In Hong Kong’s public libraries, LGBTQ-themed children’s books are disappearing off the shelves.
Last week Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) confirmed that it had moved such books from regular library shelves to “closed stacks,” where they can be accessed upon request. This basically means that children can read the books only under parental supervision.
This is a move that reflects the growing anti-gay sentiment in Hong Kong. So far, as many as 10 titles featuring same-sex couples or LGBTQ themes have been removed from the general shelves.
Books such as Daddy, Papa and Me, The Boy in the Dress, and Milly, Molly and Different Dads were among those pulled.
An organization called the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group had demanded the removal of books because they promoted homosexuality.
But the move has ignited intense backlash from gay rights activist groups, who have called the act discriminatory.
“This is definitely a form of differential treatment, which is based on the discrimination of sexual minorities and their families,” said Ray Chan, Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker, at a protest on Sunday.
Activists from about 40 LGBTQ rights groups in Hong Kong created a new coalition, the United Front for Open Libraries, and protested outside the Central Library in Causeway Bay.
“We are shocked by the LCSD’s decision,” said Brian Leung Siu-fai, chief operating officer of the rights group BigLove Alliance, at the protest. “The LCSD said they removed the books because of readers’ complaints, but we know the people responsible are just one anti-gay rights group,”
Hong Kong has been pushing back on LGBTQ rights
Homosexuality was ruled legal in Hong Kong in 1991, but marriage is still defined as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman.” This means that marriage between same-sex partners is not legally recognized and LGBTQ rights have been threatened there in recent years.
Earlier this month Hong Kong’s high court overturned a landmark ruling that gave health benefits to the husband of a male civil servant. And a few days later the government requested that the Court of Final Appeal reverse a ruling that had said the refusal to issue a visa to the spouse of a British lesbian was “indirect discrimination.”
That didn’t sit well with gay rights activists. “They basically said there needs to be a full protection of the institution of marriage,” said Geoffrey Yeung, a member of the Progressive Lawyers Group. “From my perspective and the perspective of the LGBT community, this basically means full exclusion of LGBT people from the institution of marriage.”
At least one other place in the region is moving in a different direction, though. Taiwan, which lies just northeast of Hong Kong, is set to be the first place in Asia to legalize marriage between same-sex couples. In May 2017 Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled as unconstitutional the legal definition of marriage as being “between a man and a woman” and gave the government two years to change marriage laws to allow unions between same-sex partners.
But in Hong Kong, gay rights activists will have to keep continually calling on the government so it will enforce laws that promote equality. And if the latest public libraries incident shows anything, they still have a long way to go.