The Gay Games will kick off in Hong Kong on Friday, the first time the international sporting event
is held in Asia, despite some local opposition and fears over political freedoms.
The event, which features both LGBTQ and heterosexual athletes, will see 2,381 people compete in sports including football and badminton — as well as Hong Kong dragon boat racing and mahjong — and aims to promote diversity through sport and culture.
“We all need this platform where it doesn’t matter who you are, how you identify. We all come together in this culture of respect and acceptance,” event co-chair Lisa Lam said at a press conference Thursday.
Hong Kong does not permit same-sex marriage and there is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The city’s top court in September rejected gay marriage but ordered the government to set up an “alternative framework” to recognise same-sex couples’ rights.
“Hong Kong always says it’s an international metropolis, but in some aspects, progress has been slow,” event promoter Bu Chan told AFP.
The Chinese finance hub won the bid in 2017 to host the games, initially slated for last November but delayed due to strict pandemic curbs which were only lifted late last year.
Mexico’s city of Guadalajara is co-hosting the event, with no overlap in sporting events between the two locations.
Lam said the Gay Games can show that Hong Kong is “open for business (and) everyone is welcome”.
But while Hong Kong officials backed the organisers’ initial bid to host the event, most have refrained from publicly expressing support in recent months.
Seven Hong Kong lawmakers spoke out on Wednesday against the Gay Games, with pro-Beijing firebrand Junius Ho accusing the event of “attempting to subvert national security”.
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in 2020, after the former British colony saw widespread and at times violent pro-democracy protests.
Lai Wen-wei, chair of the Taiwan Gay Sports and Movement Association, told AFP last month that his team of up to 12 athletes will head for Mexico.
“(Athletes) could risk arrest or detention if they wave Taiwan’s national flags due to the national security law, so we still decided against sending a team to Hong Kong over personal safety concerns,” Lai said.
Organisers say the Gay Games are “strictly non-partisan and non-political, and we ask all participants and visitors to respect and observe local laws and customs during their stay in Hong Kong.”
Authorities said in August that Gay Games organisers have been reminded to “observe the city’s laws and regulations”.
Regina Ip, a top government advisor, is expected to be the lone pro-establishment figure to attend the Gay Games opening ceremony, according to organisers.
A survey this year found that 60 percent of Hongkongers supported same-sex marriage, compared to just 38 percent a decade ago.
Louis Ng, a Gay Games promoter, told AFP that he encountered people at a Hong Kong street corner handing out flyers opposing the event and tried to reason with them.
“I saw a horrible flyer that demonised gays… We should try to talk to them and explain what (the event) really is,” Ng said.