Disappearance of gay-themed airline ad causes uproar in Hong Kong

MTR and Hong Kong Airport refer to contract with ad distributor

Cathay Pacific's gay-themed Move Beyond image (screenshot from Big Love Alliance Facebook page).

Cathay Pacific's gay-themed Move Beyond image (screenshot from Big Love Alliance Facebook page).

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Just days after Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, a furor erupted in Hong Kong about an apparent ban on a gay-themed image in a massive new promotion campaign for the territory’s main airline.

Cathay Pacific launched a series of photos to emphasize its replacing the slogan “Life Well Travelled” with “Move Beyond.”

While the slogan was first criticized as incomplete, it was the photo of two men in suits strolling hand in hand along a beach with the tagline “Move Beyond Labels” which caused a ruckus.

Hong Kong’s subway system, the MTR, and the city’s airport, one of the main transit hubs in the world, reportedly banned the picture from their billboards. The apparent decision provoked widespread outrage, with critics pointing out statements by the companies in favor of diversity.

The backlash led to a campaign by gay rights group Big Love Alliance encouraging same-sex couples to take pictures of themselves, a move which was also followed by celebrities in the community.

Following the outcry, the MTR seemed to shift responsibility away to the agency handling its advertising, JCDecaux of France, the South China Morning Post reported.

The company mentioned clauses in its contract with the MTR which referred to potentially controversial or offensive subjects.

The airport operator said the picture with the male couple was not among those that had been submitted for billboards at the airport.

Cathay Pacific meanwhile, did not directly comment on the uproar, but emphasized the diversity of both its staff and its passengers and its own policies of inclusion. During a meeting about its rebranding campaign, the airline had reportedly told personnel that one of the key messages was “to fly with pride for our LGBT community allies,” the South China Morning Post reported.

Despite all the explanations facing the backlash, in the end, nobody was actually able to say if and when the ad would appear at MTR stations and at Hong Kong Airport.