Bankers march for a cause (no, not bigger bonuses)

Hong Kong's Pride Parade took place on Saturday, aimed at countering discrimination against the gay community.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Saturday, armed with umbrellas and seeking change.

However, these were not Occupy Central protesters and their anti-tear gas measures; Hong Kong’s Pride Parade was back – in the rain.

The parade is aimed at promoting equal rights and countering discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and encouraging diversity.

Awareness about LGBT issues in Asia lags behind other regions but bankers took part. “I am here to show support for the cause,” said Jeff, a banker who was at the march on Saturday. 

The first pride parade in Hong Kong took place in 2008 with just under 1,000 people.  Since then, numbers have grown annually and last year some 5,200 people participated in the parade. 

According to organizer, this year’s event attracted 9,000 people.

Pride Parade drew participation from about 15 banks and sponsors included Citi, JP Morgan, Standard Chartered, Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Nomura. 

“Compared to other regions, support for LGBT in Asia is maybe not as established, but growing participation in events like Pride is a signal awareness is growing,” said John Tierney, chief financial officer of Nomura for Asia ex-Japan and executive sponsor of the firm's regional LGBT network.

“Supporting the LGBT cause is incredibly important for us and we are committed to fostering an inclusive workplace,” Tierney added.

Banks are trying to achieve this through various initiatives.

Nomura, for example, has undertaken an “Allies campaign” where staff are encouraged to identify themselves as supporters of the LGBT community by sticking a card on their desktop monitor.

Currently more than 25% of staff at its offices in Singapore and Hong Kong have identified themselves as LGBT allies.

“It's a very visible show of support, even on the trading floor, which you might think of as being a testosterone-fueled environment,” said Richard Cunningham, regional head of corporate services at Nomura. Cunningham is co-lead of the firm's LGBT network in Asia ex-Japan.

“If I was a 20-something graduate joining the firm and a bit worried about coming out, knowing there is acceptance helps,” he added.

Discrimination against LGBT is alive and kicking, according to 2012 study conducted by Community Business, a Hong-Kong-based non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing corporate social responsibility in Asia.

The study found that almost 80% of the Hong Kong working population think LGBT individuals face discrimination or negative treatment in Hong Kong.

Apart from umbrellas, the Pride Parade did share another characteristic with the Occupy protesters: both are critical of the Hong Kong government.

“The government doesn't do enough to support gay and lesbian rights,” said Cheri Mak, a volunteer at the Pride Parade. “They should legalise gay marriages,” she added. 

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