By Dirk Smith
With so much happening in Hong Kong (HK), we caught up with some of the leaders of the HK’s LGBTQI sports community in Hong Kong to chat with several LGBTQI sports leaders, including Pride Run (Mark) and GLTA Tennis’ Out in Hong Kong (OiHK) Open (Andrew), as well as the Gay Games Hong Kong (GGHK) organizing members Dennis and Sabrina. We chatted about everything from Gay Games, LGBTQI Sports Community in Asia, HK protests and everything else to get up to date.
Dirk Smith- Tell us about yourself, how long have you been involved with Out in HK and in organizing the Hong Kong Pride Run / tennis event / gay games?
Mark: I have lived and worked in Hong Kong for over 15 years. I am the co-chair of Out in HK along with Dennis Philipse, and a delegate to the Federation of Gay Games. I’ve participated in Gay Games Amsterdam ‘88, Sydney ‘02 and Paris ‘18, and am an active trail runner, hiker and marathoner. I recently spent 2015 and 2016 travelling around the world on a bicycle and trekking. Last year, I decided that I was going to make a Pride Run happen, and with the help of Dennis, Race Base, Out in HK, and loads of volunteers, we did. This was the first Pride Run or Rainbow Run to be held in Hong Kong and one of the first in Asia. We hope to hold it annually and have already scheduled a tentative date for 2020 of Sunday, November 29th.
Dennis: I have been living in Hong Kong for 9+ years now. I love to spend my free-time outdoors and love the ultra-trail running races and Hong Kong has beautiful trails for running and hiking. Together with Mark I’m the co-chair of Out in HK, which is also a member of the Federation of Gay Games. I started Out in HK in 2014 as a platform to organise weekly sport, fitness and outdoor events to build an active and healthy LGBTQI community in Hong Kong. I’m also the founder and co-chair of Gay Games 11 Hong Kong 2022.
Sabrina: I am the co-chair and director of sports of Gay Games 11 Hong Kong. I have been with the team for over a year. I am running an Alibaba-funded food-tech startup in Hong Kong and I organize weekly lesbians sports games in Basketball, Squash or Badminton, which is the best way to de-stress and meet new friends in this busy city.
Andrew: For the past three years I have been a Tournament Director for the Out in Hong Kong (OIHK) Open, one of the fantastic tennis tournaments that forms part of the ‘Asian swing’ of the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Assocation’s (GLTA) annual tennis circuit.
Dirk Smith- How many participants did the Pride Run have? Did it meet expectations?
Mark: We had 450 participants, representing 27 countries. As part of the 450 we were able to support heavily discounted entries for 40 domestic workers and to open up an additional 15 free registrations to members of Hong Kong’s LGBTQI refugee community. The event attracted an equal number of male and female participants ranging in ages from 13 to 72. We raised over HKD $140K (USD $18K) to donate to: AIDS Concern; The Harmonics, Hong Kong’s LGBTQI Choir; and A Place To Be Yourself, a small LGBTQI drop-in and counselling centre in Cambodia. The run exceeded expectations.
Dirk Smith- How about the Out in Hong Kong Open? Did it meet expectations?
Andrew: The OIHK Open is a ‘niche’ event. We have the privilege of having access to two amazing private tennis facilities on Hong Kong Island. Between 2017 and 2019, we have had participation of between 65 and 90 players, with approximately half of players from Hong Kong and half flying in from overseas. We are still a young but growing event, each year achieving new milestones before we look forward to the next. Survey responses from players have been overwhelmingly positive and our sponsors / supporters’ lists have grown year over year.
Dirk Smith- How has the LGBTQI sports community in Hong Kong evolved over the last 5-10 years?
Dennis: Out in HK started 5 years ago and since we have organised more than 600 events like running, hiking, camping, waterfall hikes, outdoor events, beach clean-ups. The closed Facebook group has grown now to 6,000+ members and is a great alternative for people to meet and connect together and it has become a platform for LGBTQI sport groups in Hong Kong. It’s really empowering to see people joining for the first time in their lives an LGBTQI event making friendship and helping each other on a hike. Several members have found the love of their lives at an Out in HK event
In the last couple of years more groups in Hong Kong have been formed to support the LGBTQI sports community: OutRunnersHK, OutswimmersHk, Dragon boat team, OIHK Tennis Open, Diversity Games for organising regular sports events.
We expect that as the lead up to GGHK in 2022, more sports events will be happening to connect the community together as warm up for GGHK.
Andrew: I have been lucky to call Hong Kong home for the past 7+ years during which I have gotten to know and become part of the amazingly strong LGBTQI tennis community that exists here. In addition to the creation of the OIHK Open, there are a growing number of LGBTQI community-level social tennis tournaments that have been bringing friends and allies together on and off the courts of Hong Kong. These community-level tournaments are the springboard for the creation of larger tennis events, such as the OIHK Open three years ago.
Dirk Smith- Since the hot topic about Hong Kong is the protests, did the protests affect the organization of your event? How did you adapt?
Mark: The protests had no effect on the Pride Run and we didn’t need to make any changes or adaptations to anything.
