A specialist in "ex-gay" therapy has given a seminar to Hong Kong social service workers, possibly the first such government-sponsored presentation in the world, leading gay activists to protest, Agence France-Presse reports.
Psychiatrist Hong Kwai-wah, who claims to treat "unwanted homosexuality," addressed the staff at the city's social welfare office for two and a half hours Friday, according to AFP.
He is chairman of a group called the New Creation Association, whose mission, as stated on its website, is "to help people struggling with homosexuality and diffuse their inner dilemmas, rewire their mental state as well as propagate the belief that homosexuals can change." It says that while other therapists seek to help gays accept their sexual orientation, New Creation serves those who want to change.
The Hong Kong Social Welfare Department issued a statement saying it presents a variety of viewpoints to staff members and that it has had gay rights advocates speak to the department in the past.
"The department had adopted and would continue to adopt an open and impartial attitude in organizing training courses, thematic talks and experience sharing sessions for the professional development of its social workers," the statement read. It also described "knowledge from multiple perspectives" as "essential for social workers to make professional and independent assessment on their cases and to address specific needs of service users." Hong Kong, a former British colony, is rather conservative on gay issues, having decriminalized homosexuality just 20 years ago.
Gay activists protesting outside the department's office Friday said New Creation touts prayer, cold showers, and sexual abstinence as "cures" for homosexuality, adding that this may have been the first government-sponsored "ex-gay" seminar anywhere. "The government seems to think that homosexuals are possessed by evil spirits," Rainbow Action spokesman Joseph Cho told reporters. City officials, he said, "are criminalizing people with same-sex orientation -- this is an international joke."