It pays to pro­mote equal­ity for LGBTI groups

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - S U E N Y I U -T U N G

Ear­lier this year, “The Study on Leg­is­la­tion against Dis­crim­i­na­tion on the Grounds of Sex­ual Ori­en­ta­tion, Gen­der Iden­tity and In­ter­sex Sta­tus”, of which I was the prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor, con­cluded there should be a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion in Hong Kong on leg­is­la­tion against dis­crim­i­na­tion on the grounds of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­tity and in­ter­sex sta­tus. The study found that the Hong Kong pub­lic is be­com­ing more re­cep­tive to the rights of les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex (LGBTI) peo­ple, with a stag­ger­ing 91.8 per­cent of re­spon­dents aged 18-24 sup­port­ing leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect LGBTI peo­ple from dis­crim­i­na­tion. I con­ducted the study with a re­search team at the Gen­der Re­search Cen­tre of the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong and it was com­mis­sioned by the Equal Op­por­tu­ni­ties Com­mis­sion.

Many lead­ing in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies are ex­tend­ing to em­ploy­ees in same-sex part­ner­ships the ben­e­fits hith­erto only avail­able to mar­ried cou­ples. Gold­man Sachs, HSBC, JP Mor­gan and Stan­dard Char­tered among oth­ers have built LGBTI and ally net­works to pro­mote in­clu­sion, while Pana­sonic Corp in Ja­pan has an­nounced that ben­e­fits such as ma­ter­nity leave, health in­sur­ance and cash bonuses will be made avail­able to em­ploy­ees in same-sex re­la­tion­ships. The busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia are be­gin­ning to rec­og­nize the case for pro­mot­ing an LGBTI-friendly work­place.

Yet there is still some way to go. Some com­pa­nies re­main re­luc­tant to take these steps, be­liev­ing that Asian and Chi­nese cul­tures are some­how dif­fer­ent. They worry that if they speak up too strongly on LGBTI is­sues, there may be a back­lash by a gen­eral pub­lic gen­er­ally per­ceived to be con­ser­va­tive.

They might be sur­prised by the find­ings of two re­cent sur­veys con­ducted by the Sex­u­al­i­ties Re­search Pro­gramme at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong to in­ves­ti­gate the at­ti­tudes of the Hong Kong pub­lic, as well as les­bian, gay and bi­sex­ual (LGB) peo­ple, to­ward LGB-friendly busi­nesses.

It found that 50 per­cent of the Hong Kong pub­lic who were sur­veyed would not change their view of a busi­ness if that busi­ness had a sup­port­ive stance on LGB is­sues. A fur­ther 25 per­cent viewed LGB-friendly busi­nesses pos­i­tively, while the re­main­ing quar­ter saw LGB-friendly busi­nesses neg­a­tively. A net gain in terms of a pub­lic pos­i­tive im­age can also be seen for or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide ben­e­fits to same-sex part­ners and sup­port anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws. Com­pa­nies might not need to fear the strong pub­lic back­lash that they imag­ined.

At the same time, it is note­wor­thy that more than 80 per­cent and 70 per­cent of the LGB re­spon­dents said they are more likely to work and give their cus­tom to LGB-friendly com­pa­nies re­spec­tively.

Hong Kong was re­cently rated the world’s most com­pet­i­tive econ­omy by the IMD World Com­pet­i­tive Cen­ter. The recog­ni­tion comes af­ter the US think tank Her­itage Foun­da­tion ranked Hong Kong as the world’s freest econ­omy for the 21st year in a row. While Hong Kong’s lib­eral eco­nomic regime and well-de­vel­oped in­fra­struc­ture are lauded by global re­search in­sti­tu­tions, many of its poli­cies re­main too con­ser­va­tive to at­tract tal­ented LGBTI pro­fes­sion­als who could help Hong Kong sus­tain its com­pet­i­tive edge in the re­gion.

