How do you talk about LGBTQ issues? Better education would go a long way, says Hong Kong rights advocate

Benita Chick Ben Yue, who grew up gay in the Catholic school system in Hong Kong, talked to the Post about raising LGBTQ awareness in the city.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Benita Chick Ben Yue doesn’t hesitate when asked where she wants to be interviewed ahead of Pride Month, when LGBTQ communities around the world come together in celebration of their freedom to be themselves.

“Let’s meet at The Eaton – it’s really supportive of the LGBTQ+ community,” says Chick of the retro-inspired hotel in Jordan, Kowloon that’s also an incubator of Hong Kong creatives and changemakers.

Chick is all about positive change, and she’s achieving it through community outreach programmes and various roles with charities from Aids Concern Hong Kong to the Pink Alliance.

Advocates for LGBTQ rights in the city fear any criticism of government policies could be stifled by a new wave of conservatism ushered in by the national security law passed in 2020.

Chick raises awareness by hosting walking tours that explore the city’s LGBT culture and history. 
PHOTO: Benita Chick

There have been some legal victories – one of the biggest occurred in 2021, when a separating lesbian couple were recognised as legal guardians of their two children. But there is still a long way to go. Recognising same-sex marriage would be a positive step forward, says Chick.

The biggest and most shocking issue, she says, is that Hong Kong has no laws protecting people against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This has been discussed since the 1990s,” she says. “If you’re fired from your job or discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, you have no protection.”

Chick literally takes her message to the streets, leading walking tours that explore the city’s LGBTQ culture and history. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and/or questioning (those unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity).

“I’ve hosted about 40 tours and there’s always a mix of guests, from academics and straight people to gay couples visiting from overseas,” says Chick of the night tours she plans to revive now that Covid-19 restrictions have eased.

Hong Kong has no laws to protect people against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, says Chick.
Photo: South China Morning Post

“We visit the Court of Final Appeal, where landmark cases have influenced LGBTQ+ laws, and learn about the important contributions the LGBTQ+ community has made in politics, arts and sports.”

Visits to locations featured in films such as All About Love – a 2010 romantic comedy about two lesbian ex-lovers – are on the itinerary, as is a stop at Mandarin Oriental, the hotel in Central on Hong Kong Island where Canto-pop star and gay icon Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, a much-loved celebrity who was open about his bisexuality , killed himself in 2003.

“We also visit the site of the old Propaganda,” she says, referring to the legendary gay nightclub on Hollywood Road, Central, that closed in 2016 after 25 years. “And we stop for drinks at some of the city’s gay bars.”

Chick is making her biggest impact with Encompass HK, a social enterprise she founded in 2018 that supports companies and organisations to be more diverse and inclusive. She takes the workshops not just into boardrooms but into the classroom.

“Last year, I started talks with the ESF [English Schools Foundation] and I’m also sharing them with parents,” she says. And with good reason. “An increasing number of today’s new generation identify as LGBTQ+ somewhere on the spectrum,” she says.

A 2021 Gallup poll of 12,416 US adults, released in February, showed about 21 per cent of Gen Z Americans identify as LGBT, up from 10.5 per cent in 2017.

“Kids are finding more support online and via social media but many parents, especially those with children in the local school system, often don’t know how to deal with LGBTQ+ issues, or how to respond if their children are exploring their sexual orientation or questioning their gender identities,” Chick says.

Chick is all about positive change, and she’s achieving it through community outreach programmes.
PHOTO: Benita Chick

She opens a PDF file titled “Encompass HK – LGBTQ+ parenting”, a guide she uses in her workshops for those wanting to better understand LGBTQ issues.

Chick shares details about her personal journey, busts myths and provides guidelines for how to navigate the sometimes confusing language around the LGBTQ community.

The document includes some harrowing statistics: 39 per cent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year; and 71 per cent of LGBTQ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year.

While the statistics are from the Grant Halliburton Foundation, a US non-profit organisation offering mental health support for young adults there, the news out of Hong Kong is equally depressing: A rise in depression among members of the LGBTQ community amid the coronavirus pandemic, and a survey finding that more than three-quarters of transgender people have contemplated suicide .

Better education would go a long way towards improving the picture. “In the local curriculum, sex education guidelines are outdated and must go beyond discussions about contraception and HIV prevention,” Chick says. “There’s little discussion on sexual orientation and gender identities.”

The best advice she can give parents is to have an empathetic ear. “Listen to your child without judgment,” she says, adding that a lack of parental support can lead to mental health issues in adolescents.

Chick says her early school years at Hong Kong’s Maryknoll Convent School (above) were progressive despite little in terms of LGBTQ sex education being in the curriculum.
PHOTO: Benita Chick

Now 40, Chick says her early school years at Hong Kong’s all-girls Maryknoll Convent School were progressive despite little in terms of LGBTQ sex education being in the curriculum.

For Chick, who attended Cornell and Boston Universities in the United States, being gay and Catholic in Hong Kong has been a balancing act. “I grew up in a virtuous and very religious family,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges to her faith, she says, came in December 2017 when a Hong Kong priest cancelled a midnight mass for a Catholic LGBTQ group, Compassion, after the local diocese told him that homosexuality was “sinful”.

Better education within the school system would go a long way towards improving LGBTQ awareness in Hong Kong, says Chick.
Photo: South China Morning Post

“I was excited about my first midnight mass for Compassion,” she says. “The priest did not know how to single out specific individuals to deny [them] Holy Communion and resorted to cancelling [the] mass after the local diocese had told him that some gay Catholics should not be delivered Communion, due to their mortal sins.

“I was really torn – it was a difficult time.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.