Around one in two gay men fear coming out to their loved ones in Hong Kong, a damning study has revealed.
Against rapidly climbing HIV diagnoses and political crises in the former British colony, queer men struggle to be open about their sexual identities.
Many HIV and healthcare specialists cite the pervasive taboo against homosexuality as a core cause of the growth in HIV acquisition rates.
Currently, Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago, does not recognise marriage equality or civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Although, its Bill of Rights Ordinance offers some protections against anti-LGBT+ discrimination for government employees.
A survey by the South China Morning Post, which ran from June 2018 to March 2019, found that 53.3 percent of Hong Kong Chinese cited rejection as the primary reason they are in the closet.
One in 20 enjoyed family support after coming out.
Moreover, they felt their family members were too old to accept homosexuality.
Some also said they did not want to burden their families with additional problems they might be facing, such as financial and career challenges.
Around half (46.7 percent) of Hong Kong men had come out to some family members. This was in contrast with Hong Kong migrants, where 61.5 percent had come out.
Of those family members, respondents said they were often selective in deciding who to come out to. Many felt more comfortable with siblings than parents, grandparents, or other extended family members.
HIV acquisition is rising among men who have sex with men in Hong Kong.
As HIV acquisition rockets, the Hong Kong government’s spending on preventive measures has soared with it. By 2020, prevention costs are projected to hit HK$400 million.
The main demographic of those living with HIV are men who have sex with men (MSM), according to research. Within the group, they often lack access to medical and social support.
This was echoed in the study that found just a third of respondents aways used condoms. More than half (56.3 percent) of Hong Kong migrants used protection.
Significantly, nearly one in five or 18.4 per cent of Hong Kong Chinese respondents said they rarely or never used condoms.
And only a third of those regularly sought HIV testing. A harrowing contrast to the two thirds of migrants who do so.
One in every 233 attendees in STD clinics was tested HIV positive in 2017, data complied by the Center for Health Protection said.
And fewer than one in 20 Hong Kong Chinese respondents said they had enjoyed family support after coming out.
Just 11.1 percent of Hong Kong Chinese respondents declared they were proudly open about their sexuality. Whereas double (19.2 percent) expatriate respondents said the same.
LGBT+ activist: “[Hong Kong is a] hostile environment to LGBT people.”
Mark Thomsen, co-chair of Out in HK, an LGBT+ support group in Hong Kong, found parallels between the study and his queer friends’ lives.
“Everything in the [study] rings true with what I have seen with many, if not most, of my Chinese friends who were born and raised here or are part of the greater Chinese diaspora,” he told media.
While LGBT+ activist Bill Leung-Jok feared that the region’s winding history with homophobic laws and misinformation have cultivated the anti-LGBT+ culture.
“I think the fear of coming out is multifaceted,” he told media.
“You have years of disinformation of homosexuality over the media and a lack of positive portrayal of LGBT+ characters, criminalisation of homosexuality, association of gays and AIDS with all the stigma that was generated that is still very much alive today.
“This, no doubt, has created a hostile environment to LGBT+ people.”
Leung-Jok, a Hong Kong local, noted the “lack of proper sex education”, coupled with the lack of anti-discrimination laws, to “building stigma and making it harder for people to come out”.