By Holmes Chan
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) gained six new members on May 18, in addition to the nine incumbents that were re-appointed on the same day. These new members are in the process of being briefed and will start work this month. We spoke to three of them — Cecilia Chan Lai-wun, Rizwan Ullah, and Andy Chiu Man-chung — about their policy concerns and their take on recent controversies.
Last week, incumbent EOC member and pro-establishment lawmaker Holden Chow came under fire for his anti-gay comments. When asked about Chow, the three new members were quick to distance themselves.
Andy Chiu Man-chung, who teaches law at Shue Yan University and is a gender studies scholar, said he disagrees with Chow, but if Chow “truly believes his position is in line with equal opportunity,” then this may lead to a healthy discussion.
Chiu also expressed his support for an anti-discrimination law for sexual minorities. After consulting with advocacy groups, he concluded that such legislation has a higher priority in the short term than legalizing same-sex marriage.
Cecilia Chan Lai-wan, a professor of social work at the University of Hong Kong, said she knows many people — including her students and colleagues — who identify as LGBTQ, and that they are “suffering.”
“On the whole I believe that we should not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and to deny them rights that other people have. On the issue of legal protection for sexual minorities, I tend to be more [politically] liberal,” Chan said.
All three new members said they have not met Chow, and their knowledge of him is based on media reports.
New EOC members generally optimistic about Carrie Lam administration
As a statutory body, the EOC acts collectively and its agenda is largely driven by the chairperson. Nevertheless, the three new members outlined their areas of concern, namely ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and sexual minorities.
Rizwan Ullah is a Pakistani high-school teacher born and educated in Hong Kong. Over the past decade, he has sat on a number of government advisory committees, including the Committee on the Promotion of Racial Harmony. He was also shortlisted by think tank the Zubin Foundation as an ethnic minority candidate to serve in public roles.
Ullah said Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is “enthusiastic” about helping ethnic minorities, and “moved the issue forward” when she was Chief Secretary. According to Ullah, Lam was partly responsible for committing HK$200 million to help ethnic minority students learn Chinese in 2014, and this convinced him Lam could get things done.
A fluent Cantonese speaker and one of two non-white ethnic minority members in the EOC, Ullah hopes to focus on livelihood issues, such as employment and personal finance. “I’d rather do something frontline, which can change things. I’m more a foot soldier,” he said.
Cecilia Chan said her role in the EOC will probably be related to disability rights, since she is currently the chairperson of the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation. She said the EOC should not just focus on anti-discrimination, but also on inclusion, saying that “Hong Kong is still a very exclusive society and sentiments like ‘not in my backyard’ are very strong.”
As for the new administration, Chan was “more optimistic” about Carrie Lam compared to C.Y. Leung. She said Lam has a keen sense of social justice, although her future efforts on equal opportunity may be restrained by her office as Chief Executive. Chan also voiced her support for current EOC chairperson Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, saying his background as a social worker benefits his decision-making at the EOC.
Andy Chiu said his focus will mostly remain on sexual minorities. He felt key personnel within the current government are “not opposed to” and have “no strong opinion” on anti-discrimination laws for sexual minorities. However, he said it was difficult to predict whether the new administration will change tack.
Chiu has conducted research on how to “localize” anti-discrimination strategies in the Greater China area, and he invited lawmakers to visit Taiwan and study its recent court decision to recognize same-sex marriage.
Holmes Chan is a freelance reporter, and studies law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.