This is a brief guide written for gay, lesbian, transgender, queer travellers and locals living in Hong Kong. It includes events, clubs, community groups, and LGBTQ-related media resources (podcasts, Youtube channels etc.). [Last updated: 15 Oct 2018]
I moved to Hong Kong in the Fall of 2009. Back then, Hong Kong was about to host its second Pride Parade. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. Rummage in that memory attic for a world without Tindr, Grindr, or any similar app. MSN Messenger was still a thing. WiFi hotspots were not. Don’t go too far: there was Facebook.
Needless to say, the city’s changed a lot since then (in more ways than feeling like it’s doubled in population). Hong Kong now has a strong, visible community, hosts some large annual events, and is even making a bid for the 2022 Out Games. Diversity and inclusion is on the corporate discussion table. Like many other cities, same-sex marriage is doing its rounds through the courts.
Despite its smothering humidity and overcrowded MTR, it is still a hot travel destination. For a city with an LGBTQ culture that’s mushroomed publicly in the past few years, most of the contributing community members are too busy forging ahead to catalogue the good stuff they’ve helped create.
Here’s a brief guide for travellers and newcomers alike. Below, the sections are:
- How LGBTQ-friendly is Hong Kong?
- What’s the community and scene like?
- How do I find people?
- LGBTQ Community Groups
- What are good events to attend?
- What’s the nightlife like?
- What’s it like living here?
- What’s some good Hong Kong LGBTQ content to check out?
Disclaimer: This guide is a work in progress. It is a compilation by a Cantonese-speaking semi-local in Hong Kong. Most of the things in the things I’ve written about are based on my own personal research and experiences. This is meant as an overview, and designed for visitors more comfortable in English, but includes many local Cantonese initiatives, which I think are worthwhile to learn about.
1) How LGBTQ-friendly is Hong Kong?
On the scale of things, pretty friendly, especially for a traveller. You can go ahead with PDA (public display of affection) and even if someone stares, it’s usually out of confusion rather than hostility. Also, Hong Kong’s also generally a safe city, period. I’ll elaborate in another post about things I like and dislike about LGBTQ issues in the city.
If you’re planning to live here or applying for a spouse to join you on a dependency visa, things may be a bit more complicated. The legal side of LGBTQ-related issues are not as progressive compared to the gold star countries. If you are working in a multinational company, then the rapidly changing attitudes of international firms will likely trickle into your benefits packages.
2) What’s the community and scene like?
Depending on who you talk to, the answer can vary widely.
Firstly, there is a cultural difference between the ‘local’ Cantonese speaking scene and the English-speaking, ‘expat’ scene. The latter is far more publically active, especially for nightlife. The former tends to be more low-key and organise casual social events through networks. Many events happen during the day, such as sports practices, workshops, and lunch get-togethers.
Depending on where people come from, they will either feel that Hong Kong ‘doesn’t have much’ or has a lot. Both answers can be correct. Especially in the corporate world, diversity and inclusion is now a hot topic. There is usually an event (i.e. talk, workshop, drinks) every week or so hosted by some LGBTQ group. These will often be in English. In addition, Hong Kong has some large LGBTQ events that would be great to time your visit with, such as the HK Gay and Lesbian Film Festival or Pink Season. You can check the ‘events to check out’ section below.
However, for a city with over 7 million people, the visible nightlife isn’t as big as one would expect. Having said that, of course, there are plenty of gay bars and a handful of lesbian events. In addition, places close and open under a different name fairly often, so the information online sometimes lags a bit. You can check out the ‘Nightlife’ section below.
In addition, the attitudes towards things like relationships, family, or whether to be out, tend to differ between the local and expat communities. If you are interested in engaging the local scene, then it is best to find a bi-cultural friend to introduce you; you may also want to take it slow by spending more time listening, as many people become nervous around English speakers (for various reasons, but let’s just say they become self-conscious).
Lastly, initiatives and events are often scattered and you need to know what you’re looking for. Often local sites that have English versions are not search engine optimised, and don’t show up on Google searches. Facebook names can be unintuitive, and groups are often closed or secret. There’s more than meets the eye!
You can also try this LGBTQ Walking Tour that started in 2016.
3) How do I find people?
The best way to meet other LGBTQ people is through groups. It may be a community or support group, work group, or sports group. Another way is to volunteer. Check the ‘Community Groups’ section below for the list and also search for Facebook groups, and Meetup groups.
Lastly, Whatsapp groups are fairly common, but you need to meet someone who’s already in a group to invite you in first.
4) LGBTQ Community Groups:
When I first started this list, I only had about 10 entries. Now I have too many, so I created a full post titled LGBTQ Hong Kong: Community Groups. As general information:
- Hong Kong has English and Cantonese communities
- English-friendly groups are usually corporate alliances or chapters, Meetup groups, or whomever your English-speaking queer friend introduces you to.
