Hong Kong Bans ‘Same Sex’ Advertisement Promoting Diversity

Two men holding hands on a beach in Hong Kong is the visual from a controversial advertising campaign for Cathay Pacific Airways promoting diversity. Photo Credit: Handout.

Airlines and Aviation

The airport and rapid transit system of Hong Kong – which bills itself as ‘Asia’s World City’ – have rejected an advertisement with two men holding hands. The ad is part of a Cathay Pacific Airways campaign designed to celebrate diversity. Is it really an affront to public morals?


The Hong Kong Airport Authority (HKAA) and the MTR, Hong Kong’s rapid transit system, have banned the display of a Cathay Pacific Airways advertisement with an image of two men holding hands on the beach.

The advertisement is part of the Hong Kong airline’s newly launched rebranding campaign called Move Beyond, which was created to reflect the company’s commitment to diversity.

According to a fact sheet published on 9 May, the Move Beyond campaign reflects the airline’s goal of becoming “one of the world’s greatest service brands in the way that we treat every journey as our customers’ most important journey, setting them up to make the most of everything that lies ahead.”

In addition to moving people from one place to another, the airline says it seeks to move passengers “forward in life”. Its shared values are based on a progressive, thoughtful, and can-do spirit.

“We respect and care for everyone, wherever they’re from and wherever they’re going, treating them as we’d wish to be treated ourselves,” the fact sheet says.

“We go to great lengths to understand and help them on their way in life.”

There is, in fact, no specific mention of a commitment to LGBT rights in the airline’s fact sheet nor its advertising. Several different visual images are being used in the campaign.

So far, the only image to arouse controversy is the one of the two men holding hands on a beach.

Which raises an important question: is Asia’s World City really ready to host the Gay Games in 2022?

Implicit Message

The advertising campaign doesn’t have an “explicit” message about LGBT rights. Does it have an “implicit” message about LGBT rights by any chance? According to the South China Morning Post, it might.

According to the influential English language daily newspaper, airline staff were told at an internal meeting that one of the key messages in the rebranding effort was “to fly with pride” with the airline’s “LGBT community allies”.

“We embrace diversity and inclusion,” a spokesman for Cathay Pacific Airways is quoted as saying in the newspaper.

“We are very diverse, and our customers are too.”

So far, Cathay Pacific has refused to comment on the airport authority and the MTR’s rejection of the advertisement with the image of two men holding hands on the beach.

Same Sex Marriage in Taiwan

To put things in perspective, the move comes hot on the heals of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, which is a one hour’s plane ride from Hong Kong.

The island’s legislature became the first legislative body in Asia to legalize same-sex marriages on 17 May 2019.

When members of Hong Kong’s LGBT community urged the territory’s government to follow Taiwan’s lead, the newly appointed head of the territory’s so-called Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was less than enthusiastic.

Ricky Chu Man-kin, the EOP’s chairman, called for a “step-by-step” approach, arguing that jurisdictions were different and a “measured approach” would be preferential in Hong Kong.

Is Hong Kong society really “too conservative” to accept marriage equality? That’s what Ricky seems to be saying.

Asia’ s World City?

A Chinese junk docked on the shores of Victoria Harbour in Asia’s World City. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

The government of Hong Kong has proudly positioned itself as “Asia’s World City” for nearly two decades. It has attempted to put Hong Kong  in the same league as London and New York.

One of the six foundations of this “inspirational undertaking” is a commitment “to maintaining the rule of law, freedom of expression and association, the free flow of information, openness and diversity [emphasis added]”.

Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive after its return from British to Chinese sovereignty, first brought up the idea in his 1999 policy address. The chief executive’s Commission on Strategic Development formalized the recommendation in a report published in February 2000.

“Hong Kong needs to promote its unique position as one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant cities in Asia to a wide range of international audiences,” the report says.

“A successful external promotion programme can have a significant positive impact on Hong Kong’s ability to achieve a number of key economic, social and cultural objectives.”

Does that include openness and diversity?

Hong Kong Gay Games

Opening ceremony of the Gay Games in Paris, France, in 2018. Photo Credit: aieuxetdailleurs

Hong Kong has been selected to host Gay Games 11 in 2022. It is the first city is Asia to receive this honour.

A sporting and cultural event targeted at promoting diversity, inclusion, and tolerance, the games are expected to draw 15,000 participants and 25,000 spectators. Competitions will be held in 36 sports, including dragon-boat racing.

According to estimates, the event could pump as much as a billion Hong Kong dollars into the local economy.

Established in San Francisco in 1982, the games have been held in New York, New York; Vancouver, British Columbia; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Sydney, Australia; Chicago, Illinois; Cologne, Germany; and Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. They were last held in Paris, France, in 2018.

What kind of a welcome can participants and athletes expect when they arrive in Hong Kong?

A Thousand Words

When I initially saw the picture, the first question that popped into my mind was, “Why are these guys wearing business suits at the beach – and in this climate?” My second question was, “Where the hell did they leave their shoes?”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the banning of this picture speaks volumes about Hong Kong’s status as a so-called “world city”.

Tourism boards in New York and London – and countless other cities around the world – have increasingly recognized the value of the “pink dollar” in recent years.

New York, for example, is celebrating World Pride on the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising this summer. The  citywide celebration will include exhibits, parties, rallies, and a Gay Pride March along Fifth Avenue. The parade is expected to attract millions of participants from around the world.

Government bodies are not the only ones to covet LGBT travelers. Nor are airlines. Even hotel groups are getting in on the act. Marriott International, for example, has a website called LGBT Travel.

The picture in question looks pretty tame to me. Is it really an affront to Hong Kong’s public morals as the airport and the MTR bans seem to suggest?

If so, maybe the local tourism authorities should come up with another slogan. In the current climate, “Asia’s World City” seems a bit of a stretch.

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