In 2012, Gigi Chao made headlines around the world because her billionaire father offered a huge cash reward (around £40 million) to any man who would marry her, even though she was already married to a woman.
Shipping magnate and property tycoon Cecil Chao Sze-tsung then doubled his offer in what was basically a bid to turn his gay daughter straight – prompting Gigi to pen an open letter, published in the Hong Kong press, asking him to accept both her sexuality and her wife, Sean Eav.
“As for my father’s cash offer, it affected Sean more", says Chao. "She found it more intimidating and upsetting because tens of thousands of men – some quite strange ones – wrote in or waited for us at the entrances of our buildings and our home. I thought about it and decided my response should definitely be to support her, first and foremost.”
Gigi, who leads the Business, Financial and Legal category in the Attitude 101 February issue celebrating LGBTQ trailblazers - out now to download and to order globally - famously told the press at the time: “I’ll marry a man when he marries a man.”
Gigi Chao leads the Business, Financial and Legal category in the Attitude 101 February issue celebrating LGBTQ trailblazers, out now
With all this in mind, it comes as something of a surprise to find out, eight years later, that Gigi still works as executive vice-chairman of her father’s property company, Cheuk Nang. But, she tells us, strong familial bonds in Hong Kong culture mean they’ve agreed to settle on a beg-to-differ solution.
“We have a very good relationship. I enjoy working with him and he with me. I see him at the office on weekdays and we talk every day, but we don’t really talk about our respective private lives. We have an enjoyable and a close relationship; we just have different points of view on many things.”
Not that the 41-year-old businesswoman doesn’t address her sexuality outside the family home, too. Quite the opposite in fact, as she’s become an eloquent spokesperson on LGBTQ issues, a leading member of the campaign for marriage equality in Hong Kong and an advocate for change in a society which, she tells us, has a long way to go.
“Our marriage ignited lots of discussion about the concept of homosexuality. In Hong Kong, there are a lot of court cases on transgender issues as well. There are transgender individuals who have successfully changed their gender overseas but upon returning to Hong Kong their gender change has not been recognised, and they’re not permitted to get married.
“There’s a huge stigma attached to the whole subject. If we look at how far the UK, Europe and the US have come in the past ten years, since the handover, Hong Kong has not made a single baby step. One of the most common questions I get from people when they hear I’m from Hong Kong is: 'So how’s it been since the handover, has there been lots of change?'.
"In terms of LGBTQ issues, the answer is a firm 'No'.”
Read the full interview in the Attitude 101 February issue featuring 101 LGBTQ trailblazers, out now.