- Chinese groups are usually active on Facebook and also have closed WhatsApp groups.
Below are some to start with:
Les Corner created the LGBTPedia (Chinese) and a print booklet that documents LGBTQ history and resources in Hong Kong.
Umbrella Organization: Pink Alliance (粉紅同盟), which organizes Pink Season, Hong Kong’s month-long Pride celebrations in November.
Professional: Community Business’s LGBTQI Initiatives is a non-profit organisation that runs an LGBTQ diversity and inclusion index that has become probably the largest in Asia. You can check out its list of supporting organizations and members to get a sense of which companies in Hong Kong are more LGBTQ-friendly. With the help of a team, I started the LGBTQ Glassdoor project, which lets anyone anonymously recommend LGBTQ-friendly workplaces in Hong Kong. Hong Kong also has many diversity and inclusion and LGBTQ-related professional events lead by international firms such as Out Leadership conferences, The Economist Pride and Prejudice conference to name just two examples.
Youth: Queer Straight Alliance (GSA) is a student group at HKU if you are an exchange student and want to get to know people. 🙂
Rainbow Families: Check out the Rainbow Families of Hong Kong Facebook Group.
For the full list check my LGBTQ Hong Kong: Community Groups post.
5) What are good events to attend?
Pink Season one of Hong Kong’s Month-long Prides (October – November). This is reportedly Asia’s largest LGBTQI festival, with a full month calendar. I personally love that it has a mix of events from arts and culture, to community building and professional workshops, to the usual drag parties and dances. Check out Pink Dot, which is a huge, 1-day annual festival that’s free to attend and complete with performances, booths, and just a great space to have a picnic.
Hong Kong Pride March (November)
The HK Pride Parade is closer to a solidarity march than the celebrations of North American cities. Most recently, in 2017, it attracted over 10,000 people. A bit of history, the Hong Kong Pride Parade began in 2008, and held on to rocky grounds. In 2010, it was cancelled. Now, it’s a thriving annual event and best of all you can walk in and out whenever you want! You can check out my 2017 Hong Kong Pride recap and photos.
Migrants Pride usually takes place the day after Hong Kong’s main Pride Parade and I believe started in 2014. It’s open to everyone and there are performances throughout the day, usually in Central. If you have time, go and show your support as Hong Kong is supported by a huge population of migrant workers (most visibly domestic helpers). The event is organized by Gabriela Hongkong, Filipino Lesbian Organization, Filguys Association Gabriela HK, The Unity Association, SHARE HK, Nepali Workers Association and Auto 8A.
Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Film Festival: HKGLFF (September)
This festival has films over several weeks, usually in September. It basically leads right into Pink Season. If you’re planning a trip, make sure you check regularly for ticket sales!
It stands for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia in Hong Kong. It’s grown from one main event to a cluster of events organized by various groups and companies. Events I’ve come across include the Rainbow Families Forum, a day of remembrance, and social events like kareoke nights.
Out in HK (Weekly Events)
Weekly sporting meetups
6) What’s the nightlife like?
For men who have sex with men
Perhaps like many gay and lesbian clubs in other places, these come and go. One of the longest running ones was Propaganda, which recently closed in February 2016. However, on a positive note, most of the these resurface under a new name somewhere close by.
Most of the English-speaking clubs are in Lan Kwai Fong, in Central. Since it’s just above the main business district, cover charge and drinks can be fairly steep. Be prepared with some cash, and some extra for the taxi ride home!
If you have local friends, then gay karaoke bars may be your thing.
Hong Kong’s Gay Saunas
I don’t now how big of a cultural thing this is, but there are enough in the city to have different profiles of people (such as different age groups) according to a local friend who does go once in a while. However, you can check out the listing at Travel Gay Asia and search up additional reviews to see which ones suit you. Another place to check out is in the local (Cantonese) area of Mong Kok, called Hutong.
For queer women
For women, Les Peches is a solid first choice. Started in 2005 by Abby and Betty, this is the longest-running and most consistent set of events for lesbians / queers / trans individuals. There’s usually an event every month, so make sure you join the closed group early to learn when the next one is!
Lesbian bars tend to be more like lounges, rather than dance clubs. The best way to learn about the new locations is to join one of the Facebook groups and ask a local. Sweatitude was recommended. 🙂
7) What’s it like living there?
This is an interesting topic that deserves a full post on its own.
As I mentioned above with the community and scene, there is a range of experiences living as an LGBTQI individual in Hong Kong. It depends on whether you speak English or Cantonese, your skin colour, socio-economic status, and (especially if you’re local) your relationship with your family.
