HONG KONG – A Hong Kong psychiatrist who claims homosexuals can be “cured” defended his role Sunday, after he was hired to train government counsellors in a move that outraged gay rights activists.
Critics said it could be the world’s first government-sponsored session on gay conversion therapy.
But psychiatrist Hong Kwai-wah said his three-and-a-half hour training session for more than 60 social welfare staff on Friday did not emphasise gay conversion.
“The main point is not about gay conversion therapy,” the 56-year-old doctor told AFP in a telephone interview, saying he was “surprised and disappointed” over the attacks by activists.
“The main point is how to pay attention and give guidance to same-sex attracted youths and their parents, to understand their struggle and their needs,” said Hong, who specialises in “treating unwanted homosexuality”.
The doctor denied the training included sharing on gay conversion therapy methods such as prayer, cold showers and practising abstinence as a way to avoid same-sex relationships.
But he admitted he cited case studies to argue that gays can be treated and turned into heterosexuals. He also discussed how homosexuality develops and the difficulties faced by young people attracted to the same sex.
“I did mention about the possibility to change which is an option. We need to respect the client’s choice, whether they want to remain status quo or they want to live a heterosexual life,” said Hong.
“I presented all these facts. I want the social workers to know and make their own judgement, they are good enough and professional enough to make their own judgement.”
“We should not ban people from therapy if they want to change. We should respect their right,” said Hong, who is also founder of a Christian-linked group called the “New Creation Association”.
The association’s mission is to help people struggling with homosexuality, “restore their sexual wholeness and appreciate their gender identity given by God”, according to its website.
Since it was set up in 2004, it has handled more than 200 cases of people attracted to the same sex seeking help, of which 19 men later got married to women, said Hong.
“I don’t believe gays are born gays,” he said.
Hong’s training has sparked an outcry among gay rights campaigners in the southern Chinese city, who held a protest outside the Social Welfare Department’s office on Friday and called the training an “international joke”.
“The government seems to think that homosexuals are possessed by evil spirits and needed to be ‘cleansed’ or ‘cured’ through conversion therapy,” said Joseph Cho, a spokesman for gay rights group Rainbow Action.
The department has defended its decision to invite Hong, saying it had invited scholars and gay rights activists to speak previously and social workers need “knowledge from multiple perspectives” to make assessment.
Despite its reputation as an international financial hub, critics say Hong Kong remains a conservative city when it comes to gay rights, only decriminalising homosexuality in 1991.
A government survey in the 1990s concluded that most residents were “not ready” for laws banning discrimination against homosexuals, according to figures cited by academics.