Hong Kong Pride Parade 2018 recap

This is an archive post of my event recap of the Hong Kong Pride Parade 2018, which went from Causeway Bay to Central on Saturday, November 18. In addition to describing the event, I include commentary and background information on Hong Kong’s LGBTQ community and human rights developments in the Asia Pacific Region.

Duke DeAndre Richardson Stay fabulous! Duke DeAndre Richardson of Hanumanteshwar Photo: Athena Lam

Having left the clammy grip of summer and fickle September typhoons behind, Hong Kong eases into its most flattering weather in November. Outdoor festivities around this time take place under the city’s bluest skies and most refreshing of breezes. But on the day of the Hong Kong Pride Parade, the clouds gathered, no quite menacing, but with a moody gloom that gave anyone on the fence a perfect chance to change their mind.

香港同志遊行 2018 銅鑼灣 Crowds gathering behind event rally banner Photo: Athena Lam

The undeterred folk who flowed from the Causeway Bay MTR station into Victoria Park to gather were greeted by sputters from the sky, not enough to drench, but just enough to further weed out any fence sitters. According to the organizers, over 10,000 attendees nonetheless persevered to attend the largest Pride march yet for Hong Kong, while Hong Kong police estimated about 4000.

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohi Prince Manvendra chatting with Anis while waiting. Photo: Athena Lam

This year’s Hong Kong Pride Parade was jointly organized by the a coalition that included the Association for Transgender Rights (跨性別權益會), Gay Harmony (大同), Les Corner Empowerment Association (女角平權協作組), Rainbow of Hong Kong (香港彩虹) and Pride Lab. This year’s event focus is ‘Call for the law, equality for all’, an overt push for greater LGBT+ rights and legal protection.

#freemylibrary hong kong Supportive students for #FreeMyLibrary protest! Photo: Athena Lam

In September this year, Hong Kong’s courts granted spousal visas for same-sex partners married in other countries, and one month later the HKSAR Government’s Chief Executive’s 2018 Policy Address stated in Article 251 that “The HKSAR Government has been committed to promoting equal opportunities for people of different sexual orientations and transgenders on the basis of upholding the existing institution of monogamy and heterosexual marriage” (emphasis added). In other words, Hong Kong is LGBT+ expat-friendlier, but the needle has not moved for the 99% of locals and migrant workers. Hong Kong’s LGBT+ community has been waging multiple legal battles in addition to same-sex marriage that includes gender recognition for trans individuals, protection from domestic violence (I learned that rape protection only extends to individuals with female gender markers on their ID, meaning transwomen and men are excluded).

The media. And sign language available throughout! Photo: Athena Lam

Having started in 2008, the Hong Kong Pride Parade is, I believe, the city’s oldest public LGBTQ protest / event and continues to be lead by local organizations. I make this distinction because there are at least three Hong Kong’s — expat, local (Cantonese Chinese), and the rest. The rest actually includes large and distinct communities including local South Asians who were born in Hong Kong, migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia, and also migrant workers from Mainland China. This event is local-led, as opposed to other LGBTQ events that are expat-led and focused, and also a significant LGBTQ migrant working population.

Pre-March Rallies and Pride Parade’s Main Stage

![]香港同志遊行 2018 The Emcees on the main stage welcoming the groups. Photo: Athena Lam

Like most protests, this one also begins with rallies at a main stage. From my understanding, groups that attend and want to show public support make arrangements with the organizers and are scheduled to have stage time.

human dignity festival 2018 planet ally Planet Ally’s international presenters welcomed on stage. Photo: Athena Lam

I don’t know when the MCs started talking exactly, but one of the first groups up was Planet Ally, which was organizing the Human Dignity Festival the same weekend and had international participants from Australia, India, the UK, and local students and individuals.

Gabriela Hong Kong inviting attendees to Migrants’ Pride. Photo: Athena Lam

One of the next groups to take the stage was Gabriela Hong Kong, which represents LGBT+ Filipino migrant workers, most of whom are domestic helpers. Three group leaders had come to show solidarity for the local community as well as invite attendees to their march the next day, Migrant’s Pride (event recap here).

canadian consulate hk lgbtq Canada, the US, UK, France, the EU, Czech Republic, Finland, and more! Photo: Athena Lam

Many consulate generals (Hong Kong doesn’t have embassies) also publicly supported the event and took turns to express congratulations and show their support. I don’t know if this happens in other places, but one of the nice things about a smaller Pride is that you can actually see what goes on on stage and can get right up close. The consulates I saw included the EU (?!), Canada, the Czech Republic, the US, France, Australia, Finland. I know it’s the business of consulates to be seen in public at such events, but given that Hong Kong is known more for its finance and bewildering number of social events at any given hour, 7 days a week, I nonetheless appreciate that they chose to come to this (without umbrellas!!).

