Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Tycoon's lesbian daughter Gigi Chao shakes up conservative Hong Kong

By Wilfred Chan, CNN
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 1820 GMT (0220 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lesbian Gigi Chao's father offered $128m dowry for any man who married her
  • Chao defended her lesbian partner in open letter to her father
  • Chao says conservative Hong Kong society often rejects LGBT citizens
  • Young, queer Hong Kongers see Chao as a role model, inspiration

Editor's note: Watch this month's Talk Asia from Feb 20 for Monita Rajpal's full interview with Gigi Chao.

(CNN) -- What's life like when your father is a billionaire, your mother is an actress, and your sexuality becomes an international headline?

Just ask Hong Kong businesswoman Gigi Chao, 34, who says she "didn't have time to be shocked" when her father, real estate tycoon Cecil Chao, discovered her lesbian marriage and then offered HK $1 billion ($128 million) to any male suitor in the world who could effectively turn his daughter straight.

Overnight, Gigi's phone was flooded with messages from suitors around the world -- attention she never wanted.



"There wasn't really an opportunity to mope -- 'Oh, poor me, I got thrown out of the closet,'" she says. "There were all these factors out of my control. I thought, I have to be my own rock."

My mom cried and banged her head against a wall and said, 'I will never accept you.'
Gigi Chao

Two weeks ago, Chao defended her marriage with an open letter to her father, writing, "You have no idea how happy I am with my life." Her father dropped the dowry the next day.

Gay socialite on life in Hong Kong

Her parents still refuse to welcome her lesbian partner. But by coming out, Gigi Chao has touched off a society-wide conversation about the difficulties facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender-identifying Hong Kongers as they try to find acceptance within their own families.

'Marry my daughter' tycoon speaks

"It's a belief that coming out as gay is a blatant disrespect for your parents," says Chao, speaking about Chinese culture. "But it's not that way at all. Most gay people I know respect their parents very much."

Raised in a strict family, with a tycoon father who made her enter university at 16 and an actress mother who was a "perfectionist" about her daughter's appearance, Chao says she learned from an early age to hold back parts of herself, including her own emotions.

Chao recalls an instance when, as a teenager, she brought her girlfriend to her house.

"My mom... cried and screamed and banged her head against a wall and said, 'I will never accept this fact about you, and I'll never accept it 'til the day I die.' So I just sort of sat there in silence, and took it all in," says Chao.

"The best way... is to be grounded and logical about it -- ground yourself in reason, you have to be a combination of a good actor and a good lawyer at the same time," says Chao.

See who else has been on Talk Asia

Chao says her family's reaction was somewhat typical of the socially conservative Asian society.

There's a belief that coming out as gay is a disrespect for your parents, but it's not that way at all.
Gigi Chao

"A lot of what Hong Kong is, is family ties and relationships in this tiny, small and overcrowded place, and there's a lot of people who want to keep it that way," she says. What's frowned upon, she suggests, are "troublemakers" and "people who rock the boat."

But for some young LGBT Hong Kongers, Gigi Chao is exactly the kind of "troublemaker" they need.

"When Gigi came out, it really hit home for me," says Callie (not her real name), a 21 year-old lesbian woman whose parents, like Gigi's, are well-known Hong Kong celebrities.

"When my parents saw Gigi, they saw this person who is established, who has a really good career, is still living her life to the fullest -- and that made them realize that I can have that, too.

"Gigi definitely showed the LGBT community that there is hope, and we're moving in the right direction."

For Callie and many others, Chao has become a "symbol" of the city's growing movement.

Still, Chao says life may not be as easy for members of Hong Kong's queer community who lack her celebrity status.

"A lot of people... come from a life of hardship and inequality, not just because of their orientation but all sectors of life, all facets. And to add one more -- their sexual orientation being another disadvantage they have to face, that's the part that makes it more difficult, and that's what we want to confront."

Despite being thrust into the position of role model, Chao says she does not claim to be a "leader" or an "activist."

"I am who I am, and I speak for myself and myself only," she says. "All that's happened is I've been given a voice, and people seem interested in what I have to say."

Watch the full interview with Gigi Chao on Talk Asia next week.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
It was supposed to be a class trip to a resort island. Instead, the ferry capsized, turning the afternoon into a deadly nightmare.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
It's hard not to be nervous, standing outside the Ebola isolation wards.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1258 GMT (2058 HKT)
Ukraine says it's forces have regained control of an airfield from Russian separatists. Nick Paton Walsh reports.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 2116 GMT (0516 HKT)
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
Suisse's Belinda Bencic returns the ball to France's Alize Cornet during the second match of the Fed Cup first round tennis tie France vs Switzerland on February 8, 2014 at the Pierre de Coubertin stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
It's no easy matter becoming a world class tennis player. It's even harder when everyone (really -- everyone) is calling you the "new Martina Hingis".
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1750 GMT (0150 HKT)
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Sky gazers caught a glimpse of the "blood moon" crossing the Earth's shadow Tuesday in all its splendor.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
A staff stands next to the propellers of Sun-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 HB-SIB seen in silhouette during its first exit for test on April 14, 2014 in Payerne, a year ahead of their planned round-the-world flight. Solar Impulse 2 is the successor of the original plane of the same name, which last year completed a trip across the United States without using a drop of fuel. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
This solar-powered aircraft will attempt to circle the globe next year.
ADVERTISEMENT