This Hong Kong-Based Activist Organization Is Dedicated to Tackling LGBTQ Stigma in Asian Culture
New research spearheaded by a Hong Kong-based group called Society of True Light, in conjunction with the University of Hong Kong, shines an important yet disturbing light on LGBTQ stigma and the effects of conversion therapy in that region of the world.
It’s groundbreaking research in that it’s currently the most comprehensive data available that deals with tracking the mental health effects of SOCE (a term that stands for “sexual orientation change efforts,” similar to what many refer to as “conversion therapy”). Society of True Light hopes that these findings, which unsurprisingly highlight the disastrous, dangerous effects of unethical SOCE practices, drive local policymakers, medical professionals, social workers and the greater public to take notice.
In addition to having this data reported in the Journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy, Society of True Light is also working to create education materials for schools, parents and the public, created with guidance from well-known American LGBTQ org The Trevor Project.
Hornet sat down with Alan Hau, a local activist working with Society of True Light, to discuss their recent groundbreaking research, what they hope to see come from that research, and how young LGBTQ people in Hong Kong (and Hornet users worldwide) can help effect change.
HORNET: Can you tell me a bit more about Society of True Light and the work that it does?
ALAN HAU: We are a young organization that started in 2018 with a focus on driving LGBTQ+ self-acceptance and improving mental health. Professionally we are doctors, clinical psychologists, counselors, social workers, business leaders, clergy, etc.
The founding group saw the lack of information on these topics when it comes to our local language and further complications when we have to reconcile them with Asian culture. The warm embrace and heart-warming stories from Western media give us hope and paint a future of what life can be like for us in Hong Kong, and by cultural extension, China. However, the disconnect is also great when many of us realize our vision is heavily constrained by our upbringing, culture and rights.
Part of the difficulty is that groups supporting specific niches of the LGBTQ+ community are incredibly fragmented and ad-hoc, despite the clear need for their voices to be heard. Without critical mass and sufficient support in time, space and resources, many of them fizzle out, and along with it, precious stories and lessons learned on their identities are lost.
Initially we connected all the LGBTQ+ advocacy group leaders to lead seminars and train our volunteers in their areas of expertise. They encompass history, political rights, visions and difficulties each segment of the community face.
Time and again we hear stories of families and moral figures trying to erase or hide our sexual identities for fear of retaliation or simply to preserve their traditions at our expense. This is categorically known as sexual orientation change efforts, or SOCE. They span from physical mutilation to mental abuse inflicted by oneself or others.
Not long after, we became known for speaking out on this topic as we gave speeches and workshops around town. Our hard work of maintaining this network of allies paid off as survivors reached out to us as we listened and collected their stories. Naturally, we began to study the effects and partnered with a local university to publish a paper on the mental health impact.
As you said, the data collected from this research is groundbreaking. Can you tell me a bit about what you hope comes out of this research? You mentioned policymakers and social workers. What would you like to see happen or change?
In the past, it was incredibly difficult to invite any survivors to talk about their experiences because it’s about the most traumatizing period of their lives, but when they learn that their experience helps shape the future of other people’s lives, the trauma they encountered serves an additional purpose, which is to stop future practitioners and parents from prescribing SOCE to questioning youths and the government from funding these organizations.
The first step of achieving these real changes is to reveal their damaging effects from a data-oriented standpoint with authoritative research from a reputable university.
Policymakers with knowledge of our study must refrain from supporting organizations that advocate or prescribe SOCE with public funding.
Certain churches and their affiliated hate-groups sponsoring these practices should get off their moral high-horse and reflect on the damages they’ve done to the community as a whole in the decades of SOCE work they’ve been doing.
Parents need to wake up if they’re being offered these practices to alter or hide their children’s expression of identity.
Social workers need to update their scientific understanding of the LGBTQ community and the harms of SOCE and stop referring their clients to centers that offer these practices.
Parents, social workers and youths should instead be reaching out to us or our allies that embrace inclusion and affirm their or their children’s identity.
You also mentioned outreach and public education. What can young LGBTQ people in Hong Kong (and Hornet users worldwide) do to help effect change?
Wherever and whenever you can, stand up for your rights and be proud in your dialogue with families or strangers when they think suppressing one’s sexual identity is a harmless pursuit. Our collective experiences have now empowered you to say that in Hong Kong and in the Chinese culture, this doesn’t work and it has harmed more people than it helped.
The younger LGBTQ generation should learn that the legacies and freedoms they currently enjoy came from decades of sacrifice from others they barely knew in HK and others all the way back in Stonewall in the United States. If they want a future more than the booze and parties, they need to wake up and take the reign themselves. These changes ain’t gonna happen unless you put in your fair share of work. Don’t know how? Drop us a line on Facebook or Instagram, or email.
Head here for more info about Society of True Light and the important work the org is doing in Hong Kong.
Image at top: Felix Wong / SCMP