How will Hong Kong react to the Gay Games: Support or suppression?

Screenshot from Gay Games Hong Kong 2023 promotion video.

The Gay Games, an annual global sport and cultural event that promotes gender and sexual diversity, will begin in Hong Kong in November this year. After postponing it for one year thanks to pandemic-related restrictions, the local organizers wanted the international event to “bring out Hong Kong” as they expected it to attract 30,000 participants and tourists to the city.

However, the local host, Gay Games 11 Hong Kong, is facing a dilemma. The majority of pro-establishment politicians in Hong Kong are far from friendly to the LGBTQ+ community, and some people are skeptical whether the host can guarantee the safety of attendees. Since the enactment of the National Security Law on 30 June 2020, freedom of expression has been effectively repressed in the city by the reactivation of the colonial Sedition Law. The most well-known cases of individuals or organizations accused of sedition include the shutdown of the online media outlet Stand News, the imprisonment of five individuals over the publication of a set of children's books that explain politics in Hong Kong through animal allegory, and the arrest of several other individuals over their social media posts.

Hong Kong will co-host the 11th international gathering with Guadalajara, Mexico, in Latin America. The arrangement was made in February 2022 to address the uncertainty of travel restrictions:

Hong Kong's LGBTQ+ community won the bid for the 11th Gay Games back in 2016. Although several Hong Kong government departments and public institutions have expressed their support for the event, some pro-establishment politicians slammed the LGBTQ+ community as “disgraceful” during a Legislative Council session in 2021, when organizers reached out for more concrete governmental support ahead of the games.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Julius Ho even claimed that same-sex marriage was a “red line” that touched upon the “national security” issue.

Now that the games are set to move ahead, the host has been forced to scale down the event from 36 sports events to 22 and adjust their expectation of speculators from 75,000 to 30,000, due to a lack of government funding. Instead of large sporting arenas, most of its sports and cultural activities will be spread across the city in smaller venues, from university and international school sports centers to the Science Park.

To ease anticipated political pressure from conservatives, Bon Ng, the Sports Director of Gay Games Hong Kong, promised that the event would “bring out Hong Kong” and highlighted the positive contribution of the games to the local economy:

With Hong Kong being not that big, the Games is a chance for participants to tour around, too – this is the sports tourism we are talking about.

But there are also worries that participants in the games might be unable to express themselves freely or could face legal risks during their stay in Hong Kong. In response to the concerns, Lisa Lam, co-chair and general counsel of the organizing body, downplayed censorship as a non-issue in a radio program and stressed that “she hoped all participants from around the globe could abide by local laws and respect the local culture.”

Lam's response has attracted strong criticism from overseas Hong Kong dissidents. Samuel Bickett, a human rights lawyer-activist, for example, tweeted:

The concerns that action might be taken against LGBTQ+ sports fans aren't baseless. In September 2022, Hong Kong Police recorded the crowds in football matches as some football fans booed at China’s national anthem. And in July 2021, a man was charged with insulting the anthem for booing the song while watching the Tokyo Olympics in a shopping mall. 

When the organizer's ties with the city's establishment were questioned, the local organizer of the Gay Games blocked Samuel Beckett, along with other critical voices:

The theme of the 11th Gay Games is “Unity in Diversity”; it seems that unity does come before diversity.

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