Andrew: Typically, tournament scheduling and rain delays are a tennis tournament director’s biggest challenges over the course of a tournament weekend. However, this year’s protests created a unique set of challenges, especially related to transportation to and from our venues. That being said, the challenges were not insurmountable and constant communication with our venue management and our players allowed us to adapt our playing and social event schedules with little incident. At the end of the tournament, the rain delays were still our biggest headache!
Sabrina: Like any other event organizers, we received inquiries from participants worrying about Hong Kong as the host city of the Gay Games in 2022. The Game is 3 years away and our team showed our solid progress and milestone plan to the community and especially the members of Federation of Gay Games to assure the public that despite some protests, Hong Kong is the best place to host the games and our team and supporters are more determined than ever to make the game a success. https://www.scmp.com/sport/article/3028121/hong-kong-still-safe-and-protests-will-not-stop-2022-gay-games-day-day-life
Dirk Smith- With Gay Games coming to Hong Kong 2022, how do you plan to be involved?
Mark: I hope that events like Pride Run Hong Kong, will bring the community closer together and deepen the pool of volunteers and participants in LGBT sporting and community events.
Dennis: I remembered the Gay Games for 1998 in Amsterdam, which was really a great inclusive event. When we started Out in HK five years ago,I realised that the Gay Games had never been held in Asia and that it would a great opportunity to bring this festival of diversity of sports, arts & culture to Asia. That’s when I reached out to the Federation of Gay Games to understand more about the bid process. Since then life has become like a roller coaster, working with an amazing team of volunteers working on the bid book proposal and winning the hosting rights in 2017 in Paris. As co-chair my focus is on government relations and supporting other members on the team.
Sarina: As the Director of sports, I am overseeing the planning and execution of 36 sports competitions ranging from popular LGBTQ+ sports like Football, Tennis to new sports like Dragon Boat Racing, Esports and Trail running that Hong Kong proposed to add to the Gay Games 11th Edition. We work closely with local National Sports Associations like Hong Kong Rugby Union, Hong Kong Football Association with support and guide from the International LGBT sports organizations to make sure we host a game that’s both professional on the sports level and inclusive to the Gay Games community.
Dirk Smith- What kind of impact do you think the Gay Games will have on Hong Kong, China, and the broader Asian LGBTQI community?
Andrew: Our mission over the past three years has been to connect the thriving local LGBTQ+ tennis community with the international GLTA tennis circuit. We hope to continue to grow and enhance this relationship in the coming years, as well as to look north into Shenzhen to integrate more strongly with that city’s LGBTQ+ tennis community as well.
Sabrina: We expect that Gay Games 11 will be a watershed moment for LGBTQ+ pride to create and educate awareness in Hong Kong and Asia at large scale, it will create massive positive impact on the community, helping to change the broader acceptance of being LGBTQI. We have called this “Asia’s Stonewall moment” during our bid stage. Literally, so many lives will be changed. Two third of the world population lives is in Asia and having the Gay Games for first time in Asia will be a great opportunity for people, who could never attend before, to participate at an event that’s bigger than themselves.
Our theme is “Unity in Diversity” and we added new sports Dragon Boat Racing, eSports, and Dodgeball in the 11th version of the Game Games to increase women/transgender/youth participation. It’s also worth mentioning that we are hosting same-sex figure skating for the first time in a public shopping mall (instead of a ticketed indoor venue), it creates exposure of LGBTQI sports in public and showcase diversity to families (say, a kid and his/her dad) and people who were probably never heard of LGBTQI community.
- For Hong Kong SAR: As mentioned, Hong Kong doesn’t have many LGBTQ+ sport organisations so we are organsing the sport events together with the international LGBTQ+ sport organisations (members of the Federation of Gay Games) and with the local National Sport Organisations in Hong Kong for technical support (venues, referees, volunteers). By this approach, we are involving non-members of the LGBTQ+ community in helping to organise the events, which underlines Gay Games mission “to educate people through sports, arts & culture event in a spirit of understanding”.
- For China: There is a WeChat group created by the Chinese participants from Paris Gay Games, every day new members are added to the group (currently 350+ members) and people share about their memories in Paris as well as their preparations for the Gay Games 2022. This further convinces us that the Game will impact more people’s lives than we expect, especially in societies where LGBTQI rights are still officially suppressed by the authority.
- For Asia: Out in Singapore was founded two years ago and they organise weekly LGBTQI social and sport events to connect the community together in Singapore. We hope that more and more countries will get involved in sport events. Our scholarship/outreach program has a focus on Asia, which will bring athletes from developing countries to participate, say female rugby players from Laos.
Dirk Smith- Share with us the details for the Pride Run and Out in Hong Kong Open next year?
Mark: Everyone is cordially invited to our second annual Pride Run Hong Kong, that will tentatively be held on Sunday, November 29th, 2020!
Andrew: We will be meeting with our venue management in early 2020 to confirm details for next year’s tournament!
Thank you so much for joining us! Follow our updates on www.competenetwork.com for more information about the 2020 Hong Kong Pride Run, the 2020 Out in Hong Kong Open and the 2022 Gay Games!
Photo by Gay Games Hong Kong