Hong Kong Transport Authorities Backtrack on Cathay’s Same-sex Advert Ban After Public Outcry

The MTR Corporation (MTRC) and the Airport Authority (AA) reversed a decision to reject Cathay Pacific’s recent ad campaign, which featured two men walking down the beach holding hands, after their ban sparked a public outcry.

The ad was part of Cathay Pacific Airways rebranding campaign called Move Beyond and was intended to highlight the airline’s attitude to diversity.

Speaking about the ad, Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg said “the inclusion bit is really important. No matter who you are, when you come to work at Cathay Pacific … we want you to be who you are and feel really comfortable and be a productive part of the team and that’s what we strive for.”

The key message of the rebrand was to “fly with pride for our LGBT community allies,” he added.

The advert was reportedly widely banned in the city initially. The MTRC and AA rejected the LGBT content, according to the South China Morning Post which cited people familiar with the matter, but both transport authorities reversed the decision as public pressure mounted.

“The MTR Corporation claimed that they had no prior knowledge of the ad decision, and had played no part in the censorship, as the handling of the ad sales was outsourced to an agency,” Raymond Chan Chi-Chuen, the first openly gay legislator in Hong Kong and China, told Harbour Times.

Chan said he could not see a problem with the advert and hope “all parties could learn from this incident.”

The MTRC’s ad agency, the French-based JCDecaux, said it acknowledged the public concern over the advertising campaign and had now given MTRC the green light to display the advert at MTR stations.

The AA and its ad agency followed suit shortly after.

The ad is deemed “not in infringement of the Airport Authority’s established guidelines on advertisements displayed in the terminal”, a spokesperson said in a statement.

The news emerged just after Taiwan’s parliament legalized same-sex marriage last week. It is the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

In contrast, LGBT groups in Hong Kong have expressed concerns and criticized Hong Kong for lagging behind on equality issues.

“The decision to censor LGBT-friendly ads was disappointing,” a Hong Kong-based gay flight attendant, who requested for anonymity, said.

“It was good that they decided to backtrack their decision and do the right thing, but I feel like they are only doing it because their initial decision triggered a massive backlash,” the person said.

“I burst into tears of joy when I read the news that Taiwan had approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage earlier this month, but at the same time you can see how far behind Hong Kong is when companies decided to ban an ad just because two men are seen holding hands,” the person added.

Currently, Hong Kong does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions and only decriminalized homosexuality in 1991. Taiwan allowed same sex unions this week.