The lesbian daughter of property tycoon Cecil Chao Sze-tsung, who offered HK$500 million to any man who could make her change her sexual orientation, has opened her heart at a university forum.
About 250 students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong heard Gigi Chao's story at the forum on discrimination against sexual minorities last month.
"I don't think anyone has discriminated against me, but I have discriminated against others," said the proud-to-be-gay socialite.
Candidly, the 33-year-old narrated how she met up with a young man who expressed admiration for her courage to speak out for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender , or LGBT, community. When he showed up in a woman's getup, complete with heavy makeup and fake eyelashes, Chao squirmed.
Without mincing any words, the heiress said she felt disgusted until the youth explained that as a child, he enjoyed dressing up as a girl, being taken care of and having doors opened for him.
"When I heard his story, I felt ashamed of my feelings because there was no solid basis for them," she said. "In my head, I started to justify myself. Maybe I felt disgusted because I was worried that this society wouldn't accept him and that he would be bullied. But it didn't make any sense."
The forum was organized by the university's chapter of the international youth group AIESEC. Eight students spent three months planning the event, which featured four speakers. Chapter president Cherry Yuen Chui-yee said the forum aimed to raise awareness of what sexual minorities go through.
"Studying is not the students' only responsibility. They also need to give back to society," Yuen said.
The forum was held days before the case of a transsexual - referred to as "W" - was heard in court. W won the right to marry her boyfriend on May 13.
Lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who has supported the LGBT community for more than a decade, also spoke at the forum.
In November she proposed that the Legislative Council hold a public consultation on a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The motion was rejected. Ho said personal opinions should not be based on fear or inaccurate information. "Whether you support gays or not, you should look at facts," she said.
Taking in Chao's story of the young man, who also moves in the same privileged circles, Equal Opportunities Commission chairman York Chow Yat-ngok pointed out that working class gays deals with far worse situations. "At the lowest rung, discrimination is the most difficult to prevent," Chow said.
"Their boss may fire them, make them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed so that they feel a need to leave. The EOC handles a lot of these cases."
Suen Yiu-tung, a visiting scholar at the university's department of sociology whose research focuses on human sexuality, cited figures from nonprofit organization Community Business's Hong Kong LGBT Climate Study 2011-12. The study found that 60 percent of 626 LGBT employees surveyed were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with colleagues. Around 71 percent said they had to lie about their private life at work.
Suen also showed a video clip to bring the issue closer to home. The video portrays a world where homosexuality is the norm, and a young heterosexual couple are reprimanded for loving someone of the opposite sex. Suen purposely stopped the video after the main character said: "What's so repulsive about love?" He then explained: "What I always emphasize to my students is when we talk about LGBT issues, it's also about human rights. It's not only applicable to one group of individuals."
The forum discussed everyday sufferings of real people, he hastened to add, not just theories.
Kelvin Mak Ka-fai, a Year One journalism student who attended the forum, said Chao's story made a deep impression. "It was nice to learn what someone from the business sector thinks about LGBT issues. I didn't have to stop at theories or examples from abroad."
Another student, Karen Ting-ting Yu, a Year One government and public administration student, said although she has gay and lesbian friends, she knew very little about the discrimination faced by sexual minorities until she attended the forum.
"I hope I can share with them what I've heard here and that actually a lot of people care," Yu said.
However, she is not sure whether she can immediately move from knowledge to action. "Promoting equal treatment for sexual minorities in Hong Kong requires a lot of courage. I don't think I'm there yet but I hope this will be a starting point."