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Summary: Challenging the “Majority Support” Argument on Not Introducing Anti-Discrimination Legislation on the Ground of Sexual Orientation in Hong Kong
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Author: Suen Yiu Tung
Summarised by Tsang Zi Kan (Associate)
The Hong Kong government adopts the argument of a lack of public consensus for not introducing social policies and legal reforms to protect sexual minority against discrimination. The author notes the importance of deliberation, informed and rational decision-making in a democratic society, but points out that the majority may not be sufficiently informed, and majority consensus may lead to “tyranny of majority”. The article analyses the telephone survey data of 1,005 HK adults conducted in 2015. First, it challenges whether public opinion should be given a heavy weight. The author suggests the possible unreliability of over-relying on public opinion in decisions concerning LGBT+ rights. Second, the article debunks the negatively portrayed perception of the HK society on LGBT+ rights.
The author first gives an account of the history of laws and reforms regarding homosexuality, and the reluctance of HK government, to show that there is still no legislation against discrimination of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
Contact with LGBT+ people
The author’s first critique relates to how informed the majority is about LGBT+ people. He would like to determine what weight should be given to such public opinions by examining the frequency of contact and the awareness of lack of legislative protection. The hypothesis is that a limited contact and awareness can result in negative stereotypes.
The findings indicate that most respondents did not have any contact with LGBT+ people. Respondents who were more likely to report contact with LGBT+ people were younger, with higher education level, currently employed, having higher monthly income, and single (not married/divorced/separated/windowed). But such contact are often infrequent. More specifically, the frequency of contact with lesbians was higher for females, the younger generation, and people who had middle-range monthly income.
Knowledge of lack of anti-discrimination legislation on sexual orientation
The second critique relates to whether the level of public support for legislation regarding anti-discrimination towards sexual minorities, is in fact as low as contended by the HK government.
Public awareness of the absence of legal protection for LGBT+ people is found to have increased, compared with previous studies. The author observed that the support for such legislation has almost doubled from around 30% in 2005 to 55% in 2015. But there was still a significant portion of respondents who are unaware of the socio-legal situation of LGBT+ community.
The author analysed that respondents who had frequent contact and those who had some contact with lesbians and gays were more likely to support anti-discrimination legislation regarding sexual orientation. Contact with transgender and intersex people were not found to be significantly related to such support.
Respondents in the 18-24 age category are particularly supportive of such legislations, with almost 92% agreeing. Those who regard the cause of homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender status as fully or partially inborn are more likely to support such legislations. So do respondents who had secondary education level or above, craft/operators/elementary as occupations, monthly incomes lower than $40,000, never married, no children, no religion or self-declared very liberal/liberal political attitudes. Almost half of the respondents with religious beliefs also agreed there should be such legislations in general. Whereas, those who regard same-sex or bisexual relations, the desire to change the assigned gender, and wearing clothes different from assigned sex as wrongful acts tend to indicate lower support for such legislations.
The author suggests the need to examine whether accurate information or second-guessing is the basis for public opinion on minorities. He stresses the need of public education and dispelling stereotypes by policy makers, rights advocates and the media. He concludes that governments should no longer use the excuse of “divided opinions” for not protecting sexual minority rights.
The article and its findings reminds us the importance of being more informed of the needs and rights of LGBT+ people. The first step to take for the government should at least be introducing anti-discrimination laws on ground of sexual orientation or gender identity so to ensure an inclusive HK society.