Metro Weekly

Gay Games Kicks Off in Hong Kong, Enraging Conservative Lawmakers

The international LGBTQ sporting event takes place for the first time in Asia, though with a significantly reduced numbers of athletes.

Participants at the opening of the 2023 Gay Games in Hong Kong – Photo: Federation of Gay Games.

The first Gay Games to ever be held in Asia kicked off last week in Hong Kong — but not without drawing the condemnation of conservative government elites accusing the event of promoting “Western ideology.”

Started in 1982, the quadrennial event sees gay and straight athletes from around the world competing in various sporting events.

Initially, Hong Kong was selected in 2017 as the site of the 2022 Gay Games, but the event was postponed for a year due to China’s strict COVID-19 controls, which were kept in place for longer than restrictions in most other countries. 

Guadalajara was later added as a joint host — marking a first for Latin America — but other athletes expressed concerns over possible drug cartel violence there.

The uncertainty over the site of the games led to the lowest participation numbers in years. According to Reuters, no previous Gay Games had fewer than 8,000 participants.

But the week prior to the event, only 2,381 athletes had registered to play in Hong Kong, and only 2,458 participants had registered for Guadalajara.

The opening ceremonies of the Gay Games last Thursday drew criticism from local anti-LGBTQ conservative politicians, eight of whom backed a petition circulated by anti-LGBTQ groups demanding the Gay Games’ cancellation due to fears of spreading “Western ideology,” reports CNN.

Junius Ho, a firebrand conservative lawmaker, suggested that the Gay Games violate provisions within the country’s new national security law that prohibit foreign powers from interfering in Hong Kong’s governance. This is based on the idea that support for homosexuality is a form of Western imperialism and is too closely connected with pro-freedom movements that have warred with China’s Communist-led government.

Another lawmaker, Peter Shiu, accused the event of being overly politicized and a form of “advocacy” that was an attempt to impose Western values on Chinese society.

Organizers of the Gay Games rebutted those claims, arguing that the event is a non-political celebration of inclusivity.

“All our books have been checked by professional accountants, open and transparent,” Lisa Lam, the co-chair of Gay Games, said at a kickoff event last Thursday. Lam also said organizers had been “abiding by the local laws since Day One.”

“Everyone has their own opinion about things, but we are just about sports and culture,” Alan Lang, the event’s director of sports, said in a statement. “Like the 2,381 athletes [competing in Hong Kong, there are individuals who chose to come and they come from different nationalities, different territories and different countries as well.”

Other organizers note that the Gay Games received funding from international banks, insurance companies, and law firms, and that most individual sporting events are being held in private facilities, not public sports venues.

The Chinese government was represented by a single official, lawmaker Regina Ip, at the opening ceremonies.

Ip praised the games as showcasing Hong Kong as an “open, inclusive and pluralistic society,” and lamented that the government had failed to provide more positive publicity about the Gay Games.

Lam, the co-chair, noted that levels of LGBTQ acceptance are relatively low in Asia, making it all the more important to promote the event as a form of visibility that may help to dispel myths about homosexuality among the broader society.

“Biases come from misunderstanding or stereotypes,” Lam said. “Bringing different people together, you are able to break down stereotypes.”

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