As a blanket statement, I would say on the global scale, it’s decent enough and still has a long way to go. Physical violence, especially public, is virtually unheard of. Legally, there is not yet much protection or acknowledgement of LGBTQI-related issues, ranging from same-sex marriage to gender reassignment for ID. There’s still plenty of casual homophobia, especially in the local Cantonese circles. Yet, there are a fair number of high-profile out cases and role models.
Below, I’ve included some interesting media to share. They’re not meant to represent Hong Kong, but rather personal, and mostly local perspectives. Hong Kong’s experiences can be grouped as “local” (Cantonese), English-speaking or expatriate, and migrant workers (for example the large Filipino community). The challenges they each face are very different and unfortunately the most under-represented group is the migrant workers. If anyone has good content, please pass it on. Gabriela is a Filipino group that has a Hong Kong chapter and Facebook group.
I recommend checking out the piece titled “Hong Kong’s lesbian spaces and the stories behind them” to get a better context of how the Hong Kong queer women’s scene has evolved over the recent decades.
Denise Ho 何韻詩HOCC| WSJ: For Hong Kong’s Celebrities, Supporting Occupy Protests Isn’t Easy (Wall Street Journal: English)
Trans Hong Kong (Cantonese with English Subtitles)
Meet Hong Kong’s first Transgender Democratic Party Member (Cantonese with English Subtitles)
The Silent Third Gender (Cantonese with English Subtitles) on Intersex individual in Hong Kong
8) What’s some good Hong Kong LGBTQ content to check out?
Hong Kong has quite a bit of gay, lesbian, and even trans content. You can check out my list of Hong Kong LGBTQ Podcasts, Videos, and Youtube Channels for online media.
In general, the city has produced a fair amount of films, has out celebrities, media professionals, and (for some odd reason) chefs. In addition, there are active online communities, especially in Facebook and Whatsapp groups. I’ve included a sampling online publications and groups, but nothing should be taken as representative of a monolithic Hong Kong queer culture, which gaps between local Cantonese and English speakers, ethnic groups such as Filipinos, and other affiliations.
For LGBTQ-related news on topics such as same-sex marriage or spousal visas, you can search the South China Morning Post (SCMP) and Hong Kong Free Press for the latest cases. They can range from insurance to same-sex partners to court cases about spousal visas and new policies about spousals visas.
[English] Plug Magazine is an English Community & Culture magazine for Hong Kong’s LGBTQI community. It launched in 2013 and seems to be active again.
[English] Still/Loud is an English independent online magazine that’s focused on arts and culture, but has queer contributors and content. It’s a great local, alternative perspective that gives voice to the trans and genderqueer individuals under the rainbow unbrella.
[Cantonese / Some English] GdotTV
Founded in 2008, this online platform features LGBTQ related content in Hong Kong and around the world, including videos, writing, etc. The site is in Cantonese, but a fair amount of content is either English or subtitled.
[Cantonese / Chinese subtitles] Pride Lab (Youtube Channel)
Founded in 2013, Pride Lab debuted at Hong Kong’s 2013 Pride. Since then, they’ve created a handful of videos with the ‘Dare to Love’ campaign. Recently, they’ve picked up again to create educational content to further explain LGBTQ culture in Hong Kong. Videos are in Cantonese, with Chinese subtitles.
[Cantonese] BubbleAir Videos and Podcasts
BubbleAir has both a Youtube channel and iTunes podcast series, such as TB 單打日記(TB stands for tomboy, can roughly be translated to butch). Most of the podcasts are for lesbians / queer women, but there are some shows that are for men.
Pink Alliance (粉紅同盟) Movie List
They have a pretty decent list of home-grown LGBTQ movies and LGBTQ writers and literature. They also have icons that are either openly, or generally assumed to be, queer. The movies I generally like are by Stanley Kwan, Hong Kong’s only openly gay director.
Mr. Gay Hong Kong
As the name suggests, this is a competition / beauty pageant that gets quite a bit of attention!
This Facebook group is one of the ‘Secrets’ groups that releases anonymous commentary or anecdotes relating to the group topic (i.e. a university, school, etc.). In this case, it is a channel for individuals to voice out their experiences as LGBTQ individuals. Most of the posts are in Cantonese, but there are English ones too!
I’m loosely translating the title as Our Gay Kids, as the book has an empathetic tone that I don’t think ‘homosexual’ as a direct translation reflects. Unfortunately, this book, written by investigative reporter Mei Chi So (蘇美智), is only available in Chinese. However, I am listing it because I think the angle that the book writes is one that many more Hong Kong local parents can be more receptive to. If you know a local friend, perhaps ask them for a summary if they’ve read it!
This is part of an LGBTQ series I am doing on Hong Kong and East Asia.
Do you have groups, events, or other tips to share? Please leave a comment!
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