LGBTQ Decision Making Approaches for Asia

This is a decision-making framework I developed to introduce perspectives in Hong Kong, Japan, and the Asia Pacific region. It’s meant to help individuals weigh decisions given their values, priorities, and risk profile. I first presented this at the Asian Centre for Aids Services (ACAS) in Toronto and the Victoria University Students Administrative Centre (VUSAC) at the University of Toronto. This decision making framework could apply to most life decisions and was originally inspired by Brandon Chu’s framework for making decisions as a product manager. Whether you identify as LGBTQ or not, I think this decision making framework can be applied to anyone’s life based on their roles and relationships for family, friends, and work.

Starting with some questions

I’ll start with Hong Kong because it is the place I know best. If you are moving to Hong Kong how likely would you…

  • Ask your company to sponsor a spousal visa?
  • Bring your partner to a company event?
  • Be entitled to same-sex partner benefits?
  • Tell your landlord you’re a couple?
  • Both your names for your child’s school?
  • Both attend your child’s school events?
  • If you got sick, do you think you would have visitation rights?

Whether you know anything about Hong Kong, you can try to answer. Now, how did you arrive at each answer?

Was it knowledge through Hong Kong family ties? If you don’t have a Hong Kong connection, was it through friends, media exposure, or a quick decision based on cultural assumptions and probabilities? The purpose of the questions was to get us thinking about our own approach to these issues. Do we think a place like Hong Kong is accessible to move to, as an LGBTQ individual or queer family?

How many hats do we wear?

LGBTQ identities hong kong
Quick map of common roles

Before moving on to what Hong Kong has or doesn’t have for LGBTQ individuals or queer families, we can consider the various roles we may have any given time or location. Ultimately, I think the question for anyone would be: can I live the life I want to live?

The life we’d want to live is made up of all the roles that matter to us. Roles, for me, is better for acknowledging the relationships between an individual and another person, group, or society at large. These roles, like identities, come with norms, but they are more easy to understand when we negotiate or modify them. For example, an individual likely has a few of these roles below:

  • Child to our parents
  • Partner to someone
  • Parent to our kids
  • Relative to our cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.
  • Friend to our various friends
  • Member of clubs, sports teams, religious communities
  • Colleague in a team / company
  • Citizen or (hopefully) legal worker in a country

The roles with our parents, partners, and children change as we all age. Some roles are more intentionally changed or prioritized while others aren’t. For example, our role as a parent will probably prioritize decisions for our kids as they’re growing up, but maybe return to prioritize our parents as they age. The types and nature of the roles also change depending on where we live. For example, I may like professional networks Hong Kong more while spending hours at my sports team in Canada. But ideally, we probably are fulfilled in all these roles that matter to us, even when we move homes.

LGBTQ decision making framework
My decision making framework to help map how people approach situations

A Hong Kong Sample Case

I’m going to categorize Hong Kong’s experience into 3 large groups:

  • Foreigners (expats)
  • Chinese-born-American/Australian/Brit/Canadian (ABCs, BBCs, CBCs)
  • Local Chinese

This post doesn’t go into additional significant groups such as local South Asians, Southeast Asians (many as domestic helpers), and Mainland Chinese experiences.

Moving to Hong Kong as a foreigner

Can I make moving to a new city work for me, my partner and children?

As someone moving to Hong Kong for the first time, here is a possible Hong Kong expat case:

  • working at an international firm (MNC) — maybe with LGBTQ network
  • work visa is sponsored by company
  • firm helps out with partner’s visa (whether spousal or otherwise)
  • find a school for child
  • join expat network in Hong Kong and meet new friends quickly
spousal dependent sponsorship hong kong
Would you ask about same-sex visas during your interview and/or after you’re offered a position?

If you’ve been headhunted or have applied to a new company, when would you need to come out to the company? When it comes to supporting a family to move, there’s almost no option to avoid this. If you cannot find enough information online, when should you ask about policies such as spousal visa arrangements, or if it can even happen for common-law partners?

If you’re single, you might have the luxury of shelving the topic and figure it out after you start your job. However, for a family, a firm’s support effectively makes or breaks a deal to upend a whole family. It might be a big risk, but the answer would be important enough to verify before any decision is made (or maybe before spending any more time on the interview).

Side note — if you do get the job, look for an international or ESF school right way if you have children. The waiting lists can be a year in Hong Kong. Expect an in-person interview.

Moving to Hong Kong as an ABC/BBC/CBC

Do I like this place enough to stay?

LGBTQ rainbow families hong kong
Hypothetical Chinese American/Canadian case

Many people in Hong Kong have been educated abroad. A significant number were also born abroad and moved to Hong Kong to work and reconnect to their cultural roots or be closer to family. If you’ve spent significant time abroad and return with a same-sex partner or your partner is genderqueer, and you have a child what are the considerations?

You and your partner may both have residency rights in Hong Kong, which takes out the visa sponsorships and gives you more flexibility of work choices. Of course, if you are bringing a spouse who doesn’t have residency status, the administrative challenges would still be there. Yet, you probably face more social pressures. You might be further from parents, who are still in Canada, but be expected to have lunch with your grandmother every other weekend. How do you navigate that? You will probably have former classmates whom you’re reconnecting with — do they know you’re out?

