Hong Kong’s LGBT migrant workers and their supporters held a peaceful pride rally on Sunday in a renewed push for better wages and end to the discrimination and social exclusion they feel they face in the city.
Chanting slogans, including “We are here, we are queer, we will never disappear”, about 200 activists, predominantly Filipino domestic helpers, from 14 LGBT and migrant rights’ organisations gathered in Edinburgh Place in Central to make their voices heard.
“This is our fifth annual pride [rally]and we started with just three groups organising it,” said Shiela Tebia, the event organiser and vice chair of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong.
“Migrants’ pride in their various nationalities, genders and beliefs make up this growing community. We still have a lot of struggles – as LGBTs and as migrants – to achieve a society where injustice, exclusion and discrimination are non-existent.”
Hong Kong currently has specific anti-discrimination laws for gender, disability, family status and race – but none for sexual orientation.
The city only recognises same-sex marriage in certain situations – such as taxation, civil servants’ benefits, or application of dependent visas if a couple has married overseas – and most advances for the LGBT community have come after legal challenges in the past few years.
Last month, the Court of First Instance turned down Hong Kong’s first judicial challenge for same-sex marriage, ruling against a woman who complained that the government’s failure to provide gay marriage or civil union partnerships had violated her constitutional rights.
Sunday’s rally was held less than a week before Hong Kong’s annual LGBT pride parade, which is expected to draw thousands of participants on November 16 to march from Victoria Park to Edinburgh Place.
Tebia said LGBT migrants had a unique set of struggles, experiences and demands.
“We are in this fight together, but migrants face double discrimination because there is a stigma attached to our ethnicity and our work as domestic helpers,” she said. “We contribute so much to the Hong Kong economy and society, yet many of us get odd stares and angry looks in our employer’s homes and on the streets.”
An estimated 380,000 foreign domestic workers live in Hong Kong and earn an average monthly salary of HK$4,630 (US$591). Campaigners want that salary to increase to HK$5,894. The workers are also required by law to live in their employer’s accommodation where they work.
Ivan Delfin has worked in Hong Kong for 15 years for six different employers, and is in a nine-year relationship with his partner and fellow domestic helper Ivy Alamid. The 37-year-old transgender Filipino said the live-in policy had violated his privacy and made him subject to abuse.
“I couldn’t be myself and proud at my old employers’ homes because they would ask me why I dressed like a man wearing trousers. I felt very troubled because I knew if I came out to them, I might lose my job,” Delfin said.
He continued: “The long working hours as a domestic helper coupled with the live-in requirement meant it was very hard for us to meet someone and maintain a romantic relationship to start with.
And, like the local LGBT community, we can’t legally get married in Hong Kong. But often we also can’t start a life with our partners together back home because we come from different parts of the country and it’s even more conservative and religious there.”
Yeo Wai-wai, a veteran campaigner from the local LGBT rights’ group Les Corner, attended the rally to show support for the migrants. She said the discrimination faced by migrants of a sexual minority was real and intense.
“I’ve seen homophobic online comments by employers saying a lesbian helper would harass and molest their children. This is just not acceptable in this day and age,” she said.
“Migrant and local LGBT people will fight this battle together, there is no us versus them. That’s why I am here today, and I expect to see some of these faces next week at the Hong Kong Pride Parade.”