Equal rights for LGBT+ communities in India and Hong Kong still remains a far-cry

Leading publications in India and Hong Kong have recently reported on the legal challenges against discrimination of LGBT+ people in these countries. The battle for civil rights is far from over in India, where the Supreme Court de-criminalised same-sex relationships and discrimination against the entire Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, through Article 377 in September last year and in Hong Kong, where homosexuality was decriminalised way back in 1991.

A recent report from the Thomson Reuters Foundation stated that many young married couples in Hong Kong were struggling to find affordable homes and public housing for a long time. Applications from Gay couples are being rejected by the Hong Kong Housing Authority under the “ordinary family” category, citing a dictionary definition of husband and wife that LGBT+ couples did not meet.

Similarly, petitioners in India are struggling with their right to “own and inherit property, nominate their same-sex partners on hospital and insurance forms, and receive legal recognition of same-sex relationships and marriage…

“Other petitions pertaining to reservations for trans persons in government jobs and educational institutions, and seeking the formation of Transgender Welfare Boards, among other things, are in the works,” according to a report from the Hindustan Times.

Infinger, 26, is challenging the decision in court in Hong Kong, calling it unconstitutional under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and against the Bill of Rights, which guarantees equal rights to men and women.

“Housing rights are important to same-sex couples, too. I wish to claim that right for all same-sex couples in Hong Kong,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over an email.

Infinger’s case is the latest in a series of legal challenges against discrimination of LGBT+ people. Despite decriminalising it, Hong Kong does not recognise same-sex marriage or civil unions. LGBT+ people have taken to using judicial reviews – challenges in court of decisions by government agencies – to push for their rights.

Earlier this year, the court ruled that same-sex couples were eligible for spousal benefits, in a case brought by a Hong Kong civil servant. Ongoing cases also seek to overturn Hong Kong’s ban on same-sex marriage, the first such legal challenge.

Yet judicial reviews are an onerous way to secure rights, according to attorney Michael Vidler, who set up his own law firm in Hong Kong in 2003, his gay flatmates in university made him aware of discrimination against LGBT+ people.

Similarly in India, lawyers are grappling with the legalities of LGBT+ members. According to a quote given to Hindustan Times, Menaka Guruswamy, senior Supreme Court advocate and one of the lawyers in the main Section 377 case titled Navtej Johar versus Union of India said:“When I get calls from young people all over India, they want marriage, insurance, civil and economic rights. The cap on the bottle has been removed. It will be a multi-pronged fight.”

Decriminalising same-sex relationships and discrimination against the entire LGBT+ community is the first round of the battle won, but equality is not yet in the legal agenda for many former British colonial countries like India and Hong Kong, stuck in the centuries-old legal system set by their colonial rulers deeming homosexuality forbidden. There has to be a total revamp of the legal system, and several amends made in order to make place for LGBT+ people in the civic society and end the discrimination.

Smita is a multi-cultural freelance journalist, writer, and filmmaker based out of the US, London, Hong Kong, and India. Global Indian Stories is her brain-child. Created to chronicle diaspora stories written by Indians of all age groups, from different walks of life across the globe, Smita makes sure that the platform remains inclusive and positive.