Lgbtq Hk Quick Guide
This is an archive of a quick guide written for gay, lesbian, transgender, queer travellers and locals living in Hong Kong circa 2018. It includes events, clubs, community groups, and LGBTQ-related media resources (podcasts, Youtube channels etc.). The city has changed significantly since then, both in terms of atmosphere and the community organizing that exists. Since I no longer live there, this is not actively maintained.
I moved to Hong Kong in the Fall of 2009. Back then, Hong Kong was about to host its second Pride Parade. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. Rummage in that memory attic for a world without Tindr, Grindr, or any similar app. MSN Messenger was still a thing. WiFi hotspots were not. Don’t go too far: there was Facebook.
Needless to say, the city’s changed a lot since then (in more ways than feeling like it’s doubled in population). Hong Kong now has a strong, visible community, hosts some large annual events, and is even making a bid for the 2022 Out Games. Diversity and inclusion is on the corporate discussion table. Like many other cities, same-sex marriage is doing its rounds through the courts.
Despite its smothering humidity and overcrowded MTR, it is still a hot travel destination. For a city with an LGBTQ culture that’s mushroomed publicly in the past few years, most of the contributing community members are too busy forging ahead to catalogue the good stuff they’ve helped create.
Here’s a brief guide for travellers and newcomers alike. Below, the sections are:
- How LGBTQ-friendly is Hong Kong?
- What’s the community and scene like?
- How do I find people?
- LGBTQ Community Groups
- What are good events to attend?
- What’s the nightlife like?
- What’s it like living here?
- What’s some good Hong Kong LGBTQ content to check out?
1) How LGBTQ-friendly is Hong Kong?
On the scale of things, pretty friendly, especially for a traveller. You can go ahead with PDA (public display of affection) and at most you get stares; public violence isn’t on US or European levels.
If you’re planning to live here or applying for a spouse to join you on a dependency visa, things may be a bit more complicated. The legal side of LGBTQ-related issues are not as progressive compared to the gold star countries. If you are working in a multinational company, then the rapidly changing attitudes of international firms will likely trickle into your benefits packages.
2) What’s the community and scene like?
Depending on who you talk to, the answer can vary widely. I think a summary would be that Hong Kong has a number of LGBTQ-related events that are more activism and community-building based, but much less of the night life that people from North America and Europe may be used to. Queer groups are usually passed around through Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook, and even Discord.
There’s a cultural difference between the ‘local’ Cantonese speaking scene and the English-speaking, ‘expat’ scene. The latter is far more publicly active, especially for nightlife because night life is mostly around the financial district and prices out most of the city. The former tends to be more low-key, with information that is spread through word-of-mouth networks. Many events happen during the day, such as sports practices, workshops, and lunch get-togethers.
Depending on where people come from, they will either feel that Hong Kong ‘doesn’t have much’ or has a lot. Especially in the corporate world, diversity and inclusion is now a hot topic. There is usually an event (i.e. talk, workshop, drinks) every week or so hosted by some LGBTQ group. These will often be in English. In addition, Hong Kong has some large LGBTQ events that would be great to time your visit with, such as the HK Gay and Lesbian Film Festival or Pink Season.
However, for a city with over 7 million people, the visible nightlife isn’t as big as one would expect (a combination of expensive real estate, less of a social drinking culture, and long work hours). Having said that, of course, there are plenty of gay bars and a handful of lesbian events. In addition, places close and open under a different name fairly often, so the information online sometimes lags a bit.
In addition, the attitudes towards things like relationships, family, or whether to be out, tend to differ between the local and expat communities. If you are interested in engaging the local scene, then it is best to find a bi-cultural friend to introduce you; you may also want to take it slow by spending more time listening, as many people become nervous around English speakers (for various reasons, but let’s just say they become self-conscious).
Lastly, initiatives and events are often scattered and you need to know what you’re looking for. Often local sites that have English versions are not search engine optimised, and don’t show up on Google searches. Facebook names can be unintuitive, and groups are often closed or secret. Instagram community groups have emerged since 2019/2020.
