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Lunar New Year Envelopes Get a Rainbow Twist for Gay Acceptance in Hong Kong

The red envelope distributed by Action Q is designed with a rainbow colored Goat - as 2015 is the Year of Goat - to signify the LGBT's wish for acceptance. Image from Action Q's Facebook.

The red envelope distributed by Action Q is designed with a rainbow-colored goat – as 2015 is the Year of the Goat – to signify the LGBT community's wish for acceptance. Image from Action Q's Facebook.

The Chinese Lunar New Year is a season that families often spend together. During the first few days of the new year, married couples give traditional red envelopes to members of the family who are unmarried as a gesture of good will. But same-sex couples are not recognized in major Chinese societies, including Hong Kong, so what should be a festive greeting becomes a dreaded moment for gay and lesbian people. 

To address the problem, LGBT activist group Action Q launched a campaign called “Celebrating Lunar New Year with Gay People”. On Lunar New Year's eve, the group distributed special red envelopes in downtown Hong Kong containing three real life stories illustrating how gay and lesbian people feel during the holiday. A rainbow-colored goat was printed in the cover of the envelopes to signify the LGBT community's wish to enjoy the Lunar New Year celebration the same as straight couples do.

The group explained the rationale behind the campaign on Facebook, describing what the holiday season feels like for gay and lesbian people:

農曆新年是華人最重視的節慶,其中以家庭團聚和拜年作為節日的主軸,不難發現無論古今,所有關於農曆新年的活動都是以異性戀的家庭崗位作為中心。[…]在家庭裏,同志長輩因不能結婚而無法名正言順地派利是;長輩稱謂方面,姐姐的丈夫會稱為「姐夫」,但姐姐的妻子則沒有適當的稱謂。顯示他們被既定的家庭架構排除在外,在家庭裏地位較低。[…]作為後輩,在拜年期間經常被問及感情狀況,同志青年為了父母的面子或未跟父母出櫃,不時要迴避或應付這類對話,實在不無壓力。所以,我們寫了三個致同志青年的短篇故事,希望引起大家的共鳴,了解同志在農曆年的處境。

The Lunar New Year is the most important Chinese festival. Spending time with family and visiting relatives are a major part of the season. Since ancient times, all of these activities have centered around the heterosexual family unit. […] Within families, gay couples cannot hand out red envelopes to junior family members and we don't have a proper way of addressing gay couples in extended families. For example, we don't know how to address our sister's wife. Gay couples are marginalized in the current family structure with a relatively low status. […] As for junior family members, they are usually asked about their love lives when visiting family. Most gay and lesbian people have to face a lot of pressure as they don't want to embarrass their parents in front of other relatives or some of them haven't even told their parents about their sexual orientation. 

Two of the stories inside the envelopes recount all the embarrassing questions gay and lesbian people receive from relatives and friend Lunar New Year. The most touching one tells of a mother inviting her son's partner to the year-end family dinner:

母親輕敲半掩的房門,端來一杯暖和的蜜糖水,說「仔,年三十晚食團年飯,唔好約人呀」。[…] 團年飯都是訂於年三十晚,年年如是[…] 而以往母親亦沒有如此刻意提醒。[…] 我回過頭去面對母親。我們四目相投了一秒,這一秒卻異常漫長,我完全不知道母親究竟要說甚麼,只感受到她將要說的是一件重要的事,終於母親打破了沉默,說「如果你朋友得閒,你就叫埋佢上嚟食飯啦」。

當耳膜上的震動化作我能理解的訊息後,我的心如鹿撞,擱在大腿上的手亦不自覺的顫抖起來,但我努力的壓抑我心裡的激動與狂喜,故作冷靜的說「哦,我晏啲問吓佢」,因為我知道這一段短短的對話對我和母親都並不容易,自我出櫃以來,除了剛出櫃的那一個充滿著淚水與吵鬧的星期,我的家避而不談任何有關同性戀的事足足有三年,情感的張力高得任何情感表露都會叫我倆眼淚决堤。[…]

待母親離開過後,我按捺著心中的激動,強忍眼眶中欲墜的淚水,用顫抖的手給男朋友撥電話。

「Sam,年三十晚你上嚟我屋企食團年飯,好唔好?」

Mother knocked my door and handed me a warm honey water. She then said, “Son, we have the year-end family dinner, don't go out with others”. […] Every year we have the same dinner […] and my mother had never reminded me like this before. […] I turned my head to face her and we locked eyes for about a second, a very long second. I didn't know what exactly my mother wanted to talk about, but I had the feeling that it was a very important issue. My mother finally broke the silence and said, “If your friend has time, bring him home for dinner.”

As soon as I heard her voice and was able to process what she said, my heart began to jump like a deer and my hands began to shake on my thighs. I tried very hard to suppress my excitement and exuberance and answer with a calm voice, “OK, I'll ask him later.” Such a conversation was very difficult for my mother and I. The week I came out to my parents was filled with tears and confrontation. Then, for three years we avoided talking about anything related with to homosexuality. The tension was so strong that showing any sign of emotion on our faces would end with us bursting into tears. […]

After my mother left the room, I tried hard to hold in my tears while I called my boyfriend, “Sam, can you come to my house for the year-end family dinner?”

Currently, neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions are legally recognized in Hong Kong. Although opponents to same-sex marriage still outnumber supporters by 3% there, the trend indicates that society will eventually be ready to accept gay couples. 

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