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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