Hong Kong is a complicated city by nature, with a twisting and turning history that is still unfolding before the eyes of the world today. But make no mistake, it is also one of the most exciting and dynamic places around for reasons besides just its major financial presence. With world-class nightlife, shopping, dining, and outdoor activities, its unique environment has something to offer all kinds of travelers. LGBTQ globetrotters who have maybe been reluctant to make excursions to Asia should not have concerns over their safety in Hong Kong, a city that has often been at the center of the conversation around LGBTQ rights in the region, and whose society is growing steadily more tolerant thanks to the lives and activism of important citizens.
While LGBTQ rights are not as steadfastly protected in law in Hong Kong as in similarly tolerant places around the world, civil action has frequently held the local government accountable and scored de facto victories for the community.
A history of LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong
Since 1991, sexual relations between same-sex individuals have been legal, and a court has since found that discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation is illegal via an interpretation of legislation passed that same year. Before the turn of the century, music and movies that contributed to queer visibility were being produced in Hong Kong and China by Cantonese entertainers such as Leslie Cheung, one of the pioneers of regional pop music. Leslie’s open bisexuality and use of drag in live shows paved the way for modern performers. Denise Ho was the first female Hong Kong celebrity to come out as gay in 2012, a move that catapulted her to legendary status amongst fellow pro-LGBTQ and pro-democracy activists in the city.
The first Hong Kong Pride Parade was held in 2008, and attendance grew to more than 12,000 marchers a decade later in 2018. This is astounding for a culture so intertwined culturally with China, where such gatherings are not allowed. Many speculate that increased tolerance in Hong Kong, where in 2009 the local government also extended basic protections to cohabitating same-sex couples has led to emigration of LGBTQ individuals from the mainland to settle there. Just this year, a married gay couple comprising a Hong Kong civil servant and his partner won a landmark case in which his government employers were ordered to provide spousal and tax benefits.
LGBTQ travel in Hong Kong
What this all means is that LGBTQ travel to Hong Kong can only be a good thing, a means of supporting and legitimizing a growing community in the eyes of society at large. The fact that so much trendy stuff to see and do awaits you is just an added bonus. When you first arrive in the city, you may want to take a day or so to relax and enjoy the best of Hong Kong’s natural spaces, many of which are located on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. Since it is a little removed from the hustle and bustle of the city center, you can set your own pace as you recover from traveling and get adjusted to a new time and place.
If you want to kick back and people-watch in beautiful surroundings, the beaches around Repulse Bay are the perfect place. If you are staying in or around Central, a taxi will get you here in about half an hour, while buses like the no. 260 will take a little longer — just be sure to grab yourself an Octopus Card (only $6 USD) for public transit. Once there, join the usual crowd at Repulse Bay’s namesake beach for a livelier time, or retreat to the sleepier beaches of Middle Bay and South Bay. While Hong Kong has no official gay beaches per se, these latter two are popular with the LGBTQ community.
If you prefer to beat jet-lag by outrunning it, Southern has plenty of opportunities for you to work up a sweat and take in some stunning views while you’re at it. You might as well get used to walking up hundreds of stairs while in Hong Kong, and the trail to the peaks at The Twins above Repulse Bay is the perfect crash course (though it is a far cry from easy).
A less strenuous option and one of the best urban hikes in the world is slightly to the east in Shek O: Dragon’s Back Ridge offers panoramic views of the island’s southern side. It runs in a loop, meaning you can backtrack any time to cool off on Shek O Beach if you get tired. On another day, escape Hong Kong Island altogether and trade it for Lantau, where you can get in a more intense mountain climb or enjoy the sweeping views of the lush countryside on the Ngong Ping Cable Car. The gargantuan Tian Tan Buddha statue here is also a must-see while in Hong Kong.
Once you’re recharged and ready to party, head back to Central to indulge in the iconic nightlife of Sheung Wan and SoHo. To truly hang out like a Hong Kong local, start off with a favorite spot known for a no frills atmosphere and plenty of people to watch at Staunton’s. Once you’ve finished there, you might want to hit one of the best dives in the city (that also happens to be LGBTQ owned and operated): The Pontiac. Even though it’s intentionally modeled after a middle-America dive bar, the handcrafted cocktails, famously friendly staff, and their appreciation for the finest tunes make this a one-of-a-kind experience that will leave you with some uniquely Hong Kong memories.
When you’re ready to find a dance floor, look no farther than FLM or Petticoat Lane. A long-standing institution and a new favorite on the scene, they each offer plenty to do: there are free vodka hours on Wednesday nights, variety nights with karaoke and trivia, and DJs and drag shows every night. Just around the corner from FLM in Sheung Wan are Zoo and WINK, each with their own slice of history as a part of the Hong Kong gay scene. Zoo has had to move all of its outdoor drinking areas inside, but rest assured the party still rages on under the iconic neon lights and crystal balls. A former partner at Zoo, Tony Wong, opened WINK after a few other LGBTQ mainstays in the city closed their doors. It’s a sleek, laid-back bar that might become your regular haunt.
Getting involved with Hong Kong’s LGBTQ community
If your experience in Hong Kong inspires you to support the LGBTQ community, a number of initiatives and events are gaining momentum and are likely to grow within the next few years. Pink Alliance is the source to follow for events relevant to the community, including those that they organize themselves, such as a recent talk with businesswoman and activist Gigi Chao ― her story deserves a read. There’s also Dim Sum magazine, a free lifestyle resource for LGBTQ Hong Kongers. Big Love Alliance organizes the annual Pink Dot demonstration in the city, and its numbers almost match that of the pride parade itself. In 2022, Hong Kong will also be the host of the Gay Games, an all-inclusive sporting event that in the past has exceeded the Olympics in athlete participation.With all of these initiatives, there is every reason for optimism for acceptance of Hong Kong’s LGBTQ community over the course of the next few years.
What other cities do you know have been learning to embrace LGBTQ communities?
Header photo by Joseph Chan.