A Hong Kong newsmaker is chosen each month by HKFP. Click here to view previous nominees. LGBTQ activist Billy Leung is selected as HKFP’s Person of the Month for November 2016.
Local activist Billy Leung became an icon for LGBTQ rights in 2004 when he challenged the age of consent law in Hong Kong. Previously, the age of consent for anal sex was 21 while the age of consent for vaginal sex was 16. Leung filed a judicial review, at just 20 years old, with his solicitor Michael Vidler, who has worked on many human rights cases.
The case led to the age of consent for anal sex in the city being changed from 21 to 16, as it was found to be discriminatory against gay people. An appeal filed by the government a year afterwards was struck down.
Leung had not even come out to his family before launching the case. He told his parents before the hearing that he was the plaintiff. They surprised him with their support, he said in an interview in 2006. Since then his mother has given many interviews about her journey towards accepting her son’s sexuality and his grandmother has marched in the annual Hong Kong pride parade multiple times.
After the landmark ruling, Leung continued his work for human rights, first working for Doctors Without Borders then as a campaigner for Amnesty International.
He has also competed in the Mr. Gay Hong Kong competition, the local chapter of an international pageant that promotes gay rights awareness.
In 2008, Leung helped to found the Pink Alliance, a network of LGBT advocacy and cultural organisations. The alliance works to promote LGBTI rights through lobbying, education and campaigns.
Leung’s work includes giving evidence to UN human rights bodies on the conditions for LGBTI people as measured under international human rights treaties Hong Kong has agreed to. He remains extremely active in the community, liaising with politicians, NGOs, and the media, and working on campaigns for the Pink Alliance. In March 2014, he was awarded the first Asia Pink Award in recognition of his work.
More than ten years since he took on Hong Kong’s discriminatory age of consent law, he has continued to speak out about personal issues in an effort to bring about political change.
When asked how things have changed in the city since the ruling, Leung said that attitudes towards LGBTQ rights have become more positive, especially among young people.
“We have moved forward for sure and I think that’s very encouraging,” he said.
“I surely hope that our younger generation – particularly LGBT people – when they grow up they will be entering a society where there is legal protection for them in the workplace, and in receiving goods and services, and when there is discrimination that there is legal protection for them.”
Although the annual pride parade concluded last week, for Leung, the spirit of equality should be embraced throughout the year: “For me, pride should be celebrated every day of the year,” he wrote in a piece for HKFP last November.
“We might get pride fatigue but I look forward to that day where the discussion involving an LGBTI angle would no longer raise an eyebrow. Until then, let’s party!”