“Mr. Sanders, he is gay,” said the 10-year-old pointing to his classmate. I froze. A million thoughts came rushing through my mind such as, Does the boy know what it means? Is he joking? Is he repeating something on TV to get a reaction from me?
Trying to think of a response, I turned to him and said, “If he is then that is good. If he isn’t that is good too. It really does not matter as long as he is happy.” The kid looked at me confused and I’m not sure if it was because of what I said or because he didn’t understand.
Being a teacher is easy since I love it, but being a gay teacher in Hong Kong is hard. If I had turned to the student and told him I was gay too, then my school could refuse to renew my contract. The kid could have complained to his mom or dad and I could have lost my job because Hong Kong doesn’t have any discrimination laws to protect its LGBT workers.
The government has policies guarding against discrimination, but they’re voluntary with no punishments for those who violate them — they’re not laws. Hong Kong needs discrimination laws not only to protect the LGBT community but also anyone who may be judged for who they are rather than what they can do.
I am a good teacher with over 13 years of experience teaching English As A Second Language. I know how to motivate, help and support young learners. When I first got to my current school, most of the kids couldn’t hold a conversation. Now half the school can talk to me and I don’t speak Chinese. But being a good teacher doesn’t make my job secure. If I know you and you know I am gay; I won’t tell you the name of my school or where it is. I am not alone with these fears — many LGBT Chinese people share them — because the repercussions are real.
Mike Morrill taught in Hong Kong and tried to make his home better. He worked with various non-profit organizations like the micro-finance fundraising charity Wokai as well as many other organizations helping asylum seekers and raising awareness of HIV and AIDS. He is openly gay and openly HIV-positive.
He won the Mr. Gay Hong Kong competition a year ago and his co-workers learned more about him. Morrill told Time Out Hong Kong last September a colleague said that his HIV status is like having SARS.
“Working there became a nightmare,” he said. They feared he would, “contaminate the kids.” So he quit the job and tried to open his own learning centre but investors worried that his HIV status would hurt the potential business. He tried finding other jobs but he said it was hard because of his status. Finally, he moved back to America since finding a job in China became increasingly difficult.
The issue came to light again last year when the International Christian School in Sha Tin imposed a moral contract on all current and future teachers. It included firing and refusing to hire anyone who is LGBT, anyone who supports same-sex relationships, as well as anyone who are living together and not married. The school is free to have these discriminatory hiring practices because there are no laws preventing them.
The Equal Opportunities Commission has been having consultations with citizens and employers and will suggest laws to help protect workers from all forms of discrimination. It will still be up to the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council to pass them. Hong Kong needs these laws not just for me, but for everyone who is different.
(featured image via Webber Huang)
Dallas Sanders has been teaching in Hong Kong and Korea for the past 13 years and is currently studying for his Masters of Journalism at the University of Hong Kong.