Business Profile: Gigi Chao
When her father offered a fortune for a potential husband to turn her straight, Chao took a stand for her sexuality and made headlines around the world. She’s since become a spokesperson for LGBT+ equality, especially in her native Hong Kong, and formed a truce with her father that’s seen her become executive vice-chairman of his hugely-successful property company.
On her father’s cash offer:
I won’t say I saw it coming but I kind of forgave him almost instantaneously because I knew this was the kind of thing he’d do – that he’d try to rescue the situation with money. After I got back from Paris [Where she married her partner, Sean] I showed him the photos and told him what happened and, because he didn’t know I was gay, he was shocked and upset. He thought my mind had been poisoned or something. There was a good six months where he knew about it and nothing happened, but when Sean publicly announced we’d gotten married, my parents wanted to hide under the duvet. It’s taken a good few years, especially for my mum, to get used to the idea. As for my father’s cash offer, it affected Sean more. 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.
On experiencing homophobia:
We get it quite a lot in blue-collar circles. Sean and I go hiking a lot at weekends and we get random strangers staring at us and going, ‘Oh, they’re lesbians.’ We ignore it but it affects Sean more. I’m thick-skinned but she’s more sensitive about these things, particularly because she looks a little more masculine. If she goes to the bathroom she gets women screaming at her, ‘Hey, this is the ladies’. She has to pitch-up her voice and go, ‘Hey, I’m a girl’. That’s why we sympathise with the whole issue of transgender bathrooms in the US because she’s always looking for a disabled toilet to use when she wants that privacy.
On advice for LGBT+ people considering a career in business:
If I was addressing my younger self, when I’d just graduated from university and was about to embark on a business career, I would say to come out as soon as possible and find your grounding and your strength from that. As the anthropologist Joseph Campbell said, the journey of a lifetime is becoming who you are. That is a particularly-potent mantra for the LGBT+ community to know and to embrace – to seek one’s true purpose by living it out each day.