3) How do I find people?
The best way to meet other LGBTQ people is through groups. It may be a Facebook community or support group, such as the Transgender Resource Centre, work group, or sports group. Another way is to volunteer. Information is usually spread through smaller discussion circles, such as WhatsApp groups as queer content does pop up in many places, whether it’s a literary festival or in art galleries.
Butterfly is the app for queer women in Hong Kong that was privately funded by a couple until April 2019. It was available on Android and the iPhone, but has since been closed. The dating app Her works in Hong Kong.
4) LGBTQ Community Groups:
As general information:
- Hong Kong has English and Cantonese communities
- English-friendly groups are usually corporate alliances or chapters, Meetup groups, or whomever your English-speaking queer friend introduces you to.
- Many groups are informal WhatsApp groups, so best to go out and meet people in the community. They’ll usually add you.
- Chinese groups are usually active on Facebook and WhatsApp groups.
Below are some to start with:
Tung Wah Hospital Group has a Pride Line (a hotline) and regular small activity events
PinkDot is the umbrella organization that organizes Pink Season, Hong Kong’s month-long Pride celebrations. This site has information on the group, their affiliates, and general information for the LGBTQ community. For example, it includes LGBT terms, history, LGBTQ-related media. They even have a summer internship program called the ‘Pink Experience’. Their Facebook group has active updates.
Founded in 2013 by out celebrities Anthony Wong, Denise Ho (HOCC), with support from Legislative Council members Cyd Ho and Raymond Chan. It hosts community events such as concerts, workshops, and panel discussions. It also creates media content for the public.Rainbow HK香港彩虹
Established in 1998, this non-profit has a resource centre in Jordan, a help-line, blood testing service, a library, and hosts regular events. They have an English site.
This is an LGBTQ sports group. From my understanding, the turnout is higher for guys. For women, you have a better bet joining a rugby or lacrosse team.
Planet Ally is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering allyship and aims to provide resources and tools to advance human rights and build resilient communities. In practice, they do a lot of advocacy and event organizing for LGBTQ and inclusion events that intersect with issues such as faith, families, dignity and development. They have organised conferences around LGBTQ travel advocacy (Miles of Love), and LGBTQ families (Rainbow Families).
This non-profit does workshops, support groups, campaigns, and offers HIV testing.
As the name suggests, it’s a reading group and also promotes works by LGBTQ writers.
I think this is conducted in Cantonese, but basically my understanding is that it’s a queer-friendly Bible study and other church-related events.
Founded in 2009, Queer Theology Academy (QTA) helps advocate for and foster theology that is supportive of LGBTQ individuals. They work with other community groups to provide pastoral counseling. Hong Kong has a strong Christian community, which generally is not supportive of LGBTQ initiatives. Although you always have the exceptions, such as the pastor that supported an intersex person who is confident enough to do an interview on television (see Section 7).
To me, it feels like the professional networks in Hong Kong in recent years are the most active in organizing events. Majority of the push comes from international companies that already have such groups or HR initiatives to support same-sex couples or gender-nonconforming team members.
The most recent court cases in the time of writing have been about marriage recognition for same sex couples and what rights spouses have (a lesbian spouse won the right to a spousal visa in a landmark case). If you work for an international organization and are thinking of moving to Hong Kong, your company likely has an internal network (such as HSBC, Goldman Sachs, CBRE, KPMG, Li&Fung, JLL etc.). If it is, there is likely a company internal network and HR support for you.
Community Business is a non-profit organisation that aims to create more diversity and inclusion (in general) in the workplace, Community Business began research on LGBTQ inclusion in its member private companies. This has since evolved to additional initiatives such as the LGBT Resource Guide for Hong Kong and China, Workplace Inclusion Index, and various conferences for diversity and inclusion.
Some networks / events include:
- Fruits in Suits (Fins) (Monthly Events)
- HK Gay Professionals Meetup
- Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Attorneys Network (HKGALA)
- LGBT+ Interbank (Twitter) and Facebook Group
- LSE LGBT Global Alumni is at the time of writing hosted in Hong Kong
Run by the Boys and Girls Club Association of Hong Kong (BGCA), the project has various supports including a hotline, an HIV testing service, and social events for youth. The website also has information for parents and educators. Facebook group here.
