A library worker indexes periodicals at the Hong Kong Central Library May 14, 2001. In 2018, Hong Kong authorities made a decision to place 10 children's books with LGBT themes in the "closed stacks" of public libraries. 

©2001 Reuters/Bobby Yip

Hong Kong authorities should immediately reverse a decision to place 10 children’s books with LGBT themes in the “closed stacks” of public libraries, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Bureau. One of the books, And Tango Makes Three, is a children’s book based on a true story about two male penguins who hatch an egg and raise a youngster.

But in an important judgment on same-sex relationships, Hong Kong’s highest court ruled on July 4, 2018, that the government’s denial of a visa and associated benefits to the same-sex spouse of a legal resident amounted to discrimination.

“Instead of hiding a children’s book about a same-sex penguin couple, Hong Kong’s government should endorse nondiscrimination and put the books back on the open shelves,” said Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “While Hong Kong’s highest court is taking down discriminatory walls, the government seems intent on maintaining them.”

In correspondence Human Rights Watch reviewed dated June 15, 2018, Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Department responded to a citizens’ group complaint regarding 10 children’s books that feature diverse families and gender expressions. The Home Affairs Department noted that “the contents of seven of these books are neutral, and do not promote or advocate homosexuality and same-sex marriage.” Nonetheless, authorities within the Home Affairs Department proceeded to order that all 10 books be placed in the “closed stacks,” meaning library visitors will need to request a librarian to access the books. 

Hiding books from free public access which feature lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) characters sends a stigmatizing message that LGBT content is inherently inappropriate. The government’s actions also deprive children of information that could be important to their development, health, and safety, Human Rights Watch said.

The decision indicates a government preference to exclude and discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Another of the books, Introducing Teddy, tells the story of a stuffed bear who identifies as a girl and wants to be called Tilly instead of Thomas. Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child says, “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.”

“LGBT children, who are subject to disproportionate rates of bullying and often experience feelings of isolation and alienation, need reliable, accurate, and affirming information,” Dittrich said. “The Hong Kong government should be working to create a climate of inclusion and tolerance for children and adults – not exclusion and stigma.”