Commentary

Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy lawmakers includes two LGBTQ rights leaders

Hong Kong's sole gay lawmaker, Ray Chan
Hong Kong's sole gay lawmaker, Ray ChanPhoto: Screenshot/Twitter

Ever since Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule, China has been exerting pressure on the city to conform to its authoritarian outlook.

Those efforts ramped up significantly over the past year, as China cracked down on lawmakers who dared to oppose its power. Caught in the crackdown: an openly gay legislator and another lawmaker who has been a leader in the fight for LGBTQ rights.

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Raymond Chan Chi-chuen and Cyd Ho have both been arrested and jailed for their role in opposing China’s attack on democracy. Chan has been charged with subversion under a national security law for participating in election primaries to select opposition candidates.

Beijing considered the effort to gain more control in the legislative body an attempt at “overthrowing” the government.

Chan started his career as a radio host and became involved in politics in 2010. He came out as gay after he was elected to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong in 2012, making him the only out legislator in the chamber.

Chan was a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights, including nondiscrimination legislation. He was re-elected in 2016 as one of a handful of opposition candidates.

In 2019, Chan got into a brawl in the legislature over his opposition to a bill that would have allowed Beijing to extradite Hong Kong prisoners directly to China. Chan claimed he was assaulted on the council floor by a pro-Beijing lawmaker, who denied the charge. He sought to prosecute the attack privately, but was blocked from doing so.

Instead, Chan was arrested last November and charged with releasing “noxious” substances in the council chamber (he resigned from the body earlier last year). That was just a preview for the subversion charges brought against him in January.

Ho has also been a leader in the fight for LGBTQ rights for years, well before any other legislator was willing to speak out. She’s lobbied in favor of marriage equality, which Hong Kong has yet to approve. She has joined forces with local LGBTQ activists to raise awareness about discrimination and even served as a “rainbow ambassador” for Hong Kong Pride.

Ho was one of seven people arrested and convicted for their role in organizing a peaceful pro-democracy protest last year. Ho now sits in jail with a sentence of at least eight months.

Neither Chan nor Ho were targeted specifically for their LGBTQ advocacy. What Beijing objected to was their work on human rights and democracy. But those are the very foundation for LGBTQ rights.

The kind of openness for which Chan and Ho advocated will likely only be tolerated within the guidelines the government is willing to set. That does not bode well for the LGBTQ community in Hong Kong.

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