NYC Advocates Protest U.S.-Inspired Anti-Gay Programs in Hong Kong
About a month ago, I, along with several advocates in Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY), heard about Hong Kong-based advocacy group Rainbow Action and their work against the exportation of so-called “ex-gay” programs from the United States to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Social Welfare Department hired a psychiatrist, Dr. Hong Kwai-wah, to run a workshop for social workers in which he claimed that gay and lesbian people can change their orientation through use of prayer, “therapy,” and cold showers. Even more shocking is that Dr. Hong is the head of a Christian therapy organization in Hong Kong called “New Creation Association” which is listed on Exodus Global Alliance as their China affiliate. This struck home for me.
I grew up in a conservative Christian Evangelical home; I also grew up in a Chinese-American home. So, when it came time for me to come out to my parents in high school, it was far from a walk in the park. Concerned for my safety and salvation, my parents did what they thought was best and sent me to the Exodus Ministries-run conference, Love Won Out. Ironically, my parents sent me along into the epicenter of the so -called “ex-gay” world, asking me to “go with an open heart.”
Thousands of miles away from home and surrounded by so-called “ex-gay” promoters, my first steps into my identity was through a briar patch of misinformation, pseudo-science, and religious extremism. Suffice it to say, that my time with Exodus Ministries was short, and I am proud to say that I was able to come out of that experience relatively unscathed. However, not all are so lucky. I met another boy there who was my age; let’s call him Ryan. We traded contact information and kept in touch after the conference. While I was able to achieve greater and greater liberty in my own life, Ryan’s life seemed to get increasingly strict. Eventually, his parents discovered our communications and shut off our connection. Ryan’s memory still haunts me to this day.
Exodus Ministries and the rest of the so called “ex-gay” movement have been discredited in North America by every reputable mental health and medical organization as being ineffectual and potentially harmful. They’ve been trying to change young LGBT kids like 16-year-old me for decades. And because organizations like the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and others have exposed them for what they are, they have begun to export their brand of anti-gay rhetoric to overseas communities like Hong Kong, where my family emigrated from generations ago.
After learning of actions of local Hong Kong LGBT groups like Rainbow Action and Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting, I reached out to my fellow advocates in New York’s LGBT Asian/Pacific Islander community, and we collectively organized to show our siblings in Hong Kong that they have supporters around the world. Having received the support of the Hong Kong LGBT advocates working on this issue, we met with GLAAD’s Director of Religion, Faith & Values Ross Murray, who trained our media spokespeople. On August 7, 2011, a group of 21 advocates from GAPIMNY, Queer Women & Trans Asian Visible & Empowered (Q-WAVE), South Asian Lesbian & Gay Alliance (SALGA), and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) came together to protest the exportation of anti-gay rhetoric to our communities of origin. To show the Hong Kong government how ridiculous the notion that cold showers could be used to change someone’s orientation really was, we decided to test out their theory. We opened up a fire hydrant and had a “shower in” to show that you can’t wash away love.
Our action was picked up by South China Morning Post, the largest English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, in addition to numerous Chinese-language media, like Sing Tao Daily, World Journal, and China Press. In addition, American-based groups like Truth Wins Out and outspoken advocate Dan Choi put their support behind our action. I am so inspired that with GLAAD’s help, a rag tag group of impassioned LGBT API organizers could come together and directly connect with the LGBT community in Hong Kong and aid them in their campaign to protect their lives and right be to exactly who they are. This action reminds me that this struggle for equality that we engage in every day is truly a borderless effort. Our choices, defeats, and triumphs here are felt around the world.
*note: All photographs courtesy of Silvia Si-Wei Chen (陳思維)