Censoring heartwarming stories about same-sex families is turning into something of an international black eye for Hong Kong.
Since pulling 10 LGBT-themed children’s books off library shelves in June, the Hong Kong government has received backlash from local activist groups as well as attention from overseas media.
In the U.S., the Washington Post called it the city’s latest “book crisis.” Vox.com said the government’s decision “reflects the growing anti-gay sentiment in Hong Kong.” The controversy even made headlines in the Philippines.
Now, international NGO Human Rights Watch is chiming in, too. In a recent letter, Boris Dittrich, who leads the organization’s advocacy for LGBT rights, criticized the move, and called on Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) and its Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) to put the titles back on shelves.
“What we hope is that the authorities, be it the city government or the library, realize that the world is watching,” Dittrich told Coconuts HK in an email.
“I also wanted to address the issue of restricting children’s books in Hong Kong, because I do not want this unfortunate decision to set a precedent in other countries where rights of LGBT people are sometimes ignored.”
Dittrich added that his organization has not received a response yet. Coconuts HK has also reached out to HAB for further comment.
After months of lobbying by the anti-gay Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group, HAB moved the children’s titles to its “closed stacks” section in June. People who wish to borrow the books must now contact the library directly.
The controversy over LGBT children’s books has unfolded as other gay rights issues come to the fore in Hong Kong. Last week, the region’s highest court ruled that same-sex couples can obtain dependent visas for their partner.
It was a major win for the city’s LGBT community, which came on the heels of a big loss. In June, Hong Kong’s appeal court ruled that the government does not have to provide spousal benefits to LGBT employees.