What if you’re a local?

How can I make this work with my existing friends, networks, and life?

same-sex partner benefits hong kong
Everyone’s risk appetite is different.

Locals anywhere are subject to different expectations and Hong Kong is no exception. Understanding the considerations locals have, however, is important if we have any interest in venturing beyond an expat bubble to befriend locals.

A local Hong Kong person who didn’t have the means to go abroad and pay US$40,000 per year for university will still be within the same city as their elementary, high school, and university friends by the time they are working. They may have continued to live with family for another 10 years after working before moving out with their partner, who may also be a local. As Hong Kong doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, they got married in Bali, but they still file their taxes separately. In Hong Kong, there was a case where a Hong Kong ruling granted same-sex spousal benefits rights but not joint tax assessment in 2017.

If one person lost her job, and the other had just been been head hunted into a large local firm, would she ask the firm to cover her partner’s medical (as part of the spousal benefits offered)? She may make a different decision if her partner required long-term medication and whether she perceives the local company’s senior management to be queer-friendly. If there isn’t anything urgent, perhaps she might not need to come out to HR and be content with adding 1 guest for a company-sponsored performance recital or boat cruise. They may be perfectly happy with their circle of friends and family.

Common scenarios and some solutions

In this last section, I’ve collected different scenarios from individuals in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, and Japan. They included three cis-women (two with children), one trans woman (with children, but single).

I’ve mapped out their considerations for each scenario.

workplace inclusion hong kong
Should I propose a side project or new initiative in the company?

The joining an LGBTQ competition was my case, which meant not only asking the CEO’s approval, but indirectly coming out to the whole company. In my specific case, I’ve been vocal about LGBTQ issues and have always been open with any colleague who asked about my sexuality. My perceived risk in this side project request was low; my time commitment to execute it was low; and I felt it could be useful and maybe help the company image, which is actually aligned to my position in the company. In my case, it was a no-brainer: I talked to the CEO to get approval, got 3 ally colleagues to sign up with me, and we joined the competition. But change the proposal to another project in another company, and the decision could be a quick “no”.

If you’re returning home to Asia, how do you fit in to your previous community?

If you’re returning to your hometown after years abroad with your partner and daughter, do you want to tell your school about your relationship? This may backfire for your daughter and also may mean coming out to the whole small-town community, where many people knew you as a child. If it isn’t received well, what are the worst case scenarios, and even if grudgingly accepted, is it a worthwhile uphill battle? But at the same time, would you want your daughter to grow up needing to skirt around questions like “Where’s your father”? Every case is different. One parent in Japan chose to talk to the principal, and found out that there was now LGBTQ-awareness training for schools. One parent in Pakistan has opted to provide a true fact — the daughter’s father is working overseas without mentioning divorce or the current partner — due to family safety concerns.

What battles do you pick with the community you’ve always been a part of?

If you are trans and have raise your daughter as a single mother, do you want to spend that extra time at the end of your long work shifts to still speak to the church about your concerns about bullying? If the church is an important part of your life and you’re facing the same people at every event you volunteer at, then perhaps the tough battle to change what they say to your daughter is worth the fight.

What are other solutions if I have no legal options?

Finally, if you are in a same-sex relationship and have raised a child left by their parents (your relatives) for years, how can you fight for your child’s custody? Do you apply as a single parent? Most Asian countries have not legalized same-sex marriages, which means putting your partner’s name as the spouse only jeopardizes the chances. In many cases, if the biological parent is making the claim, courts usually favour the biological parent. But since you can’t take it to court, is there another solution? Perhaps one of the arrangements is to reason with the biological parent directly and, as this was a children’s rights panel — just ask your child how they feel too.

Final Thoughts

This framework was originally developed to illustrate the decision making struggles of LGBTQ individuals who are considering multiple simultaneous factors for decisions. The priorities and realities of foreign people working in Hong Kong, or generally Asia, are in many ways not comparable (i.e. visa issues vs family/social obligations). Sometimes, we forget the different origins of our considerations, which can lead to clashes.

For queer parents, the stakes are even higher to protect their dependents. Important decisions become strategic ones that have long-lasting implications for their daily lives, workplace dynamics, careers, and family safety. The battles are picked carefully, considering the present while working for the future. The way people I’ve met make these decisions speaks to their agency and creativity in moving forward by negotiating and considering others and staying true to their roles.

To get more voices about rainbow families directly from Asia, I recommend checking out the organizations that made a joint statement on June 1, 2018 the Asia Pacific Rainbow Families Forum, hosted in Hong Kong, with leaders from Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Samoa, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and others.

You can also see my full presentation here:

If you liked this post, please check out my related post:

And please share with friends who are considering visiting Asia! Thanks!

Athena Lam

A content marketing strategist and consultant. Passionate about storytelling for great teams and products. Co-founder of Business 3.0 (, Personal blog at

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