The group includes various universities in Hong Kong (and potentially high school self-organised chapters) open to LGBTQI individuals and allies. It also Organises an Inclusion Recruitment Conference and collaborates with other groups such as Pink Alliance and Community Business.
It’s affiliated with Project Touch and for queer women. I don’t think it’s limited to youth only, so check out social events like board game nights on their Facebook group.
An advocate group for queer women. They do events, workshops, and join other LGBTQ events like the Pride marches in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Check their Facebook group for updates.
A non-profit started in 2005 with a strong board of directors, this is basically a one-stop portal to a lot of lesbian-related content, such as groups, events, icons, media. There are parts of the website in English. The portal will bounce you to various older site versions, but just work your way through it! Otherwise, head to the Facebook Group, which shares general media like videos.
Women Coalition (Monthly, 1st Saturday)
It’s run by the Women Coalition, an NGO for the LGBT community. Note: meetings are conducted in Cantonese but all women are welcome to attend. People usually go for dinner together after too. Check the website for updates.
There is a secret group for lesbians on Facebook. If you are interested, message me and tell me your rough dates in Hong Kong and your Facebook profile.
Quoting the creator and moderator’s message: “Basically a place to discuss and support each other transitioning in an East Asian culture, we are mostly Chinese from Hong Kong but have members from US/UK/PH/SG as well; trans peeps, questioning folks and allies welcome~~”
Organization started by Hong Kong vocalist, illustrator and activist Vincy Chan 陳韞, with a focus on genderqueer and non-binary transgender individuals. The group hosts art jam gatherings, clothing drives and is a safe place to meet other queer folks.
Gender Empowerment 性別空間 is an NGO that supports the transgender community in Hong Kong. The events, mostly hosted in Cantonese, have monthly get-togethers, FtM and Mtf support groups, makeup and voice training classes as well as career coaching classes. Facebook group here.
Transgender Resource Centre TGR (Legacy – Closed)
The TGR has been an anchor for the trans community for a decade, founded and maintained by Joanne Leung 梁詠恩, Hong Kong’s first openly trans politician. Unfortunately, the centre has closed as Joanne moved in 2019, but I am keeping this here as legacy to honour the efforts made over these years. The centre began as monthly meeting sessions where participants registered in advance to ensure it was a safe space. Meetings were typically conducted in Cantonese, but a fair number of participants can speak English and Joanne speaks English. The centre grew into a physical space and offered an English and Chinese website with resources for trans individuals and allies. It also had a counselling service and an English Facebook Group.
Rainbow Families: Check out the Rainbow Families of Hong Kong Facebook Group.
5) What are good events to attend?
In recent years, Hong Kong has had more LGBTQ-related issues featured at mainstream events or establishments. This means you should check out the things you like, whether they are career development panels, dance performances, or literary festivals. For example, the Hong Kong Literary Festival, which was featured in Tai Kwan, had invited Ivan E. Coyote in 2018. The new West Kowloon M+ cultural space featured a genderfluid screening, the show “Ambiguously Yours” in 2017 and the West Kowloon Cultural District hosted the show MDLSX.
Pink Season one of Hong Kong’s Month-long Prides (October – November). This is reportedly Asia’s largest LGBTQI festival, with a full month calendar. I personally love that it has a mix of events from arts and culture, to community building and professional workshops, to the usual drag parties and dances. Check out Pink Dot, which is a huge, 1-day annual festival that’s free to attend and complete with performances, booths, and just a great space to have a picnic.
Hong Kong Pride March (November)
The HK Pride Parade is closer to a solidarity march than the celebrations of North American cities. Most recently, in 2017, it attracted over 10,000 people. A bit of history, the Hong Kong Pride Parade began in 2008, and held on to rocky grounds. In 2010, it was cancelled. Now, it’s a thriving annual event and best of all you can walk in and out whenever you want! You can check out my 2017 Hong Kong Pride recap and photos.
