What they say before the 2nd Migrant Pride Parade HK?

17/11/2016 - 6:32pm

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【Worker News】The marginalised do not have to passively endure all kinds of suffering; the migrant domestic workers could also march on proudly. Last year, queer Filipino migrant workers organised their first Migrant Pride March - a pride parade for themselves, and the second one will take place on 27th November this year. Local activist organisation Left 21 initiated a sharing session last Sunday, with guest speakers involved in the queer migrant movement in Hong Kong: Ivan, a member of Filipino Lesbian Organisation (FILO), which is one of the queer migrant associations and organisers of the Migrant Pride March; and Franco, who has done field work in the related migrant community for her research.
Untied from Home and its Control - Retied by Regulations and Culture
Before the sharing commenced, Ivan was shy and worried about not being a good speaker, but once he started to deliver his message, Ivan's facial expressions turned serious, and began his speech with the economic situation in his home country, the Philppines. Holding the chart he had drawn right before the sharing session, he explained that apart from the landlords, the ruling and the bourgeoise class which account for a small part of the population, 70% people are landless peasants, which forces many to work abroad in order to make a living and to support their families.
In the Phillipines, the LGBT communities suffered discrimination resulted from homophobia, economic status and wrong understandings in churches, schools, family, mass media and other fields. When leaving home for Hong Kong, they are indeed untied from social control in their society, and the new, unknown environment in Hong Kong does give them more space to be themselves. Yet, other types of social control in Hong Kong society are actually retying them  - regulations targeting migrant domestic workers, and the conservative local culture.
Ivan has been working in Hong Kong for 12 years. In the meantime, migrant domestic workers are excluded from the protection of minimum wage legislation and the lobbying of standard working hours. There is little headway in the improvement of related regulations, such as mandatory live-in and the two-week rule. Even when he was still in the Philippines, Ivan has been dressing like a man, and was not willing to change his gender expression after he had come to Hong Kong. For fear that Hong Kong employers cannot accept his appearance, the agency asked him to wear earrings and dresses - to dress like a woman. As a biological female, he was confronted with suspicious stares and even unfriendly questioning in public restrooms. Only until he met the gay-couple employers, could they become mutually accepted.
Escaping from One Home to The Other- Control Over Body Remains
The homosexual orientation of domestic workers is a double-edged sword. Some media have started to look into this situation, but the truth is much more complicated than imagined. Franco pointed out that workers at home are often seen as a sexual threat by the female employer, especially in the younger Indonesian migrant workers' community which she had studied. Therefore, the more masculine workers, who are thought to be less attractive to men, are sometimes more welcome. This does not mean they can stay at ease, though, many employed migrant workers are still worried, and they would not reveal their sexual orientation if not asked by their employers. However, migrant workers have hardly any private space under the mandatory live-in regulation.
Franco knows some migrant workers who dresse more like a man, and wears men's briefs, does not wear a bra. The worker’s habit was discovered by the employer as they lived under the same roof, and was then interrogated by the employer in a horrendous attitude about why he had to wear them. "Employers in Hong Kong always feel superior, that they can ask anything they want, but this is actually extremely offensive." Franco asked if the migrant worker felt miserable, and the answer was "there is no other option." Franco stated that employers encourage foreign domestic workers to dress more neutral on one hand, but set rules and regulations on the other hand, demanding them to be a "normal" woman. In such a confined space, nothing can be concealed, the mind can escape but the body is still chained. 
Foreign Culture Shakes Religious Taboo - Freedom Transient and Uncertain
The LGBTQ movement, homophobic religions and the academia have been arguing for different ends, whether homosexuality is "inborn", or if it is a "choice". The dichotomous categorization is filled with power struggles, while real-life incidents and people are ignored. Franco said she observes not only one types of sexual subjectivity among Indonesian migrant workers.
Some people's attitude towards same-sex relationship changes from dislike to acceptance, and even develop a relationship with a person of the same sex; some perform a female role to husband in Indonesia, but play a male one to peers and partner in Hong Kong; some have noticed early in their home country that they like the same sex, but dare not express their affection or embark on a courtship. "It's the person I love, not the gender" this sentence fits the Indoensian migrant workers most. 
The untying away from home creates space for thoughts and decision-making for migrant workers. Most Indonesian migrant workers are Muslims, and Franco noticed that they have undergone the process of de-religionisation in the training centres. There they were told to listen to the employers in Hong Kong, and that they may often have to do things that violate their commandments, namely touching or eating pork, not being able to pray and to wear hijab etc. Under the instruction at training centres and the practice in Hong Kong, the authority of religion is undermined, the taboo of homosexuality is henced shaken. 
Nonetheless, as one's body remains beyond self-own control, so are the relationships. Among the migrant workers Franco knows, half of them claimed that they would have no choice but to end their relationship with their partners of the same sex. In her analysis, it may be related to their "imagination of home". Many have not thought about permanently staying in Hong Kong, be it for the exclusion of Hong Kong policies or the calling from home and families. It is highly difficult for them to make long-term plans for their lives. Ivan does not have much idea about life after going back to the Philippines. "Class is the main point, celebrities and rich LGBT members can live easily, but it's difficult for migrant workers to find a job when they go back - even for the experienced workers."
In previous sharings, Franco was often asked the same question - are Indonesian migrant workers "real" lesbians? Franco is in the opinion that we should focus more on the reasons why they cannot freely choose with what people they can develop a relationship. 
Lacking in Class and Race Perspectives in LGBTQ Discussions- Migrant Workers' Movement inspires Local Social Activism
Speaking of the reasons why she chose this field for research, Franco pointed out that previous studies about migrant workers are mainly negative, describing them as victims of forced prostitution or human trafficking. She does not agree that migrant workers have only one image as victims. Meanwhile, her life experience also influences her decision in choosing migrant workers as her research focus. As a middle class lesbian, she feels that she enjoys lots of freedom in her life, but it is definitely different for her grassroots counterparts.
Contemplating the relation between local and queer migrant members, Franco discovered that discussions on LGBTQ in Hong Kong seldom touch upon people of colour and of lower class. Although campaigns like Pink Dot would invite queer migrant workers, it seems to be only for more colours in the activities. Local associations seldom communicate with migrant workers, and hardly ever consider how to connect each other. Thus, she began to develop her interest in studying how the factors of class and race could affect queer relationships. 
An audience member in the sharing session pinpointed that the locals have much to learn from the migrant workers' movement. For instance, local labour movement has little connection with LGBTQ movement, but some queer organisations and labour associations in the migrant workers' community are actually quite close, the labour organisations would participate in the Pride March, and the queer organisations would join the demonstrations to fight for the betterment of working conditions as well. Shiela, a member of migrant worker association who attended the sharing session, expressed her views that migrant workers understand it is impossible for them to confront the difficulties alone, together they face the same enemy, and so they believe that mass, united movement is the only way to make the necessary change. Another audience member responded that despite the great differences in the situation between migrant workers and the locals, the difficult situation alone cannot spark off a movement, the success of migrant workers are based on their efforts in organising work, and this is also what the locals can do as well.
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Details about Migrant Pride March
Date: 27th November, 2016 (Sunday)
Time: 2-5pm
Venue: Chater Road, Central
Organisers: Gabriela Hong Kong; Filipino Lesbian Organization,(FILO) Filguys-Gabriela HK, Asian Migrant’s Coordinating Body (AMCB) and the International League of People Struggle (ILPS HK & Macau)
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