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Reuters/Bobby Yip

Gigi Chao sparked a gay rights revolution in Chinese culture after her billionaire father’s marriage bounty

By Lianna Brinded

Gigi Chao is one of Asia’s most successful business women but it was only in 2012 that she became a household name after her billionaire shipping and property tycoon father Cecil Chao Sze-tsung put a “marriage bounty” on her head.

Gigi entered into a civil partnership with her female partner Sean Eav in France after nearly a decade together, but her father couldn’t accept she was a lesbian. He offered a reward to any man that could “persuade” his daughter to marry them, to allegedly the tune of HK$1 billion ($128 million). After her father continued to search for a male suitor for her, two years later Gigi turned the tide, which became iconic in the LGBT+ community; she penned an open letter titled “Dear Daddy, you must accept I’m a lesbian.”

Her letter was a huge deal was a key moment for many in highlighting and addressing the issues people face in coming out in Chinese communities, which greatly differs to growing up in the West—especially when work and family are usually intertwined.

“In such a high tension environment, my approach to the matter has been to lead by example.”

“Hong Kong is a very conservative, rule abiding place within the Greater China region. The real estate industry can be said to be the epitome of these values embodied in a highly patriarchal family centered context,” said Gigi, who now has a tight-knit working relationship with her father, to Quartz.

“Respect for one’s elders and parents is a prevalent norm which is the opposite of the west, and even parts of China. In Hong Kong, the elders and parents are still the holders of financial powers against young people. In the West, to live in one’s parent’s home into your 40s is something of an embarrassment, but in Hong Kong it is highly typical due to the high costs of living.

“In such a high tension environment, my approach to the matter has been to lead by example, and allow ourselves to be a visible figure for others to examine for themselves what it means to have LGBT+ family.”

Reuters/Bobby Yip
Gigi, her father (C) and brother Howard, seen in a family photograph in her office.

LGBT+ rights in Asia are still perceivably far behind those in parts of the West. Taiwan is the only Asian country to embrace same-sex marriage. While Hong Kong is tipped to become the second, being in a legal same-sex marriage abroad is not legally recognized in the Chinese special administrative state. It was only in September of this year, that a gay expat in Hong Kong won a landmark ruling over granting her spouse a visa, which could pave the way for greater recognizable rights for the LGBT+ community in the region.

In Singapore, ”any act of gross indecency with another male person” in “public or private,” carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. While experts say the law is seldom enforced in private, the government still has a tense relationship with the “promotion” of homosexuality in the country.

But Gigi’s letter sparked a revolution in gaining more visibility for Chinese LGBT+ people, as well as highlighting the discussion many need to have on how to gain greater equality in the community, and how they can tangibly address their treatment within their families and the workplace.

“Similar to the Pink Dot event that just took place in Hong Kong last weekend, our approach has been to give permission for people to be themselves and embrace diversity. At first, as people and opinions gather, it becomes more visible, until the movement reaches a critical mass and traditional forces can no longer ignore the masses,” Gigi told Quartz.

Reuters/Bobby Yip
Gigi’s wife.

Gigi not only became a vocal advocate for the importance of being our authentic selves at work, she has also taken a number of steps to make the workplace environment safer and more inclusive, including at her company Cheuk Nang Holdings Ltd.

“As a company we have expressed a commitment to diversity and awards based on strict meritocracy for our contractors, suppliers, and staff. Much of the battle is about gender equalities in society as well as LGBT+ empowerment, and the learning opportunities between the two movements are numerous,” said Gigi.

“We prefer to adopt a strategy that embraces diversity and giving permission for people to be themselves.”

“Hence we prefer to adopt a strategy that embraces diversity and giving permission for people to be themselves in the most honest way.”

She is a founding member of Big Love Alliance, a LGBT charitable organization in Hong Kong which advocates for acceptance and equality. She is also an ambassador for Aids Concern, as well as being a special adviser to the UN Development Programme ‘Being LGBTI in Asia’ initiative.

On top of that, she is an active member of an inclusive Anglican church in Hong Kong—St Johns Cathedral.

And it is for all these reasons that Gigi makes the professional LGBT+ membership organization OUTstanding’s list as one of the top 10 “Leading LGBT+ Executives” in the world.

Rank Full Name Company Job Title
1 Alan Joyce Qantas CEO
2 Stacey Friedman JP Morgan Chase General Counsel
3 Jim Fitterling DowDuPont COO for Material Sciences
4 Gigi Chao Cheuk Nang (Holdings) Limited Executive Vice Chairman
5 Dr. Vivienne Ming Socos LLC Managing Partner
6 Inga Beale Lloyd’s of London CEO
7 Martine Rothblatt United Therapeutics Corporation CEO
8 Jan Siegmund ADP Corporate Vice President & CFO
9 Siobhan Martin Mercer Executive Director – HR UK & Ireland
10 David Hynam Bupa UK CEO