NI diplomat who made gay marriage history in China set for new post

GRAEME COUSINS reports on the fascinating journey of an NI-born civil servant whose gay marriage made history in China

NI diplomat Brian Davidson
NI diplomat Brian Davidson

When Northern Ireland diplomat Brian Davidson married Scott Chang in Beijing 2014 their wedding was celebrated by 20 million people in China.

It made history as the country’s first same-sex marriage after the couple took advantage of a law change, following the legalisation of gay marriage in England and Wales, that allowed LGBT couples to get wed on British diplomatic territory in countries where it is banned.

But that, as they say, is old news. Brian, who has been a diplomat in the far east since the 1980s, is about to embark on a new adventure as the UK’s Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau.

Brian and his husband Scott have had three children by surrogacy

It was announced last week that Brian will switch from his current role as Ambassador to Thailand, having previously served as Consul General to Shanghai from 2011-2015 and been based in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square protests during his first overseas posting in 1989.

It is the first time Brian, his US-born husband Scott and their three children, born by surrogacy, will have left Thailand as a family.

The 56-year-old Mandarin speaker from Seahill, near Holywood, said: “Obviously this job is hugely high profile and very challenging, but I relish the opportunity to help the UK be a force for good in the world.

“It is undeniable that there are complexities in the UK-China relationship and this job will undoubtedly bring huge challenges as we work towards a mutually beneficial relationship.

Brian said that meeting the Queen when he was appointed Her Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand 'tops just about anything in my career'.

“There’s a strong obligation on the UK to stand up for the rights of the people of Hong Kong. We will always call out behaviour where we do not agree. China must act in accordance with its legal obligations under the Joint Declaration and respect fundamental rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

“I love China and I have lots of Chinese friends. I am fundamentally someone who believes that the relationship can be made to work.”

Brian is father to Eliot, five, Esme, three-and-a-half, and two-year-old Erik through surrogacy and is looking forward to moving his family to Hong Kong.

He said: “This is the first time we’ve moved away with the kids because they were all born in Thailand, but I think we will make Hong Kong home. Our kids are at least half-Chinese ethnically, so this move is the perfect choice for us as they get an opportunity to learn Chinese and get a sense of this part of their culture.

Brian with his family

“It’s always a challenge fitting family life around my representational duties. I’m pretty strict that weekends are for family – it has to be the king, the PM, or a visiting secretary of state to break that.

He added: “Scott took surrogacy leave for our first two and I had three months off for Erik. I think I was the first man to take surrogacy leave at the Foreign Office, and certainly the first Ambassador.”

Brian is proud that Northern Ireland finally legalised gay marriage last year and is passionate about improving LGBT rights across the world.

For the first six years of his career with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, being gay was a sackable offence.

Brian admits he was worried when his ‘low-key’ ceremony in Beijing went viral after his celebratory post on Chinese social media platform Weibo received 20 million views.

He said: “Coming from a very conservative part of the UK, it was difficult for me to come to terms with my sexuality. It was hidden.

“I would say that lots of my friends, and probably my parents, had some inklings but questions were never asked. Living and working overseas made it very easy to keep living that secret.

“I only formally told my parents after meeting Scott, when it was clear that we wanted to commit to marriage.”

He added: “As we mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, I was pleased that the country finally approved gay marriage last year. Our Story In The Making, is about how Northern Ireland looks forward to the next 100 years and this move offers hope we can shape it to be the nation we want it to be.”

Brian said: “I’m very proud to be from Northern Ireland. In every post I’ve been to I’ve endlessly explained the intricacies of the United Kingdom and the power-sharing arrangement.

“My upbringing has given me a more personal view that has helped me engage with Thais over the ongoing conflict they have in the southern borders – and I’m sure will continue to be useful to me in the future.”

Brian’s role has seen him mingle with a large number of VIPs: “The Foreign Office has offered me a life where I have done things I could never imagined as a small boy from a small town in Northern Ireland.

“There was a Queen’s Birthday Party in Shanghai where I had David Beckham and Helen Mirren sitting either side of me. You have never seen crowd control until you have David Beckham in the room. It was quite extraordinary.”

Brian said that meeting the Queen when he was appointed Her Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand “tops just about anything in my career”.

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