Fri, Jun 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Gays prescribed prayers, no sex as ‘cure’ in HK

Thomson Reuters Foundation, HONG KONG

Stop watching porn, look “macho” and avoid spending time alone with other boys — that was the advice Alvin Cheung in Hong Kong received after reaching out for help when he realized he was gay.

He began going to regular counseling and prayer sessions, during which he was told he could become straight.

Soon he was struggling to sleep, he lost weight and had trouble focusing on his final year of undergraduate study.

Doctors diagnosed him with depression.

“It made me feel guilty all the time. I felt ashamed and blamed myself for being different to other people,” Cheung said. “I wanted to commit suicide.”

Campaigners say that experiences like Cheung’s are not rare in Hong Kong.

They are calling for a legal ban on such programs, which they refer to as “conversion therapy,” saying they are discriminatory and harmful.

Those running the programs — most often conservative Christian groups — reject that label and argue that they are simply providing gay people with a “choice.”

Homosexuality has been decriminalized for nearly three decades in Hong Kong, the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but despite its cosmopolitan facade and a vibrant gay scene, including an annual pride parade, gay people often come under family pressure to marry and have children.

The territory does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Hong Kwai-wah (康貴華) founded the New Creation Association in 2004, a Christian group which he said is simply providing support to people, including those who wish to be straight, because “sexual orientation is fluid and change is possible.”

He denied that his group practices conversion therapy.

“When a person has same sex attraction, it does not mean that they must have homosexual behavior or develop same-sex relationships,” Hong said. “They still have a choice to be gay or not to be gay.”

Hong, a psychiatrist, said he has seen more than 100 gay people change their sexual orientation.

“Banning homosexuals from changing into heterosexuals out of their own initiation is unethical and clearly a violation of human rights of homosexuals,” Hong said.

Advocates for Hong Kong’s LGBT community say that sexual orientation is not a choice and pretending it is only reinforces social stigma.

“It is hugely damaging for the mental health of LGBT individuals,” said Gigi Chao (趙式芝), who came out publicly after her tycoon father offered a US$65 million reward in 2012 to any man who could marry his lesbian daughter.

She said that conservative attitudes toward homosexuality are driving people to leave the financial hub.

“A lot of my close friends who I grew up with, for example — gays or trans — they have chosen not to come back to Hong Kong,” Chao said. “They have chosen not to be part of this homophobic culture.”

In some nations, gay people are still forced to undergo archaic and invasive therapies, which can involve psychoanalysis, injections and electric shocks.

Such extreme approaches are not known to be practiced in Hong Kong, said Nocus Yung (翁加惠) of Hong Kong-based pro-LGBT group Queer Theology Academy.

However, programs aimed at changing sexual orientation, often done in a religious setting, are held discreetly, she said.

Participants are often told that they can change their sexual orientation through prayer, cold showers and practicing abstinence to avoid same-sex relationships, Yung added.

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