香港同志遊行 2018 Hong Kong Pride’s Ambassadors included Amanda Lee, Legislator Hon Claudia Mo, Dr. Alfred Chan Photo: Athena Lam

Of course, local legislators, pop stars, and community members also came to support (pre-event ambassador videos here). While Hong Kong is quite safe when compared to North America and European countries because there is virtually no homophobic or transphobic public violence, most people are reluctant to be active supporters. So in some senses it is not as big a deal, but not as big a deal can also slide into “couldn’t care less”.

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The Asia Pacific region is a series of battle grounds for LGBTQ rights, for everything from same-sex marriage, to gender marker changes in ID and gender neutral washrooms, to the removal of discriminatory laws. Two years ago, Taiwan’s court voted to change the constitution to allow same-sex marriage, which was a landmark win felt throughout Asia. Now, on the weekend just following Hong Kong’s Pride March, Taiwan will have a national referendum on whether to not change the constitution due to legislators caving to traditional marriage activists. I remember reading somewhere that one interviewee from the Mainland had crossed the border just to attend, which is not a surprise because China has recently cracked down on LGBTQ communities and the world’s largest lesbian dating app by active users, Rela, was shut down suddenly last year. Activists in the region are alert to small gains being followed by greater setbacks.

Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project

Matcha Phorn-In is a Thai human rights activist and proud lesbian mom. Photo: Athena Lam

Before the March

planet ally #freemylibrary Planet Ally’s protestors for #FreeMyLibrary Photo: Athena Lam

In fact, the Hong Kong government has taken active anti-LGBTQ measures. One of them includes banning 10 books from Hong Kong’s public libraries, which is why Planet Ally’s group were protesting with a rainbow penguin (homage to* And Tango Makes Three*). The non-binary rainbow penguin’s name is Bert, and they’ve joined the #FreeMyLibrary campaign that started because of the 2014 Singapore book ban. The protesters are standing in front of Hong Kong’s Central Library (the yellow-brown building) and succeeded in attracting a fair amount of media attention.

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohi Prince Manvendra Singh Gohi being interviewed. Photo: Athena Lam

Of course, the media were also interested in international guests. When Planet Ally had gotten on stage, the MC’s had welcomed Prince Manvendera, the world’s first openly gay member of royalty. Prince Manvendera Singh Gohil, founder and chairman of the Lakshya Trust, is incredibly humble and relaxed. He was one of the first to pick up the penguin signs, smile and take a photo with anyone, and answer journalists’ questions from the moment he arrived and right through eating his sandwich.

Anis Akhtar Founder Disabled & Intersex UK-Asia Anis Akhtar, Founder of Disabled & Intersex UK-Asia. Photo: Athena Lam

Some journalists were a bit more imaginative and interviewed other people in the group, such as Anis Akhtar, an out intersex and disibilities activist from the UK, Samoan-Australian trans-female performer Amao Leota Lu, Australian academic and entrepreneur Elise Stephenson, and Thai human rights activist Matcha Phorn-In.

Elise Stephenson Co-founder Social Good Outpost Elise Stephenson, Co-founder of Social Good Outpost. Photo: Athena Lam

Hong Kong Pride Parade Marching Route

香港同志遊行 2018

This year is the 10th year since the first Pride March in Hong Kong, which had begun as a small demonstration on the side walk that went from Wan Chai to Central, about half the length of the march route in recent years. Unlike places like San Fran, New York, Toronto, London, and Sydney, this event is a political rally and march — free of floats and sidewalk barricades, though increasing in logos and corporate banners.

香港同志遊行 2018

Once the presentations are done, the MCs will direct the crowd towards the entrance of Victoria Park, where the large rainbow flag is held. As it is a community event, basically it become a mass of people who wait politely until the march kicks off, and the groups eventually funnel into a line. And, we’re off!

The march has grown significantly since its earliest days. Now, the march is granted part of the vehicle road following the tram line, the main artery for Hong Kong Island. But the protest has never gotten to levels that requires barricades, as they do in cities like Toronto. As such, it’s easy for late friends to join in part way or a marcher to grab a bottle of water en route.

