaches to systematically examine both the experience of discrimination faced by LGBTI individuals, as well as public views about possible remedies against such discrimination. It is also the first study to analytically investigate similar legislation in other jurisdictions, including those influenced by Chinese culture, to consider what lessons can be learnt and applied in Hong Kong.”
“We believe that the study can help to provide a comprehensive picture of the situation of discrimination against LGBTI people in our city, and complement the effort of the Government and the Advisory Group on Eliminating Discrimination against Sexual Minorities. It can serve as an evidence-based foundation and provide useful reference for the Government and related parties towards advancing equality and considering legislation on this front,” remarked Dr. Chow.
The study featured a territory-wide telephone public opinion survey with 1,005 respondents; qualitative findings collected from three public forums, 13 public focus groups including those with strong concerns, interviews with 61 respondents from the LGBTI community in 14 focus groups; as well as online and postal submission of opinions. The study also conducted legal review and analysis of comparable anti-discrimination legislation in other jurisdictions, including those with similar legal systems to Hong Kong and those which share similar Chinese cultural characteristics and influences, including Taiwan and Macau.
In the study’s focus groups, LGBTI respondents noted that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status occurs frequently in the areas of employment, education, provision of services, disposal and management of premises, as well as government functions. Upon encountering discrimination, LGBTI respondents felt that they had little or no means of redress. A number of LGBTI respondents viewed legal protection from discrimination as a necessary first step to protecting their basic human rights and dignity.
Professor SUEN Yiu Tung, Principal Investigator of the study and Assistant Professor of Sociology at CUHK, commented: “The discrimination that LGBTI people reported is notable regardless of places of occurrence, life stages of the victims, and demographic characteristics of the perpetrators. In general, all the subgroups of LGBTI people faced discrimination. They included the lower-income groups such as foreign domestic helpers, as well as higher-income earners such as those working in the finance or entertainment industries. It seems that only the forms of discrimination that LGBTI people of different backgrounds face are qualitatively different. Many LGBTI people indicated that the sources of perpetrators in the discriminatory situations were higher up in the power hierarchy than themselves, such as their employers, senior administrators or teachers, rendering means of redressing discrimination either not useful or virtually non-existent. In the domain of education, in extreme cases, teachers, counsellors and social workers were perceived to be the perpetrators of discrimination.”
“Discriminatory treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status has no place in an international city and business centre such as Hong Kong. Such discrimination harms LGBTI individuals physically, emotionally, and financially. They also hurt the city’s ability to attract and retain talent, as well as our longstanding reputation as an open and welcoming society,” said Dr. Chow. “It is time that the Government considers the next steps to ensuring legal protection against discrimination for the LGBTI community.”
Clear support for anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status was also expressed by members of the general public who participated in the study. Based on the telephone survey, 55.7% of respondents agree with legal protection for LGBTI persons. This is almost a twofold increase from the corresponding figure (28.7%) in a 2005 Government survey. Support was particularly strong among those aged 18-24, 91.8% of whom agreed with legislation.
“These results indicate that there is a significant change in public opinion in support of legislation over the last decade. Given the demonstrably strong support from young people on this issue, public opinion will likely continue to shift in favour of legislation over the coming years,” noted Dr. Chow. “The EOC, therefore, calls on the Government to consider conducting a public consultation on introducing anti-discrimination legislation on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status as soon as possible, so that everyone in the community can express their views and play a part in the formulation of the legislation.”
The study also indicates that there are diverse views on this issue among different religious groups. Although there were strong views expressed against legislation from some religiously-affiliated groups during the study, nearly half (48.9%) of survey respondents who identified as having religious beliefs agreed that there should be legal protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
“The EOC recognises that there are divergent views on this issue, even within distinct communities. In considering the way forward, the study paid particular attention on ways to address the various concerns raised in relation to potential legislation. The EOC believes that it would be possible to balance the need to protect LGBTI people from discrimination with such concerns and rights of other groups to freedoms of expression and religion, and the right to privacy. Indeed, Hong Kong’s human rights legislation, such as the Bill of Rights Ordinance, as well as existing anti-discrimination Ordinances, already do balance such rights in their provisions and day-to-day implementation. In addition, some jurisdictions, which were examined in the study, have done this in various ways, such as through exemptions in the law,” said Dr. Chow.
“We are indeed at the precipice of change. Given the evolution of public attitudes, we must accelerate the momentum, so Hong Kong can promote equality for LGBTI members of its community and strategically map its own path forward. In fact, various United Nations human rights monitoring bodies have repeatedly called on Hong Kong to legislate against discrimination on these grounds, most recently by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2014. Moreover, the study’s analysis of other jurisdictions indicates that anti-discrimination legislation on these grounds already exist in varying forms, covering different domains of public activity such as employment, education, or other domains similar to Hong Kong’s existing discrimination Ordinances. Given these international human rights obligations, the prevalence of discrimination faced by sexual minorities, and global trends, the Government should embark on a public consultation soon. The consultation’s focus should be on the scope and content of the legislation, rather than whether there should be legislation. Topics to cover should include the protected characteristics and relevant definitions, the legislation’s format, types of prohibited conduct, domains of protection, and possible exemptions,” added Dr. Chow.
Professor Suen echoed: “Based on the research findings, the discussion needs to move from the question of whether or not there should be legislation on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status to that of how such legislation should be designed,” he said. “It is crucially important for the consultation exercise to contain as many concrete details as possible to minimise misunderstandings and unnecessary anxieties. In consulting the public, the Government should provide clear definitions of the coverage of any possible legislation, including possible domains to be covered, as well as exemptions that can potentially be considered.”
In addition to calling for public consultation on potential anti-discrimination legislation, the study also made a number of recommendations for action. First, the Government is encouraged to give further consideration to explore claims about possible discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, given that there are few studies about the extent of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in Hong Kong. Other recommendations include encouraging dialogue and better understanding between different groups on the issue of LGBTI discrimination through various avenues such as public forums or workshops; ensuring frontline government officials and staff of public bodies who are providing public services are given appropriate training and guidelines to avoid discriminatory behaviour; widening public education to dispel myths and misconceptions about LGBTI people; and expanding support measures targeted at LGBTI people to ensure their equal participation in society.
The study report has been reviewed and deliberated at the last EOC meeting on 17 December 2015. Subsequently the report has incorporated the comments of the EOC Board Members and received the majority’s endorsement. The EOC will submit the report to the Government for consideration. “It is vital to remember that, whatever our differences in opinions, we all share a commitment and belief that discrimination is unacceptable and should be eliminated,” said Dr. Chow. “In commissioning this study, the EOC hopes to lay the groundwork for Hong Kong to engage in rational dialogue on the way forward. The EOC will continue its advocacy on this front to ensure that no one will face discrimination and prejudice because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.”
For media enquiries, please contact Mr. Sam HO (Tel: 2106-2187).
Equal Opportunities Commission
26 January 2016