Hotel ICON Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2017

Hotel ICON Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2017

Hotel ICON 舉行本港首個由本地酒店品牌策動的多元共融論壇,大愛同盟是其中一個全力支持單位。會上邀請不同代表分享如何為LGBT締造反歧視和安全的工作環境,其中包括高盛、渣打、社商賢匯和中大性別研究中心代表,梁兆輝代表大愛發言,以下是當日演詞全文。

“Somewhat Out at Work” by Brian Leung

Good afternoon, thanks for having me. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the complex issues of coming out at workplace based on my personal experience and from what I have observed in my LGBT show on RTHK.

I’d come out in the public eye for so long, sometimes it’s hard for others to recall a time when I was not out. But as we all know, coming out is not a one-time thing, it’s a continuous process in a forever hetero-normative world, sometimes an irritating life-long journey that doesn’t seem to end. It’s more like coming out from one closet after another. The experience of breaking out from a small closet prepares you for the next bigger one. And no matter how out you have become, there’s always a next person you have to come out to. Unless you are as out and famous and couldn’t-care-less as Elton John!

I first came out via the internet when I launched the first LGBT netcast back in the year 2000, the experience of which prepared me to come out openly on radio when RTHK asked me to host the first ever LGBT program in 2006. But way before all this, my sexual identity hadn’t been a secret among the colleagues and seniors that I worked with in various radio stations. The norm is, as long as you don’t mention it on air or make it overtly public, the broadcasting industry is generally more inclusive towards LGBT staff. It’s basically another version of “Don’t ask. Don’t tell”. But again, the level of acceptance varies from one station to another, depending on the individual company culture or who’s in charge. Of cos, you have to be a bit more cautious when you are working in a long-standing and relatively more traditional government station. On the contrary, when your boss was perceived by many as a power lesbian, which I happened to be blessed with at one point, it really made life a lot easier! Did I encounter any discrimination during my radio days? Fortunately, nothing in-my-face that I could recall? But did I receive any unfair treatment because some seniors believed that certain jobs or positions were unfit for an open gay man like myself? Well, this is something I would never know, cos discrimination is very good at operating in the shadows and in the guise of some other excuses without showing its ugly horns and faces. So the biggest fear of coming out at work always comes down to this question – “You’ll never know!”.

No matter how out I have become today, there’s always a question that comes to my mind – if I didn’t start my profession in broadcasting back in the late 80’s, what if I were a teacher, a social worker, an accountant in a local Chinese firm, will I still be standing here with you today sharing my coming out stories? Or will I still be hiding in my comfy closet, smirking at anyone who comes out in public?

Over the last 10 years hosting my LGBT program “We Are Family”, I have interviewed LGBT folks from nearly all walks of life ranging from a big career spectrum. But not one time did I succeed to get an LGBT high school teacher or people in uniforms to share their coming out stories or struggles at work. It shows how difficult it is for people to come out in a working environment where kids and parents are involved, and where toxic masculinity is the celebrated culture within the industry. Data has shown that toxic and intolerant masculinity can be prevalent in many other industries.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundaton puts out an annual Corporate Equality Index to measure LGBT equality policies of 950 large US companies. Each one is scored based on criteria such as nondiscrimination policies, equivalent spouse and partner benefits, transgender-inclusive health coverage, and public commitment. The data is being analyzed to determine the best and worst industries for LGBT employees in corporate America. As you can see, hospitality ranked as the most progressive industry to work in with an impressive 67% of hotel, resort, and casino companies scoring a perfect 100. We can speculate from the results why certain industries appear to be more LGBT-progressive than others. Typically, industries such as engineering, construction, and oil/gas have been seen as straight, male-dominated areas with little diversity or tolerance. This study shows that it is unfortunately still the case.

Recently, there’s another new massive survey on the coming out of LGBT folks in the workplace by an American podcast media. Over the course of 8 weeks, about 3,000 responses poured in from all 50 states and over a dozen countries, from Canada and the UK to Saudi Arabia and Singapore. Spanning 20 industries from recent graduates to retirees, and including people from many gender identities, races and ethnicities, the survey makes for a rich snapshot of the diversity of queer workplace experiences. Among the 3,000 responses, 52 per cent said they were out, 13 per cent remain closeted. (If a similar survey is done in HK, I suspect the figures may be the other way around) The most surprising result came in the significant 35 percent who said they were “somewhat out” at work. So it’s not all black and white, there were a lot of in between and variations, such as, “There’s a couple of people I feel out to,” or, “I’m out to several colleagues but not my boss and seniors,” or “I’ve come out at some jobs but not at others.” There are also certain people who don’t think their sexuality pertains to their work. There’s just no one good reason why someone is not out. It’s such a personal decision.

There’s another recent study by Pride in London in 2016. Even as liberal and gay as London and with the legislation of gay marriage, it’s a surprise the study found that 74 per cent still felt the need to hide their sexuality or gender identity. For gay men, one of the biggest fears is promotional prospects; for lesbians, it’s the difficulty to break the double class ceiling at work.

At the other end, there are also people that can’t help but be out, like certain trans folks that, as they transition, they’re just out. It’s not even an option for them to hide about it. I once interviewed a trans woman on my show, who works in the IT department of a local academic institution. All of her colleagues in the department are male programmers and engineers. You can imagine transitioning within an all-male, in this case all-cis-male, working environment on a daily basis was no easy walk in the park. Even though the academic institution was not discriminatory toward her transitioning, there’s no HR policy or protocol that will make the transitioning process easier for the person involved as well as the other company staff. And they didn’t take the initiative to make good use of the transitioning as an educative tool to discuss gender issues within the institution. That’s a big missed opportunity.

