Hong Kong government to axe flagship LGBTQ+ radio show after 17 years

The move comes amid a changing climate for equal rights amid a citywide crackdown on dissent, political opposition.
By Siyan Cheung for RFA Cantonese
Hong Kong government to axe flagship LGBTQ+ radio show after 17 years Radio Television Hong Kong's Chinese channel is halting the LGBTQ+ radio show “We Are Family,” which started up in 2006, in August.
“We Are Family”

Hong Kong's government broadcaster has announced it will axe an LGBTQ+ radio show after 17 years on air, according to the show's anchor and producers.

"I received personal notice at the beginning of July from the director of Radio Television Hong Kong's Chinese channel that 'We Are Family,' which started up in 2006, is being officially terminated in August," the show's anchor Brian Leung said in a July 22 post on his Facebook page.

"In Hong Kong, we are mentally prepared, as a lot of things seem to be a matter of sooner or later," Leung wrote in an apparent reference to an ongoing crackdown on liberal media and political opposition.

"There's little we can do. What can be done has been done."

Activists told Radio Free Asia that the move comes as Beijing continues to tighten its grip on public speech in Hong Kong, in a bid to make the city more patriotically Chinese.

Leung thanked his listeners and said it was "dark times" for equal rights, rather than the end of the road.

The show's producers said on its official Facebook page that it had started in 2006 on the back of a wave of regional interest in LGBTQ+ culture sparked by Taiwanese director Ang Lee's film "Brokeback Mountain."

In a Facebook post, “We Are Family” anchor Brian Leung thanked listeners and said it was "dark times" for equal rights, rather than the end of the road. Credit: Provided by Xiyan Zhan/RFA
In a Facebook post, “We Are Family” anchor Brian Leung thanked listeners and said it was "dark times" for equal rights, rather than the end of the road. Credit: Provided by Xiyan Zhan/RFA

It quoted host and drag queen Coco Pop as saying that the show had been a forum for the LGBTQ+ community to share their views.

"Slowly I realized that this community isn't indifferent, and that we're not alone," Coco Pop wrote in comments cited in the “We Are Family” Facebook post. "It may have only been for a couple of hours a week, but it was a counterbalance to the arrogance and hegemony of this era."

"Today, we can retire in the knowledge that we have successfully completed the gayest mission ever!"

'Harsh winter for equal rights'

The show has hosted debates with exiled former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law and sociologist and opposition activist Lau Siu-lai on LGBTQ+ rights, and last year covered a struggle by high-school student Nathan Lam for the right of boys to wear their hair long in school.

"Why do they want to axe this show? The official reason they gave was 'program rescheduling'," Leung told Radio Free Asia in an interview on Monday. "I wasn't very surprised by this decision, but it's a shame that we are now in a harsh winter for equal rights [here in Hong Kong]."

"It's a shame we can't share the same hearth to warm ourselves through these difficult times."

LGBTQ+ activist Kenneth Cheung, who founded the group Rainbow, said the show once served as a platform to educate people about sexual minority rights.

"Through 'We Are Family' we came to understand the different situations in different parts of the world, and Hong Kong's place in that," Cheung said. "We're no worse off than other developing countries, but we were a long way from advanced equality, human rights and democracy."

"There is still a lot of room for progress and improvement," he said. "'We Are Family' encouraged that progress and was a platform for public education."

Constantly shifting speech curbs

Cheung said there has been a change in the political atmosphere for LGBTQ+ rights in Hong Kong.

"It's becoming more and more obvious that equal rights is now about ideology, and could be linked to relations with China and the United States," he said, adding that funding for an LGBTQ+ equal opportunities program was recently transferred from the Civil Affairs Bureau to the Constitutional Affairs bureau, suggesting that it has become more heavily politicized.

He cited constantly shifting controls on public speech since the ruling Chinese Communist Party imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong in 2020.

"It's hard to tell under the national security law," Cheung said. "We don't know if we were  treading on red lines when we talked about LGBTQ+ issues, or about Taiwan, or about the United States."

"I don't know if the show was axed because somebody said something wrong that we're not aware of," he said.

The show's axing comes after RTHK removed thousands of episodes of old shows from its podcast platform in recent months, and as the authorities removed hundreds of "politically sensitive" books from the shelves of the city's public libraries in recent weeks.

Last month, detained Hong Kong civil rights activist Jimmy Sham took a bid for equal recognition for his same-sex marriage to the city's final appeals court.

In the judicial review filed in late June, Sham argued that the government has a positive duty to protect the core rights of married couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, including the right to inheritance. 

The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal in February recognized pre-operative transexual citizens’ right to have their gender marker on their official ID cards recorded according to their acquired gender. 

A few other cases on the marital rights of same-sex couples are also pending judgments at the Court of Appeal, including the right of inheritance and the right to apply for public housing as a married couple, legal newspaper The Jurist reported on June 30.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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