We are five LGBTQ Hong Kong human rights activists who have been following the developments of the Gay Games Hong Kong (GGHK), set to be held in November, with growing concern and dismay.
We believe that the GGHK leadership team has betrayed the values and principles of the Gay Games, which purport to celebrate inclusion and promote human rights. Instead, they have aligned themselves with pro-authoritarian figures responsible for widespread persecution against the people of Hong Kong. As a result, they are providing dangerously misleading information to potential participants about their safety if they attend the Games.
In 2017, when the Federation of Gay Games chose Hong Kong to host the Gay Games, we were thrilled at the prospect of the first Asia games and what it could do to advance LGBTQ equality in the region. For 40 years, the Gay Games have fostered an inclusive sporting community for many who felt excluded from other sports leagues and promoted acceptance for LGBTQ people across the world.
For those of us who love Hong Kong and have been frustrated at its slow progress on LGBTQ rights, the Games presented an opportunity to jump start the conversation on LGBTQ rights in the city while also showing off our beloved home to the global LGBTQ community.
But in 2019, pro-democracy protests enveloped the city, and the government response was brutal. Since then, the Hong Kong government has arrested and imprisoned thousands for political crimes, virtually eliminated free speech and expression, and compelled hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers to flee into exile.
The GGHK leadership team—most of whom came on board after the crackdown began—has not only ignored these developments, but openly embraced the illegitimate regime tasked with crushing Hong Kong.
Last November, the GGHK team hosted a gala honoring Regina Ip, a senior Hong Kong official who is currently the convenor of the regime’s Executive Council. In 2003, when Ip was Hong Kong’s Security Secretary, she introduced the first iteration of what would become Hong Kong’s repressive national security law. Amidst the recent crackdown, a version of this law finally passed in 2020 and has been used to silence nearly all dissent and imprison pro-democracy leaders.
In recent years, Ip has expressed support for Uyghur concentration camps, the imprisonment of hundreds of democratic lawmakers and activists, and the crushing of the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement.
GGHK’s disturbing turn towards authoritarianism isn’t limited to its outside affiliations, however. GGHK’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations, David Ko, is an outspoken anti-democracy advocate, concentration camp denialist, and an avid supporter of the government’s crackdown on Hongkongers. He has said that he prefers dictatorships like the PRC because he believes they appoint officials based on “merit,” while democracies do not. As for the Uyghur concentration camps, Ko goes even further than Ip, calling them a “debunked myth.”
The Games’ co-chairs, Lisa Lam and Alan Lang, shown little concern with these developments, and appear to have embraced these pro-authoritarian figures. Lang has appeared in smiling pictures with Ip and another pro-authoritarian politician, Allan Zeman.
Lam, for her part, has given media interviews minimizing the danger to athletes and spectators of visiting a city where clapping in court or publishing a children’s book about wolves and sheep can get you jailed for sedition. In one such interview with a local radio station, Lam rejected concerns that the city’s crackdown on dissent could endanger Gay Games participants, saying that participants will be fine so long as they “abide by local laws and respect local culture.”
This is, of course, false. The National Security Law is incredibly vague, with the red lines shifting from day to day. No one, including officials themselves, know what is or is not illegal. This is by design, as it allows Beijing to order the arrest and indefinite detention of virtually anyone if it is politically advantageous to do so.
With respect to the Games, which undoubtedly will be seen as a political event by authorities, the National Security Law’s vagueness means that Beijing could decide to either ignore the event entirely, or order arrests of participants for sedition or subversion—and there is simply no way to know which direction it will choose until the event itself.
Current enrollment in GGHK is historically low, with only 433 paid registrants as of May 11. This could indicate that many athletes recognize the dangers of attending the Games in Hong Kong and associating with an organization that seems comfortable legitimizing authoritarianism. However, even a relatively small Gay Games in Hong Kong would legitimize the city’s authoritarian government, undermine the values of human rights and inclusiveness that the Games purport to stand for, and put hundreds of athletes at unnecessary risk of arrest.
What’s more, the National Security Law’s coverage isn’t limited to things participants do while physically in Hong Kong. It applies extraterritorially, meaning that anyone, anywhere in the world, who has expressed a critical view about the Beijing or Hong Kong government at any point since 2020 risks arrest if they set foot in Hong Kong. This means that many LGBTQ athletes, including an untold number of LGBTQ Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong dissidents, could not even consider attending the Games.
Indeed, with this danger in mind, the Taiwan Gay Games affiliate has pulled out of the Games entirely due to fears for athletes’ safety.
The Federation of Gay Games has a duty to ensure the Games hold fast to its principles and values, and to ensure the safety of athletes. At this point, it appears to have wholly failed on both fronts.
It is not too late to change course, however. With the Games already hosting an alternative event in Guadalajara this year and enrollment in the Hong Kong Games still relatively low, it would cause minimal disruption to simply cancel the Hong Kong games and host all events in Mexico. Unless the Games’ new motto is “rights for me, but not for thee,” we strongly urge them to do so.
If the Federation of Gay Games fails to do the right thing, Western governments and gay sports organizations should follow Taiwan’s lead and formally caution their citizens against attending for safety reasons. In the U.S., where the Federation is based and where the government has sanctioned senior members of the Hong Kong government, officials should closely examine the Federation’s actions—or, more accurately, inaction—in allowing the Games to proceed.
Alex Chan (she/they) is an organizing committee member of Students for Hong Kong, a global coalition of overseas Hong Kong students who advocate for human rights and democracy.
Clark Leung (he/him) is the director of the Hong Kong Student Alliance CIC, a non-profit social enterprise in the UK serving Hong Kong and Southeast Asian teenagers and their families.
Lorraine Pan (they/them) is a member of Students for Hong Kong, a global coalition of overseas Hong Kong students who advocate for human rights and democracy, and One Among Us, an NGO for transgender people. Lorraine is based in Canada.
Adam Nelson (he/him) is a senior advisor specializing in global development, human rights and democracy with over two decades’ experience in the Asia-Pacific region, including nine years in Hong Kong.
Samuel Bickett (he/him) is a lawyer, Hong Kong human rights activist, and former Hong Kong political prisoner. He is currently a fellow at the Georgetown University Center for Asian Law.