An LGBTQ-friendly book exhibition was held on Sunday in response to the Leisure and Culture Services Department’s decision in June to remove children’s books with LGBTQ themes from library shelves.
The United Front for Open Libraries (UFOL) – composed of around 40 concern groups from LGBTQ advocacy and the cultural sector – organised an “Open Library Day” in Jordan, which drew around 80 participants. The event included talks, discussion panels, storytelling sessions and a display of children’s books.
Last month the Leisure and Cultural Services Department transferred ten children’s books to the public library’s “closed stacks” following a petition by an anti-gay rights group. The UFOL was formed as a reaction to the government’s decision, and earlier held a protest outside the Central Library.
Brian Leung Siu-fai, an organiser for UFOL, said that protests were relatively passive in nature and the Open Library Day was designed as a “more proactive step.”
“We hope to use cultural, more casual methods to promote good [LGBTQ-themed] books to the public,” Leung said. He also told HKFP that the UFOL has not yet been contacted by the government despite their earlier request for a meeting.
Joseph Cho Man-kit, a gender studies lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, gave a presentation comparing Hong Kong’s library censorship situation to that of Taiwan and the United States. He said that there was a key difference between censorship and selection, and removing books was not an effective way to protect children.
Cho told HKFP that it was “quite obvious” that local anti-gay rights groups borrow their tactics from their overseas counterparts.
“They wouldn’t go to the library and go through the books one by one – how would they know a specific book [had LGBTQ content]? It is very likely they made their complaints based on lists of books they found online,” Cho said.
He added that, in other countries, similar cases are often resolved through lawsuits, but their legal systems are dissimilar and it is unclear how Hong Kong’s courts would rule.
The event also featured discussion panels with writers, illustrators, publishers and parents. Some guest speakers expressed concerns that the government’s attitude will affect the creative freedom of local artists.
“Why does the government have the authority to categorise books into different tiers?… Once we have a precedent like this, I’m worried the government has another method to decide which people can read which books,” said illustrator KongKee.
Bookstore manager Fifi, who is also a parent, said that it was important for parents to explain LGBTQ issues to their children.
“This topic is relevant for parents because your children may be part of the LGBTQ community, and they need to know how to feel about themselves,” she said.
“If you are really worried about those books, why not go and read them first? They may surprise you.”