We also heard from trans people who were just trying to figure out how to share their pronouns at work and the terrible experience with confiding to a boss or an HR person, and how the thing they were trying to manage on a private level is suddenly the knowledge of everyone at the company. The company culture simply isn’t there to support you to navigate this issue in a sensitive and secure manner.


Talking about Gender pronouns, it still remains a relatively new concept in Asia. The famous gay app, Grindr, or notorious, whichever way you look at it. They recently made a bold move to offer pronoun fields to the users. (You can go on Grindr now and have a look, don’t be shy, you may find a lot of users sitting just next to you!) Not only you can pick your own gender identity, you can also select your preferred gender pronouns, including He/Him/His, She/Her/Hers, and They/Them/Theirs. You can even customize your own pronoun if those options are not to your liking. Grindr claims that, as one of the global leaders, this new move is their continuous effort to make every user feel “welcome, safe and understood”. So how could we make people with unconventional or non-binary gender identities feel “welcome, safe and understood” in the workplace? Three years ago, I was invited by the US States Department to participate in the first ever LGBT Cultural Exchange Program. In 3 weeks’ time, me and over 22 other LGBT activists from various countries visited 5 States in America. One of the very interesting experiences was, of all the meetings and seminars I attended, whether it’s meeting with the Human Rights Campaign, or the Amnesty International, or visiting the New York District Court, or talking to a San Diego Police Officer who’s in charge of LGBT community relations, they always gave you a special name tag to wear. It’s not just a name tag, you were asked to write down your preferred gender pronoun on it. This is a very enlightening and educative practice. In the process, not only you learn that you cannot presume someone’s gender identity simply by their name, the way they look or the way they dress. You also learn to respect the gender identity self-proclaimed by others. This simple and effective practice should be adopted more regularly in company forums or seminars.

And sometimes, the company culture may NOT be the only key factor for one’s coming out decision. I once interviewed a lesbian who works in an insurance company which is well known for its LGBT-friendly policy and inclusive company culture. They even provide spousal medical benefits to staff who identifies as LGBT. Even blessed with such an inclusive company culture, she chooses not to come out cos she’s afraid of gossips among less tolerant colleagues, jeopardizing the existing working relationships. Or eventually words will go out to some of her family members whom she hasn’t come out to yet. So in the end, she decided to give up the spousal benefits she’s entitled to because the risk of coming out far outweighs the benefits. The fact is, no matter how inclusive the company culture is, you can never be sure who’s gonna be unhappy about your sexual identity. That explains why even with an LGBT network already in place, it doesn’t mean people will automatically be coming out in flocks to join the parade. When Hotel ICON made the announcement of offering medical benefits to the same sex spouses of their staff, I asked Patrick Sin (Manager of Hotel ICON) if it’s possible to get a few of their out LGBT staff to my show, who are immediate beneficiaries to this policy change. But then Patrick told me that there’s no self-identified LGBT staff from the existing HR records yet. In other words, It all takes time. Apart from company culture and policies, it’s also important to cultivate trust on an inter-personal level. I always love the idea of an executive telling me that she likes to place a small rainbow flag on her work desk as a gesture to signal to LGBT colleagues that she’s an ally they can trust and confide to. But again, coming out is a very personal choice. And some do prefer to live their whole professional lives in the closet. We have to respect that. And please don’t push people out of the closet unless they feel safe and ready and on their own terms, no matter how good your intentions are.

Of all the hurdles of coming out at work, the biggest one is, you know so well that the laws simply don’t protect you. That’s why changing company culture is not enough. Pushing forward SODO (Sexuality Orientation Discrimination Ordinance) should remain our primary goal. Back in 2015 June 26, when the US Supreme Court made a landmark ruling that same sex couples can marry nationwide, I was actually in the States traveling in San Francisco. I was planning to join that year’s San Francisco Pride. Upon hearing the landmark ruling, thrilled like a bride-to-be, I immediately joined the celebration party on the streets of Castro that Friday evening. Despite all the love and victorious joy in the air, nearly every speaker that came up on the Castro stage kept reminding everybody that a big victory doesn’t mean the battle has been won. Since over half of the 50 states don’t have any anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT people, there’s a saying that goes – you can be married to your same sex partner legally in the morning, but will risk the chance of getting fired for the same reason in the afternoon. Can you see how ironic it is, gay people can get married legally all over America now, but gay workers can still be fired because of their sexuality in 29 states, and those who are transgender are not protected in 32 states. So gay marriage is not the end game, anti-discrimination legislation and education is the continuous uphill battle we have to focus on. And with the arrival of the Trump era, LGBT rights, woman’s rights and all basic human rights that we have taken for granted for so long are eroding right before our eyes. A new tough battle has begun. We can no longer afford the luxury of being complacent.

I hope the above sharing can shed some light on the complexity of coming out at workplace. It’s no easy black and white. Much sensitivity is needed to develop a company policy and climate that can cater to the needs of individual LGBT employees. And it’s not just about shaping the company culture, it’s also about proactively shaping the society we live in, as an individual, as a company executive or as a global leader like yourself. You might be aware of the recent extended consultation on Gender Recognition Ordinance. It’s time to inform and educate more corporate people on this pressing issue and even mobilize them to submit their opinions before the end of December. If you want to learn more, please pick up a pamphlet we have prepared at the BigLove booth outside. Would be wonderful if you could mobilize your colleagues to join the online petition listed on page 9 in the pamphlet.

Lastly, I would like to applaud Hotel ICON for organizing this diversity and inclusion conference, which is the first ever LGBT-affirming event hosted by a local hotel brand. Not to mention their new policy of offering medical insurance coverage to same-sex married spouses for their staff. It’s a bold move that deserves all our support and respect. I do hope that they will set a precedent for more local enterprises to follow soon. Way to go, Hotel ICON!

Thank you very much!