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[LS] Canaries in a coal mine in Hong Kong



We lived in Hong Kong from 1984 to 1987, a decade before the British gave
sovereignty back to the Chinese, in 1997.  That other queen, Elizabeth
Windsor, visited while we were there, and agreed to the  time table.
Publicly the Chinese government in Beijing pulled out all stops in welcoming
her.  Privately, a group of British students studying in China met with
Philip, her Prince Consort, and asked him what he thought of China:   "I
have never seen so many slitty-eyed people."  CHINA DAILY reported the next
day that Her Majesty and the Prince had a "rather chilly breakfast."

After the grand tour of China, the Queen and Prince came to Hong Kong, where
the royal yacht had been deployed so that they could watch a huge fireworks
display -- the grandest I have ever seen.

Despite all the fanfare of cordiality, it was said that in private the
Chinese told Her Majesty, "You can rule completely until 1997 and then you
will have to take the people with you; or you can pretend to rule for the
final 10 years while we already begin to set up shop, and in 1997 we'll take
the people."   She accepted the deal, even though it meant betraying her
Chinese subjects who had been born under British sovereignty with
expectations of all rights and privilege appertaining, including the right
to leave under British protection should life become intolerable when
Beijing resumed sovereignty.  That right was forfeited beneath all the
glittering fireworks, and Britain spared itself the potential of several
million refuges turning up at Heathrow or Gatwick.

The legislators in Hong Kong were initially British, but had long been
predominately local Chinese before we moved there.  The Chinese continued
the harsh penalties for homosexuality which the British had introduced in
the mid 19th century, and had not followed the British example of gradually
reducing them.  When we arrived, I believe that the death penalty was still
on the books for consensual homosexual acts (maybe it was just life in
prison), but it was well understood to be only symbolic, and that Elizabeth
Rex would reduce the sentence dramatically.

In my first year there I spoke openly as gay in a public forum on
homosexuality.  At dinner afterward, I was flanked on either side by two 
police persons. I questioned them about actual arrests.  They took notes 
furiously, but suddenly they lost their fine competence in English and 
offered no details.  They weren't going to mess with me, and they knew 
that I had no power to mess with them.  They were simply doing their job, 
going around and taking names.

British lawyers still abounded in Hong Kong outside the legislature.  In
these last days of the colonial era they had more than their own share of
'bachelors.' Many of them pushed to reform the local laws in the ways that
Britain had done, but the Chinese resisted, seeing homosexuality as a
foreigners' disease, a gwailo problem ('gwailo' is popular Cantonese slang
for foreigner, meaning 'white ghost').  The English had called it the
"French Disease."  The French had called it the "malaide Anglais".....  Same
old same old.

In the 1990s, after we had returned to the USA, a Chinese priest friend,
Fung Chi Wood, the most courageous person I have ever known, was active in
the Pro-Democracy Movement in Hong Kong and, much to the chagrin of his
bishop (now 'Archbishop', Peter Kwong  -- even in the church it does not
hurt to cooperate with the new regime), Fung was elected to Legco, the
legislature for the city state in the count-down to 1997.  As a priest Fung
publicly championed the cause of lesbians and gays, again to the
consternation of Archbishop Kwong.  I helped put Fung in touch with Chinese
gay friends of mine from the 1980s, and when I returned to visit Ernest (who
went back for a stint of employment in Hong Kong), Fung introduced me to
many more.  Fung was a bachelor at the time, and though straight, risked
sharing our stigma.    He never winced.

Fung explained that it looked like Legco would pass reforms regarding
lesbians and gays -- not because they had a change of heart, but for the
utility of the action:   It would set up an early warning system for China's
resumption of sovereignty in the city, the first time in 150 years.   "My
colleagues want a way to measure the hostility of the Chinese government
after they're in charge.  If we make it possible for gays to be more
visible," Fung explained, "a hostile government will go for gays before they
go for us, and people will have a window of opportunity to execute their
get-away plans."

In North Alabama where I was born and grew up, in the aftermath of an
explosion or other problems in the coal mines, the mine owners never sent a
sparrow into the mine to check whether the fumes were too toxic because the
sparrow could fly in and out without being noticed.  Instead, they deployed
a bright yellow canary.

The world over God is using gays and lesbians as colorful canaries.  It's an
honorable if risky assignment in the whole design of things.   Any church,
any society, that is too toxic for us to survive, is likely too toxic for
any others as well.

Lutibelle of the Alabama Belles, Louie




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