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Challenging the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Attitude Around LGBTQ+ Issues in Asia

June 04, 2021

In much of Asian society, diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts aren’t a central part of workplace discussions, and LGBTQ+ issues are too often excluded entirely. Compared to the United States and Europe, discussions of LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace are rare in Asia, and networks are even less common. Most networks, if established, are found in global service and technology companies, and firms such as international banks and law firms, news and advertising agencies, and global retail brands.

Hong Kong office managing partner Maurice Hoo is helping to shift this paradigm—from leading our LGBTQ+ affinity network in Hong Kong to rallying all of the firm’s Asia offices to participate in Pink Friday, Maurice is serving as an instrument of change in uplifting the conversation.

Tell me about the Morgan Lewis LGBTQ+ affinity network in Hong Kong.

Our Morgan Lewis LGBTQ+ affinity network in Hong Kong is still in its early stages. Its initial purpose is to raise internal awareness of the firm’s support for the establishment of a network for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, to provide support to its members, and to build a diverse and inclusive Morgan Lewis community. This builds on the firm’s established US network, which has 86 attorneys that connect on multiple levels from practice working groups to individual office networks. But perhaps one of the things that most stands out about the LGBTQ+ lawyer network is how much of the programming is driven by the associates. We are hoping to model that in our Asia networks as well.

One of the network’s first events was Pink Friday. What did that signify?

In Hong Kong, there is a nonprofit called Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Attorneys Network (HKGALA). We are a supporter of HKGALA and have done some pro bono work for the organization. Because of that connection, in 2020, the organizers of Pink Friday in Hong Kong invited us to participate. Pink Friday began in 2014 when a group of Goldman Sachs Hong Kong employees wore pink T-shirts to show their support of an LGBTQ+-inclusive work environment, and in 2020 the event expanded across Asia Pacific and Europe to include more than 60 organizations.

We used Pink Friday as a springboard to expand our D&I messaging to our other Asian offices, and I connected with our office managing partners in Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Singapore for their joint participation. Limited by COVID-19, we could not have in-person gatherings, so we shared a video from our firm’s LGBTQ+ Lawyer Network leaders on the firm’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community around the world via financial support and pro bono work, as well as recruitment, retention, and promotion of LGBTQ+ individuals at our firm. We wanted to convey to everyone in the Asian offices that Morgan Lewis is a welcoming place to work, and that its support is demonstrated with practical actions. The video was shown to members of all of the Asia offices. Many dressed in pink to support the day, with images shared on social media to help raise awareness.

Both as a supporting firm of HKGALA and a participant in Pink Friday, we stand with other major international law firms, investment banks, and other multinationals that care about D&I and are taking actions to promote it.

Hong Kong Office

How important is it to have that kind of corporate support for an LGBTQ+-inclusive work environment?

In Asia, there is a lot of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace, and therefore it is extremely helpful to have such initiatives and clear D&I messages coming from a global firm like Morgan Lewis. I have an intense interest in building and fostering a diverse, inclusive, and supportive work environment—not just for the LGBTQ+ community but for all communities. That is just the right thing to do. Further, as an LGBTQ+ individual, in my career, I have benefited from counseling and support of mentors who have come before me, and I am hoping to do the same for others.

Any advice you’d give to LGBTQ+ individuals in Asia?

It does make a huge difference not only in your career advancement, but in your mental and emotional well-being, to work in a supportive and inclusive environment. Do not feel that you are all alone—there are others you can talk to for counseling and support. Reach out, and get engaged—we are here for you!