When a British lesbian took on the Hong Kong government for the right to live and work in the city with her partner it was an intensely personal struggle — but to her surprise it also struck a chord with finance giants in the economic powerhouse.
Despite entering a civil partnership in Britain in 2011, “QT” — who has opted for anonymity to protect her loved ones from publicity — was denied the right to a dependant visa after her partner found a job in Hong Kong, which does not recognise same-sex unions.
She finally won a protracted legal battle last week as the Court of Final Appeal ruled that denying a dependant visa to partners like QT which would have been granted to married straight partners was “counter-productive” to attracting talent to the city.
The victory was welcomed by leading international firms who argue discrimination against same-sex couples is denting Hong Kong’s competitiveness.
QT told AFP Monday that vocal public support from firms including Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse had been a huge encouragement on what she described as a “painful” and sometimes lonely road.
She urged the Hong Kong government to push harder for LGBT rights, describing discrimination over sexual orientation as “offensive, demeaning and insulting”.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” she said.
“Hong Kong doesn’t want to be seen as falling behind other cities. I think continuing this battle would be in Hong Kong’s best interests.
“Educating people about what discrimination is is also in their best interests,” she added.
Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination legislation does not specifically cover sexual orientation, something which rights groups have been pushing for with little ostensible progress.
‘Accepting and open-minded’
QT accused the government of being out of step with public opinion, which although divided in the socially conservative city is warming to LGBT rights.
A study published by the centre for comparative and public law at the University of Hong Kong earlier this month said 50.4 percent of people expressed support for same-sex marriage last year, up from 38 percent in 2013.
“People (in Hong Kong) are accepting and open-minded. It’s just the bureaucracy and the paperwork and the government and the policies and the legislation — that needs to change,” she told AFP.
In September last year she won her case at the Court of Appeal, which ruled immigration authorities had failed to justify the indirect discrimination she suffered because of her sexual orientation.
But that decision was challenged by the government and taken to the city’s highest court, in what critics said was a disappointing backwards step.
Now it is over, QT describes the rollercoaster case as “extremely emotional”.
“The impact has been quite hard, but we’re both fighters and it’s something we both believed in right to the very end,” she said.
The couple now intend to take up their right to settle together in Hong Kong, which QT says they love for its vibrance and energy.
She hopes her legal victory will prevent other couples having to face similar court battles and believes it is only a “matter of time” before Hong Kong authorities act to improve LGBT rights, including the basic human right to be with the person you love.
“The whole point of me fighting this case was just to stay with my partner. I’m not a campaigner,” QT told AFP.
“It was purely to be with my wife — I did not want to be separated from her.”