The authorities in Hong Kong have been criticised for restricting access to children’s books that contain LGBT themes in public libraries.
It’s been reported that the city’s Home Affairs Department ordered that 10 books be placed in the “closed stacks,” meaning library visitors will need to request a librarian to view or read the books.
The books feature diverse families and gender expressions, and include And Tango Makes Three, an acclaimed children’s book based on a true story about two male penguins who hatch an egg and raise a youngster.
Another of the books, Introducing Teddy, tells the story of a stuffed bear who identifies as a girl and wants to be called Tilly instead of Thomas.
It’s understood that the restriction was imposed following pressure by an anti-gay organisation called the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group. Human Rights Watch has slammed the censoring of the books and called on the authorities to immediately reverse their decision.
“Instead of hiding a children’s book about a same-sex penguin couple, Hong Kong’s government should endorse nondiscrimination and put the books back on the open shelves,” said Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “While Hong Kong’s highest court is taking down discriminatory walls, the government seems intent on maintaining them.”
Last week, in an important judgment on same-sex relationships, Hong Kong’s highest court ruled that the government’s denial of a visa and associated benefits to the same-sex spouse of a legal resident amounted to discrimination.
Hiding books from free public access because they feature LGBT characters “sends a stigmatising message that LGBT content is inherently inappropriate,” Human Rights Watch said. The government’s actions also deprive children of information that could be important to their development, health, and safety, the organisation added.
“LGBT children, who are subject to disproportionate rates of bullying and often experience feelings of isolation and alienation, need reliable, accurate, and affirming information,” explained Dittrich. “The Hong Kong government should be working to create a climate of inclusion and tolerance for children and adults – not exclusion and stigma.”
Homosexuality was legalised in Hong Kong in 1991 but same-sex unions or relationships are not recognised and there are no laws specifically banning discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. The city is set to host the Gay Games in 2022 and Mr Gay World in 2019.