Community Business Interviews with QSA

LGBT Professional Profile Series
Interview with Michael Lam, QSA

 
Michael Lam is a part of the Queer Straight Alliance (QSA), a student organisation at the University of
Hong Kong (HKU) that aims to serve and provide support for LGBT students and anyone interested in
sexual identity or sexual diversity issues. Michael is one of the 100 member strong organisation,
made up not only of LGBT students, but also of many heterosexual ‘allies’. Since the organisation’s
founding in 2002, they have made strong progress in creating a safe environment for LGBT students
to interact as well as educate the school and larger public on sexual identity issues.

 
Community Business caught up with Michael Lam to discuss his views on LGBT issues in Hong
Kong, at HKU and in the workplace.



What challenges do LGBT youth face in Hong Kong?
LGBT youth in Hong Kong face many of the common challenges experienced all over the world, but
also challenges unique to Hong Kong. Coming out to family members is extremely difficult, bullying is
still very much a problem – and there is a social and cultural environment that really restricts people
from being who they are.

 
Cultural and family values are so deeply rooted that coming out to family in Hong Kong is a very
difficult thing to do. These strong cultural and family values have also allowed homophobia to persist
and manifest itself in other ways, such as the lack of legislation protecting gays from bullying or
discrimination.

 
What do you think needs to be done to create a more inclusive society?
Changing the culture must be the goal. But because it is difficult to change the culture, in my opinion
what we need is some sort of legal protection or legislation to tell society that certain behaviours will
not be tolerated, such as bullying, homophobia or discrimination. Over time, Hong Kong society and
culture will become more accepting.

 
What can other organisations do, such as Universities, NGOs and for-profit companies to
create a more inclusive environment for LGBT individuals?
Legislation should just offer the minimal standard or just provide a platform for other organisations to
work from. For instance, the QSA reaches out to students on the HKU campus to give them a better
understanding of who we are and to show that we are not ‘abnormal’. If we are talking about the
business sector, they should have a code of practice to ensure their employees are well protected.

 
Has there been any reaction from the wider Hong Kong community – including the business
sector?
The business sector has been very supportive. We are having an Inclusion Recruitment Conference
in November and at the moment we have received quite a bit of support from the business sector.
Generally they want to be out there and show the students that they do care and that this generation
is well protected in terms of LGBT issues.

 
On the other hand the NGO sector has been looking after QSA. We have collaborated a lot with
organisations such as The Boys and Girls Club Association and Fruits in Suits. We are really grateful
for their support.

 
From your experience with LGBT students, what is their impression of the working
environment in Hong Kong – in terms of its support of LGBT individuals?
Obviously I can’t speak for all students, but from my experience and the people that I have spoken
with, there are still industries that students will think of as gay friendly and there are industries that
students would think of as more masculine. For example, the banking sector and certain areas of law
are still perceived as more masculine and you have to fit into a specific mould. On the other hand,
industries such as architecture, design, fashion and hospitality are more ‘colourful’ and accepting of
differences.

 

 

Are students ‘scared’ of fitting into a mould? Would they avoid those companies that require
them to conceal their identities?
I don’t think they are scared of concealing who they are because they have done it all their lives. For
them it’s not going to be difficult, they are just so used to doing it. It is still a new idea to young people
that banks and other companies are celebrating diversity. They still haven’t received the message that
companies are encouraging diversity in the workplace.

 

For pretty much anyone who goes into a new organisation they will conceal their sexual orientation
when they don’t know how open or accepting an organisation is. If from the very beginning they know
that the company is very accepting that might change the individual’s mind. They feel they have to
conceal their sexual orientation until they understand the company’s culture.

 

What do you think LGBT students are looking for as they select an employer?
I think for every student they look at the company’s reputation, performance, and pay package – that’s
for everyone. Now if there are 5 companies out there with the same perception, this is when other
aspects play a role in the decision making process. What LGBT student would look for is how diverse
the workforce is and what initiatives the company has for LGBT employees and the broader LGBT
community. These are little things, but they are the things that make up the mind of the LGBT
students.

 
What advice would you give to employers looking to be an employer of choice for LGBT
students?
One of the easiest ways of achieving this is putting the company out there to show that the company
supports the LGBT community. For example, no one knew how inclusive Goldman Sachs and IBM
were until the Resource Guide came out. I had friends coming to me saying “I didn’t realise that
Goldman Sachs and IBM were so accepting”. A number of other leading investment banks have been
pushing for gay pride for several years. People do see it and hear it. At some point, when these
students are choosing between employers, this information will become important. So my suggestion
to employers is to reach out to students and young people by supporting events and initiatives in the
community and at universities.

 
Inclusion and Recruitment Conference
The Queer Straight Alliance is holding their Inclusion and Recruitment Conference on Tuesday 2
November. This Conference is not only for LGBT students. People with disabilities, ethnic minorities
and others who fall into the category of diverse talent will also be attending. The Conference will give
students and employers a chance to meet each other and exchange ideas. If your organisation is
interested in having an exhibition table or being a speaker at the conference, please contact Michael
Lam at miclamcw@googlemail.com.

 
Mentoring Programme
The Queer Straight Alliance would like to invite you to become a Mentor as part of their Mentor
Programme. Mentors are welcome from a broad range of industries and backgrounds. Students are
not limited to LGBT students. Mentees are comprised of people with disabilities, ethnic minorities,
LGBT individuals and more. If you are interested in becoming a Mentor, please contact Michael Lam
at miclamcw@googlemail.com.

 

(Source: Community Business, http://www.communitybusiness.org/LGBT/Interview_with_Michael_Lam.pdf )

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