Migrants Pride (November)
Migrants Pride usually takes place the day after Hong Kong’s main Pride Parade and I believe started in 2014. It’s open to everyone and there are performances throughout the day, usually in Central. If you have time, go and show your support as Hong Kong is supported by a huge population of migrant workers (most visibly domestic helpers). The event is organized by Gabriela Hongkong, Filipino Lesbian Organization, Filguys Association Gabriela HK, The Unity Association, SHARE HK, Nepali Workers Association and Auto 8A.
Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Film Festival: HKGLFF (September)
This festival has films over several weeks, usually in September. It basically leads right into Pink Season. If you’re planning a trip, make sure you check regularly for ticket sales!
**《香港同讀文化節》HKQLCF Hong Kong Queer Lit and Culture Festival
**The HKQLCF is an event organised by 女同學社 NTXS (formerly Les Love Study) that began in 2016. The 2019 festival was a multi-day event with a marketplace booth, the Queer Reads Library, and human libraries. While most of the events are held in Cantonese, they mark the events with English support and will ask you upon registration whether you would prefer the English version.
It stands for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia in Hong Kong. It’s grown from one main event to a cluster of events organized by various groups and companies. Events I’ve come across include the Rainbow Families Forum, a day of remembrance, and social events like kareoke nights.
Out in HK (Weekly Events)Weekly sporting meetups
The good news is that there are increasingly culturally-related events for LGBTQ folks. For example, you can check out pop up events by the Queer Reads Library, The Gamut Project (mentioned in the trans section), and one-off events in universities (such as public lectures and exhibitions).
6) What’s the nightlife like?
For men who have sex with men
Perhaps like many gay and lesbian clubs in other places, these come and go. One of the longest running ones was Propaganda, which recently closed in February 2016. However, on a positive note, most of the these resurface under a new name somewhere close by.
Most of the English-speaking clubs are in Lan Kwai Fong, in Central. Since it’s just above the main business district, cover charge and drinks can be fairly steep. Be prepared with some cash, and some extra for the taxi ride home!
If you have local friends, then gay karaoke bars may be your thing.
Hong Kong’s Gay Saunas
I don’t now how big of a cultural thing this is, but there are enough in the city to have different profiles of people (such as different age groups) according to a local friend who does go once in a while. However, you can check out the listing at Travel Gay Asia and search up additional reviews to see which ones suit you. Another place to check out is in the local (Cantonese) area of Mong Kok, called Hutong.
For queer women
For women, Les Peches is a solid first choice. Started in 2005 by Abby and Betty, this is the longest-running and most consistent set of events for lesbians / queers / trans individuals. There’s usually the Flotilla that happens in the summer as well.
Lesbian bars tend to be more like lounges, rather than dance clubs. The best way to learn about the new locations is to join one of the Facebook groups and ask a local. Sweatitude was recommended.
7) What’s it like living there?
As I mentioned above with the community and scene, there is a range of experiences living as an LGBTQI individual in Hong Kong. It depends on whether you speak English or Cantonese, your skin colour, socio-economic status, and (especially if you’re local) your relationship with your family.
As a blanket statement, I would say on the global scale, it’s decent enough and still has a long way to go. Physical violence, especially public, is virtually unheard of. Legally, there is not yet much protection or acknowledgement of LGBTQI-related issues, ranging from same-sex marriage to gender reassignment for ID. There’s still plenty of casual homophobia, especially in the local Cantonese circles. Yet, there are a fair number of high-profile out cases and role models.
Below, I’ve included some interesting media to share. They’re not meant to represent Hong Kong, but rather personal, and mostly local perspectives. Hong Kong’s experiences can be grouped as “local” (Cantonese), English-speaking or expatriate, and migrant workers (for example the large Filipino community). The challenges they each face are very different and unfortunately the most under-represented group is the migrant workers. If anyone has good content, please pass it on. Gabriela is a Filipino group that has a Hong Kong chapter and Facebook group.
