By Venus Wu and Pak Yiu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong will host the 2022 Gay Games, fighting off bids from cities in the United States and Mexico to become the first Asian city to stage the sports and cultural event.
The win comes amid growing momentum for the gay rights movement in Asia, with Taiwan's constitutional court this year declaring that same-sex couples have the right to marry, the region's first such ruling.
The games are expected to attract more than 15,000 participants and provide a HK$1-billion ($128-million) boost to the economy, the Hong Kong bid team said in a statement.
Bid supporters called the decision a victory for the status of the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"This is a big step forward for Hong Kong itself to be able to win this world game ... and it is also a big step for diversity inclusion," said Alfred Chan, chairman of Hong Kong's Equal Opportunities Commission, which supported the bid.
The Federation of Gay Games (FGG) chose Hong Kong over Guadalajara in Mexico and Washington D.C., in a vote in Paris on Monday. A record 17 cities had expressed interest in hosting the 2022 Gay Games, 13 in the United States.
"The impact that the Gay Games has in host cities is incredible in terms of culture, sport, economic impact, history and most importantly, elevating all matters of LGBT+ equality," the Federation of Gay Games said in a statement.
The games are touted as the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender global sports and cultural gathering. Participants do not have to be gay, organizers said.
Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that promises it a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
There is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gay marriage is not recognized in the territory.
"I don't feel any discrimination. But of course I know some out there (do)," said 46-year-old Hong Kong resident Eddie Leung, who participated in the Gay Games in Sydney 15 years ago.
"That's why we need to fight."
The Hong Kong government "notes" the choice of the city to host the Games, it said in a statement to Reuters.
"The government is committed to promoting equal opportunities and fostering in the community the culture and values of inclusiveness and mutual respect," it added.
The Hong Kong bid team was supported by numerous corporations, including airline Cathay Pacific, financial services company Credit Suisse Hong Kong Limited and law firm Linklaters LLP.
The city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community marked a political victory in September, when an appeals court ruled that a British lesbian whose partner worked in the city should receive a spousal visa.
Homosexuality is not illegal in mainland China, but was regarded as a mental disorder until as recently as 2001. Many large cities have thriving gay scenes, but many gay individuals still face family and social pressure to marry and have children.
The 2018 Gay Games will take place in Paris from August 4 to 12, featuring 36 sports, 14 cultural events, an academic conference, with up to 15,000 participants from 70 countries.
The Gay Games was conceived by Tom Waddell, an Olympic decathlete, and was first held in San Francisco in 1982.
(Reporting by Venus Wu and Pak Yiu; Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Sam Holmes and Clarence Fernandez)