A Hong Kong newsmaker is chosen each month by HKFP. Click here to view previous nominees. Joanne Leung, founder of Transgender Resource Center, is selected as our Person of the Month for July 2017.

Transgender rights activist Joanne Leung has been active in pushing for greater LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong for more than a decade. Since the death of a transgender woman in Tai Wai MTR station in July, Leung has urged the government to speed up gender recognition legislation and has called for greater public acceptance of transgender and intersex individuals.

Leung founded Transgender Resource Center (TGR) in 2008 and is the organisation’s current chairperson. TGR raises awareness of the issues facing the Hong Kong and mainland transgender – or trans – community, while also providing support for local trans people through services such as an online and telephone counselling service and a peer support group.

Leung was also previously the chairperson of the Pink Alliance, an organisation which aims to facilitate cooperation between advocates for, and supporters of, LGBTQ rights in the city.

See also: Concerns of ‘social exclusion’ following death of 24-year old transgender woman

Transgender Resource Center. Photo: Transgender Resource Center

Leung decided to create her own organisation after experiencing a lack of support from both the LGBT community and Hong Kong public during her gender transition process. Gender transition refers to the process by which a person aligns their body with their gender identity – it may, or may not, include medically-prescribed hormones and gender confirmation surgery.

“At the time, there was almost no understanding regarding transgender people who had not already undergone gender confirmation surgery,” Leung told HKFP. “After seeing one of my best trans friends commit suicide in 2004 and another one in 2008, I decided to establish an organisation to support the trans community in Hong Kong and to promote awareness of this group of people.”

Leung said that many transgender people choose to disconnect from the LGBT community in order to begin new lives after undergoing processes of medical transition. “I promised myself I would stay with the community even after my surgery in 2009.”

See also: The ‘bathroom hurdle’: A transgender woman’s fight for legal recognition and safe spaces

Photo: Dan Garrett

In 2016, Joanne joined the Democratic Party and became the city’s first transgender politician. She ran for the New Territories East seat in the pre-election party primary on a platform of raising awareness of LGBTQ issues. She eventually lost to Lam Cheuk-Ting, though Leung came first in public surveys of candidate popularity.

In March, Leung was handed the U.S. Consulate Hong Kong and Macau’s 2016 Woman of Courage award for her commitment to improving the lives of trans people in the local community.

In January, a group of organisations including the Pink Alliance, the Transgender Resource Center, The Association of World Citisens, and Beyond the Boundary issued a press release urging the government working group to set a definite timetable for its consultation paper and the establishment of a gender recognition law, and to consider the legal problems faced by intersex people. Photo: Press Release

Leung told HKFP that TGR’s current focus is on pushing for legal and governmental reform, while continuing to provide necessary services to the community. In particular, the organisation highlights the need for gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation to be enacted in support of transgender individuals.

See also: Gov’t urged to speed up gender recognition legislation after death of transgender woman

Leung said that public acceptance of trans people is improving due to the work of LGBTQ organisations, but that there is still room for growth.

“Society needs to accept diverse gender identities. Society needs to change its perspective. Do not tell people what they need to do, who they need to be.”

Correction 2/8: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Leung was the current chairperson of the Pink Alliance. Leung resigned from the chairperson position in May 2017.

Jun Pang

Jun Pang is an independent writer and researcher. She has previously worked in NGOs advocating for refugees' and migrants' rights in Asia and Europe.