香港同志遊行 2018 Closing one direction of Hennessy Road is a big deal in Hong Kong. Photo: Athena Lam

The people and crowd have also evolved. A friend who marched with us that day reposted a video she took in 2012 of the march, when she was watching. The first thing I noticed was how much space was between the marchers, who mostly walked resolutely forward, exposed, avoiding eye contact with the spectators. In contrast, the 2018 crowd was euphoric, waving to everyone who walked by, from the rainbow flag commuters waving from the tram to the passenger raging at the laggard pedestrians who were slowing her bus down.

At the same time, the Parade has not gotten so big (or, perhaps messy) that the general public avoid the area altogether (which is the case for Toronto). I personally think that this is a great opportunity for the public to stumble upon and discover a community they may have felt was separate, contained within the TV screens that occasionally mention them on the news. At least half the people on the sidewalk were not intentional spectators, but you see wide-eyed kids stopping their parents, or elderly people arching their brows silently. Personally, I think this visibility may have more transformative power than a dinner-time argument. Visually, the spectators see hundreds of people who look just like them, walking by, being so uncharacteristically happy and friendly for Hong Kong that most can’t help but at least smile back if you wave.

I’d also like to highlight that Hong Kong’s LGBTQ community has been making strides in being more inclusive. One example is that the organizers have chosen the main highlight for the parade is in their Facebook post. I think generally LGBTQ+ communities go through the usual arc of representing only gays, then lesbians, then the various trans and non-binary communities, and maybe getting eventually to the bisexuals, aces, and intersex folks. In some ways, the benefits of being a relatively young Pride is that the community could quickly catch up on the evolution of inclusion.

The other type of inclusion I had alluded to earlier with regional and local groups supporting each other. Hong Kong Pride Parade Facebook page promoted, and joined (or at least shared photos of), Migrants’ Pride for the following day (though people have asked why they haven’t just moved the main event to Sunday instead so that migrant workers can participate). Without being involved in any of the parade organizing, I don’t want to jump to conclusions because the two communities and marches do have different needs and agendas. Hong Kong has had a poor record for how it treats its migrants, meaning that the LGBTQ community here needs to overcome normalized exclusion now that the issue is visible in a separate march.

The other type of inclusion I had alluded to earlier with regional and local groups supporting each other. Hong Kong Pride Parade Facebook page promoted, and joined (or at least shared photos of), Migrants’ Pride for the following day (though people have asked why they haven’t just moved the main event to Sunday instead so that migrant workers can participate). Without being involved in any of the parade organizing, I don’t want to jump to conclusions because the two communities and marches do have different needs and agendas. Hong Kong has had a poor record for how it treats its migrants, meaning that the LGBTQ community here needs to overcome normalized exclusion now that the issue is visible in a separate march.

The spirit of Pride – bringing out and celebrating fabulous strangers. Photo: Athena Lam


香港同志遊行 2018

I can’t remember when my first Pride was. By extension, I don’t have that single moment of crystlised wonder. But I have collected many such moments every Pride I go to, in any city. I get to relive that moment of wonder with every friend who goes to Pride for the first time.

Many Pride veterans eventually opt out of some, if not all, of the main event. In Toronto, it is too big, too difficult to find parking, then friends, then the toilet, then food, then one of the 8 performance stages for your friend’s show. In Vancouver, the logistical challenges are laid out on a beach, and in London it’s Trafalgar Square (with the poor tourists).

Ever year, I think I’ll skip Pride. Every year, my prediction is false. I want to pass because I have my friends, my community, supportive workplaces and colleagues. I don’t need it. But every year, I go as a consequence of convincing someone else to see it for the first time. Over the years, they have included random queer friends, long-time straight friends, my sister, friends of friends whom I’d never met.

Every year I go, I witness wonder. Wonder that knocks open jaws at the guys with eight-packs, or tickles us into giggles at dildo booths, or commands silence as we digest the sheer scale of happy people. But there is another wonder that I go to see at Pride. It slips in unwittingly, when we reflexively reach out for our partner’s hands as we look around, before realising what we’ve done, in public. It teases us into a hug that we didn’t know we wanted with a stranger. It elevates our hand to meet another’s waiting in mid-air. It straightens our backs and lifts the edges of our lips. It draws out cheers from our mouths, even before we realize what “type” of people they were who passed by. For a moment, we raise our realities above the now into what could be.

So below, I’ll just leave the photos of moments that caught my eye and leave you to read the stories you want to find in them.

As a final thought, perhaps Pride is a practice. A practice of all the things we take from this day and what Pride means to us into our daily lives.