LGBTQ inclusion in APAC: An evolving landscape for equality & business connections

Topics: Allies & Inclusion, Asia Pacific, Corporate Culture, Discrimination, Diversity, Government, Hong Kong, LGBT Leadership, LGBTQ, Thomson Reuters


Earlier in June, a positive step was taken at the prefecture-level of Japan to ban being outed — the process of having one’s sexual orientation or gender identity revealed without consent — and “is an incredibly important step in ensuring that LGBTQ+ Japanese can live openly and proudly in public,” wrote

To a large extent, the participation of the business community and evolving attitudes of societies for LGBTQ rights are leading to positive outcomes for protections of LGBTQ individuals in the Asia-Pacific region (APAC), according to Rob Head, Director of Proposition in Asia Emerging Markets at Thomson Reuters.

Head was out as a gay man from the beginning of his career with Thomson Reuters, but when he was offered an opportunity to relocate to Hong Kong, he admits he “didn’t know the culture, so I took one step back into the closet, if you will, on a professional level.”

In 2016, Head got involved with the launch of the Stonewall global workplace briefing, an event with internal colleagues and customers in attendance that raised his external profile as a gay man within the Hong Kong community. His participation in an empowering LGBTQ leadership program in partnership with Stonewall and later Barclays was a turning point. He left the leadership program resolving “not to be the passenger, but to be the driver” in fully embracing his identity as a gay man and a vocal leader in LGBTQ inclusion on behalf of Thomson Reuters in Hong Kong. Indeed, Head’s increased engagement and advocacy earned him the Hong Kong LGBT+ Inclusion Champion Award 2019 by Community Business and placed him as an LGBT+ Future Leader by OUTstanding.

Deepening client relationships around LGBTQ inclusion

Through partnership with the Hong Kong LGBT Attorneys Network, Head expanded his commitment to LGBTQ inclusion, something that has positively impacted his relationships with clients. Sharing their views on LGBTQ equality provides a quick opportunity to connect more deeply with client decision-makers, he says. “I’ve built relationships with managing partners in the region on the basis of LGBT+ inclusion, including Nathalie Hobbs at Linklaters and Justin D’Agostino at Herbert Smith Freehills, who are both driving LGBT inclusion in their organizations.”


Rob Head, Director of Proposition in Asia Emerging Markets at Thomson Reuters

More broadly, engagement with Thomson Reuters law firm customers around diversity and inclusion (D&I) has enabled better connections with these leaders. “It’s easier to get a conversation with them on D&I than it is to get a conversation with them on business, and as soon as they start talking to you on the basis of things that you have in common, the business stuff becomes much easier,” Head explains.

Moreover, the fact that D&I is an increased priority for many law firms in APAC has also contributed to more active customer engagement. The requirement for law firms to provide diversity and inclusion data in response to request for proposals from their corporate client has expedited progress in LGBTQ inclusion. Indeed, many firms realize that they need to reflect the priorities of their customers by demonstrating diversity of thought, opinion, and approach across gender, sexual identity, disability, and racial or ethnic origin.

Expanding LGBTQ inclusion in APAC

While LGBT equality is limited when compared to other regions in the world, change is headed in the right direction in the APAC mostly due to the significant shifts in societal attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. In 2017, for example, Taiwan recognized marriage equality; two years earlier, Vietnam had passed a law enshrining rights for transgender people, allowing those who have undergone sex reassignment surgery to register under their new gender; and in 2013, the Philippines was ranked as the 10th most gay-friendly country in the world, according to the Pew Research Center.

In Hong Kong, while it is not illegal to be gay, there is no employment protection and equal marriage is not allowed. However, there are increasing efforts to change that. For example, the territory’s Equal Opportunities Commission has advocated for anti-discrimination legislation and for equal marriage, according to Head. Moreover, there has been recent case law wins that have advanced LGBTQ equality in spouses of same-sex couples being able to obtain spousal visas, the ability for married LGBTQ couples to jointly file tax returns, and with the spouses of those working in civil service now being eligible for spousal benefits.

While the legal framework in Hong Kong is slow to move, Head remains hopeful because of the evolution of social acceptance in Hong Kong and across the APAC region more broadly. “People in the city are saying that being LGBTQ has gone from being taboo to being more accepted by some,” he says.

Head also is optimistic about the future of LGBTQ inclusion because of the role of Thomson Reuters and large organizations play in influencing public acceptance and support of LGBTQ equality. “I always say when an organization like Thomson Reuters or anybody else invests in diversity and inclusion, the return on that investment is not in the number of people that come out in the workplace,” Head added. “The return on that investment is what people tell you when they apply for jobs at your organization and why they want to join you.”

Indeed, Head’s 17-year tenure at Thomson Reuters is illustrative of the investment. “When people ask me about why I have stayed at the company for such a long period of time, I tell them it’s about the culture, the things we stand for, the things we do, and the way that people come together around inclusion matters,” he says. “It means the organization is welcoming.”