I recommend checking out the piece titled “Hong Kong’s lesbian spaces and the stories behind them” to get a better context of how the Hong Kong queer women’s scene has evolved over the recent decades.
If you understand Cantonese, then you can tune in to Denise Ho’s 菇武門 podcast / Youtube channel. It covers a lot of general cultural topics, but since she’s openly queer, it pops up often enough and she also interviews guests who are openly queer.
|[Denise Ho 何韻詩HOCC||WSJ: For Hong Kong’s Celebrities, Supporting Occupy Protests Isn’t Easy](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcEOorE9DH0) (Wall Street Journal: English)|
Trans Hong Kong (Cantonese with English Subtitles)
Meet Hong Kong’s first Transgender Democratic Party Member (Cantonese with English Subtitles)
The Silent Third Gender (Cantonese with English Subtitles) on Intersex individual in Hong Kong
8) What’s some good Hong Kong LGBTQ content to check out?
Hong Kong has quite a bit of gay, lesbian, and even trans content. You can google them or look at my Chinese queer media post for my archived list dump.
In general, the city has produced a fair amount of films, has out celebrities, media professionals, and (for some odd reason) chefs. In addition, there are active online communities, especially in Facebook and Whatsapp groups. I’ve included a sampling online publications and groups, but nothing should be taken as representative of a monolithic Hong Kong queer culture, which gaps between local Cantonese and English speakers, ethnic groups such as Filipinos, and other affiliations.
For LGBTQ-related news on topics such as same-sex marriage or spousal visas, you can search the South China Morning Post (SCMP) and Hong Kong Free Press for the latest cases. They can range from insurance to same-sex partners to court cases about spousal visas and new policies about spousals visas.
[English] Plug Magazine is an English Community & Culture magazine for Hong Kong’s LGBTQI community. It launched in 2013 and seems to be active again.
[English] Still/Loud is an English independent online magazine that’s focused on arts and culture, but has queer contributors and content. It’s a great local, alternative perspective that gives voice to the trans and genderqueer individuals under the rainbow unbrella.
[Cantonese / Some English] GdotTV
Founded in 2008, this online platform features LGBTQ related content in Hong Kong and around the world, including videos, writing, etc. The site is in Cantonese, but a fair amount of content is either English or subtitled.
[Cantonese / Chinese subtitles] Pride Lab (Youtube Channel)
Founded in 2013, Pride Lab debuted at Hong Kong’s 2013 Pride. Since then, they’ve created a handful of videos with the ‘Dare to Love’ campaign. Recently, they’ve picked up again to create educational content to further explain LGBTQ culture in Hong Kong. Videos are in Cantonese, with Chinese subtitles.
[Cantonese] BubbleAir Videos and Podcasts
BubbleAir has both a Youtube channel and iTunes podcast series, such as TB 單打日記(TB stands for tomboy, can roughly be translated to butch). Most of the podcasts are for lesbians / queer women, but there are some shows that are for men.
Pink Alliance (粉紅同盟) Movie List
They have a pretty decent list of home-grown LGBTQ movies and LGBTQ writers and literature. They also have icons that are either openly, or generally assumed to be, queer. The movies I generally like are by Stanley Kwan, Hong Kong’s only openly gay director.
Mr. Gay Hong Kong
As the name suggests, this is a competition / beauty pageant that gets quite a bit of attention!
This Facebook group is one of the ‘Secrets’ groups that releases anonymous commentary or anecdotes relating to the group topic (i.e. a university, school, etc.). In this case, it is a channel for individuals to voice out their experiences as LGBTQ individuals. Most of the posts are in Cantonese, but there are English ones too!
I’m loosely translating the title as Our Gay Kids, as the book has an empathetic tone that I don’t think ‘homosexual’ as a direct translation reflects. Unfortunately, this book, written by investigative reporter Mei Chi So (蘇美智), is only available in Chinese. However, I am listing it because I think the angle that the book writes is one that many more Hong Kong local parents can be more receptive to. If you know a local friend, perhaps ask them for a summary if they’ve read it!