“The Study on Leg­is­la­tion against Dis­crim­i­na­tion on the Grounds of Sex­ual Ori­en­ta­tion, Gen­der Iden­tity and In­ter­sex Sta­tus” found that dis­crim­i­na­tion against the LGBTI com­mu­nity was par­tic­u­larly per­va­sive in em­ploy­ment.

LGBTI peo­ple re­ported that they ex­pe­ri­enced dis­crim­i­na­tion, both at the in­di­vid­ual/per­sonal level and the in­sti­tu­tional/pol­icy level, through­out the em­ploy­ment cy­cle from job-seek­ing and work­ing, to the dis­missal pro­cesses. The sources of dis­crim­i­na­tion in­cluded em­ploy­ers, hu­man re­sources (HR) per­son­nel, col­leagues and clients/ ser­vice users/stu­dents in school. In the work­place, LGBTI em­ploy­ees say they face dis­missal, dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment or ha­rass­ment when their iden­tity or sta­tus is re­vealed.

I also in­ter­viewed many LGBTI peo­ple, in­clud­ing same-sex cou­ples who had en­tered into legally rec­og­nized re­la­tion­ships in other ju­ris­dic­tions ei­ther in the form of civil part­ner­ships or same­sex mar­riages and moved to Hong Kong. In such same-sex re­la­tion­ships, when one per­son was granted a work visa to move to Hong Kong, their le­gal part­ner is al­ways re­fused a de­pen­dent visa. The part­ners who were de­nied de­pen­dent visas al­most by de­fault face con­sid­er­able dif­fi­cul­ties adapt­ing to life in Hong Kong. They are un­able to work, open a bank ac­count, or regis­ter for a mo­bile phone con­tract. They can­not ac­cess pub­lic health care or claim mar­ried tax al­lowances.

Yet anti-LGBTI poli­cies and prac­tices can breed grudges, re­duce pro­duc­tiv­ity and even­tu­ally hurt a busi­ness. Even more dam­ag­ing, they can de­ter

As Asia’s lead­ing in­ter­na­tional city, Hong Kong has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­dress this is­sue. It must at­tract and re­tain the best global tal­ent re­gard­less of na­tion­al­ity, faith or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. The gov­ern­ment and busi­ness sec­tor should proac­tively im­ple­ment LGBTI-friendly poli­cies, stamp out dis­crim­i­na­tion and help to build a more con­ge­nial en­vi­ron­ment that em­braces dif­fer­ences.”

those with ex­cep­tional skills and ex­per­tise from tak­ing up em­ploy­ment in Hong Kong.

In­sti­tut­ing an LGBTI-friendly le­gal frame­work and busi­ness prac­tice does not re­quire a revo­lu­tion. Am­ple ex­am­ples from around the world can be read­ily adopted in Hong Kong’s cos­mopoli­tan con­text. The CUHK study com­mis­sioned by the Equal Op­por­tu­ni­ties Com­mis­sion has pre­scribed op­tions to de­velop anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws. A pos­si­ble ap­proach would be to build a new or­di­nance based on the ex­ist­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion or­di­nances, or amend the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion Or­di­nance to in­cor­po­rate pro­vi­sions rel­e­vant to sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­tity and in­ter­sex sta­tus.

As Asia’s lead­ing in­ter­na­tional city, Hong Kong has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­dress this is­sue. It must at­tract and re­tain the best global tal­ent re­gard­less of na­tion­al­ity, faith or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. The gov­ern­ment and busi­ness sec­tor should proac­tively im­ple­ment LGBTI-friendly poli­cies, stamp out dis­crim­i­na­tion and help to build a more con­ge­nial en­vi­ron­ment that em­braces dif­fer­ences. If we cel­e­brate di­ver­sity in our work­force now, we will reap the re­wards in the fu­ture.

The au­thor is an as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of the Gen­der Re­search Cen­tre and found­ing di­rec­tor of the Sex­u­al­i­ties Re­search Pro­gramme at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

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