Equal Opportunities Commission



Inclusion Recruitment Conference
Organised by Queer Straight Alliance

Speech by Prof Alfred CHAN Cheung-ming, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


Good evening, fellow human beings.

Initially I wanted to open my speech with the usual “ladies and gentlemen”. Then, the words of the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs came to my mind: He said, at the Global LGBTI Human Rights Conference two months ago, that the three simple words, “ladies and gentlemen”, which we often use to start our speeches, ignore a part of the audience. It dawned on me that practices that the majority of us take for granted can be insensitive or even offensive to some.

I am not a politician and I do not plan to dwell on words. But I do agree that what society in general is accustomed to may not always be right – at least not throughout history. Similar to the case of “ladies and gentlemen”, we are used to addressing women with the prefixes “Miss” and “Mrs”, and increasingly, “Ms”. However, according to a Cambridge historian, only “Mrs” existed before the mid-18th century, and the term was applied to adult women of high social standing, without anything to do with marital status. 

Human society has continued to evolve ever since it began, with each era seeing new norms and customs. Yet one thing is consistent at all times: human rights development should move forward, not backward. Once upon a time, women and people of colours were considered inferior to their male and white counterparts and stripped of many social rights, even in what we call developed societies. Thanks to the painstaking efforts and sacrifices of many in history, these groups now enjoy much greater opportunities and rights. If the 20th century should be dedicated to the battles and triumph of women and people of colours, the 21st century should be flying the rainbow flag.

Indeed, the fight for LGBTI rights has been gaining attention and ground in different parts of the world. In governments and boardrooms, on campuses and social media, people have shown growing awareness of the need to respect the fundamental human rights of LGBTI people. Increasingly, influential organisations are voicing out for the LGBTI communities, and many international corporations like those that are present today have already established diversity and inclusion policies to protect the rights of LGBTI employees. As for the academic sector, The University of Hong Kong has set up an all-gender bathroom recently to show support for sexual diversity. 

But let there be no illusion. Notwithstanding these advances and moves, much remains to be done, as social stigma and prejudice linger, and discrimination remains deeply entrenched in the social landscape. The fight for the rights of LGBTI people continues, which is why the efforts of organisations like the Queer Straight Alliance are so important. By creating a safe social platform, the QSA provides students with the much-needed emotional and peer support. Initiatives like this Inclusion Recruitment Conference are especially meaningful, as they help LGBTI youngsters to find a place where they can build their career and be who they are at the same time. Allow me therefore to take this opportunity to show my appreciation and admiration to all those involved. The fact that the QSA is operated by students makes me particularly hopeful of a more open, caring and inclusive world in the future.

I would also like to applaud all the corporations that are supporting this conference. Thank you for making diversity and inclusion a priority. As LGBTI individuals continue to face discrimination in the workplace, your efforts make a big difference. By highlighting the importance of diversity at work and providing an open and fair environment for everyone to be their best self, you are not only improving the conditions of a few LGBTI individuals, but effecting a change in the world.

As for us at the Equal Opportunities Commission, we have been advocating for legislative reforms that will protect sexual minorities from discrimination and unequal treatment. In 2014, we launched the “Study on Legislation against Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status”, with the hope to provide the Government with evidence of the need to make discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation unlawful. The study looked into the current situation of discrimination in Hong Kong and corresponding laws in comparable jurisdictions. As part of our recommendations, we have been urging the Government to kick off public consultation on legislation as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, we have been calling for administrative reforms to meet the needs of the LGBTI communities. For example, we solicited the assistance of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority on asking retail banks to allow no title/salutation on bank statements for their LGBTI clients – after all, we should not allow ourselves to be confined by “ladies and gentlemen”, “mister” and “missus”. We also asked the Government to build more gender-neutral bathrooms in public premises. Looking forward, we will keep pushing for dialogue among stakeholders and raising awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion by working with organisations in both the public and private sectors.

To end my speech, I would like to quote Professor Dumbledore, who said the following in the light of Voldemort’s return: 

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided…we can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

Friends and allies, in combating the evil forces of discrimination, hatred and prejudice, our unity and concerted efforts will be crucial. I look forward to greater collaboration with all of you as the battle for equality goes on.

Thank you for having me today, and I wish all of you an enjoyable and rewarding evening.