HONG KONG: Hong Kong's anti-discrimination watchdog slammed two prominent pro-Beijing politicians on Thursday (Jun 10) for recent comments warning that next year's Gay Games would "divide the city" and bring "dirty money".
The financial hub will host the 11th Gay Games in November 2022, the first time the sporting and cultural event will be held in Asia.
The row erupted over a discussion on Wednesday in Hong Kong's legislature, a body that has been recently purged of its opposition minority and is now stacked with government loyalists.
During the discussion, two prominent pro-Beijing lawmakers - Priscilla Leung and Junius Ho - attacked the city's decision to host the Gay Games.
"The issue of sex orientation is extremely controversial and could even tear society apart," Leung said.
Ho, a notoriously firebrand speaker, said that the city did not need "dirty money" brought by the games.
"We respect people with different sexual orientations. Whatever you do in your room, it's your own business. But if you do it in public, it's disgraceful," he said.
On Thursday, Equal Opportunities Commission chairman Ricky Chu issued a rare rebuke, accusing politicians of "making a mountain out of a molehill".
"I hope lawmakers as well as members of the public will not stigmatise the games, but show respect and inclusiveness," Chu told local station Commercial Radio.
"Such an inflexible attitude will only bring more harm than good to the city."
Modelled on the Olympics, the Gay Games features both lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes as well as straight athletes, and promotes a message of inclusivity and equal rights.
At first glance, Hong Kong might be a surprising choice.
While it dubs itself "Asia's World City", discrimination towards gay residents remains baked into the law.
There is no recognition of same-sex marriage, despite multiple court rulings making clear that such discrimination needs to end.
And there is little political appetite from Hong Kong's leaders to embrace gay rights.
The city's pro-Beijing politicians tend to skew socially conservative, often with links to powerful religious and rural family clan associations.
Many of Hong Kong's opposition politicians were vocal advocates for progressive issues such as gay rights and environmentalism.
But they are currently on the receiving end of a sweeping crackdown with scores of politicians arrested, jailed, fleeing overseas or simply banned from politics.
It is part of Beijing's drive - dubbed "Patriots rule Hong Kong" - to root out opposition after huge and often violent protests in 2019.
"We lost many voices that support LGBTQ rights in the legislature," Yeo Wai-wai, a spokesperson for local gay rights community centre Rainbow Action told AFP.
Yeo said she believed that Hong Kong's establishment politicians were now emboldened to "make homophobic remarks more unscrupulously".
"These remarks were vulgar, will cause more prejudice towards the LGBTQ community and will have a negative impact on future generations," she added.