The new head of Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has said that his organisation should stay “neutral and unbiased,” adding there were no immediate plans to push for legal protection for sexual minorities.
Ricky Chu – who began his three-year term as chairperson on Thursday – said he supported same-sex marriage in principle, but turning it into law would require a broad public consensus arrived at through consultation.
“From the perspective of two people coming together, I think it is [a basic right],” he told reporters. “You may then ask, does that mean we should legislate? I will reply, what is the content of that law?”
Hong Kong should not “be progressive for the sake of being progressive,” Chu added, because a rushed law would lead to polarisation in society.
“If we are obsessed with saying we are backward, and tomorrow we immediately need to be at the forefront of the world, then… it will result in a product that has not undergone careful consideration.”
Same-sex marriages are currently not recognised in Hong Kong, though the laws banning them will soon be challenged in court through judicial review lawsuits.
Chu said that the role of the EOC was a facilitator, adding that if he were invited, he would attend events hosted by pro-gay groups as well as anti-gay groups.
Chu had recently retired from his role as director of investigation (private sector) at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, having initially joined the anti-corruption watchdog in 1975.
In a statement, the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor previously questioned Chu’s suitability because of his background in law enforcement. “This kind of militaristic culture that prioritises control is in conflict with the goals of protecting human rights and pursuing equality,” the group said.
However, Chu defended his record on Thursday, saying that his grassroots upbringing and his professional background helped him sympathise with Hong Kong’s minorities.
Chu’s comments have provoked the ire of local LGBTQ rights advocates, with pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan saying that “neutrality” was an excuse for inaction.
“When a top official says they want to ‘stay neutral,’ that means they don’t want to do it and won’t do it,” wrote Chan, who is the only openly gay lawmaker in Hong Kong.
“Back when York Chow was chairperson, the EOC already asked the government for a sexual orientation discrimination law, but there has been no progress yet,” he added. “[The bill] was only a few votes short of passing in 1997, so how can it be ‘hasty’ to ask the government to start consultation now?”
Chan said that the EOC has a responsibility to improve human rights in Hong Kong, so it made no sense for its chairperson to be neutral.
Brian Leung, chief operating officer of LGBTQ rights group BigLove Alliance, said Chu mostly toed the government’s line during the press conference, and “needs to realise that he is not a mouthpiece for the administration.”
“He can’t just stop at respecting [LGBTQ rights] on an individual level. How does he plan to promote it as a matter of advocacy? It is a question that he cannot dodge,” Leung told HKFP.
Leung said his group has been invited to meet with Chu next month, and intends to ask him to clarify his personal stance. They will also raise the question of how Chu would deal with the EOC’s internal splits – such as its publicly anti-gay member Holden Chow.
“I hope he won’t be another Alfred Chan, who did nothing in three years and stepped down,” Leung added, referring to the Chu’s predecessor.
Alfred Ip, chairperson of the LGBTQ rights group Pink Alliance, welcomed some of Chu’s pro-gay comments but also expressed reservations.
“Under previous leadership, EOC has already done studies on relevant issues and proposed ways forward,” Ip wrote in a statement to HKFP. “We would urge Mr Chu to carefully reconsider a stance of neutrality on an issue so integral to the conversation on discrimination of LGBT+ people in Hong Kong.”
“Neutrality on human rights is never an option,” Ip added.
The Hong Kong Free Press #PressForFreedom 2019 Funding Drive seeks to raise HK$1.2m to support our non-profit newsroom and dedicated team of multi-media, multi-lingual reporters. HKFP is backed by readers, run by journalists and is immune to political and commercial pressure. This year’s critical fundraiser will provide us with the essential funds to continue our work into next year.