MTR reinstates Cathay's LGBT ad after furious blowback

Update - Hong Kong's Airport Authority has also reversed the ban on the Cathay Pacific advertisement featuring a same-sex couple on Tuesday, hours after a reversal by the MTR Corporation.

Hong Kong’s railway operator MTR Corporation has reversed its decision to ban Cathay Pacific Airline’s newly rolled-out advert showing two males holding hands from being displayed at its stations, following outrage from Hong Kong's LGBT community. Yet the city still waits on whether Hong Kong's Airport Authority will make a similar choice.

Cathay Pacific had recently launched a rebranding campaign with a new tagline “Move Beyond”, featuring a series of advertisement visuals. One poster showed two males strolling hand in hand along a beach with a line stating “Move Beyond Labels”. It was aimed to highlight the airline’s attitude on diversity and inclusion.

That would become a point of irony, as according to the South China Morning Post, both the Airport Authority, and the MTR Corporation rejected the LGBT content. Meanwhile, other visuals of the airline’s rebrand campaign were kept on display at prime locations across the city.

MTR responded to the controversy in a Facebook post, “We note recent public concern over the advertising campaign of an airline. MTR Corporation is unequivocally committed to equal opportunities in all aspects of its business and supports diversity. It does not tolerate any form of discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, family status or any other factor.”

The corporation stated that advertising bookings for the MTR network have been contracted out to advertising sales agencies and that the concerned advertisement was handled by one of the advertising sales agencies. Advertising sales agencies would handle applications by advertisers in accordance with their guidelines.

“The Corporation understands the public’s concern on the matter. We have immediately communicated with the advertising sales agency and have requested the agency to fully consider the Corporation’s commitment to equal opportunities and diversity when it considers advertisements in the future,” said MTR.

The advertising bookings for the MTR network were handled by French company JCDecaux who originally stated that it was a business decision made in accordance with its procedures, and that it would further consider MTR Corporation’s commitment to equal opportunities and diversity when it considers advertisements in the future, according to the news report by SCMP.

However, as of today, JCDecaux has now stated to the Post that following discussions, the advert will now be displayed at MTR stations.

Condemning the railway and airport operators’ denial to display the advert, Hong Kong's LGBT community had launched an online social campaign “#Move Beyond Discrimination”. Activists have been calling on the public to take photos of themselves holding a picture of the rejected advert, or of themselves holding hands, at any MTR station, or at the airport, and then to post the photos to social media. It is yet to be seen if the Airport Authority will follow the MTR's example.

Marketing has reached out to JCDecaux for comment but has yet to receive a response.