Societal misunderstandings may mean that transgender people will continue to suffer even if a gender recognition scheme is introduced, lawmaker Ray Chan has said.

The Legislative Council held a public consultation on gender recognition legislation on Monday, in which over 60 groups and individuals gave their views on a consultation paper issued by the Interdepartmental Working Group on Gender Recognition. The group is studying whether a gender recognition scheme should be introduced in Hong Kong, though one lawmaker claimed there was “no such thing” as a sex change.

The consultation was set up in January 2014 after the Court of Final Appeal asked the government to consider how to address problems faced by transsexual people in Hong Kong – in all legal contexts – following a key 2013 court decision.

In the “W” case, the city’s top court found that the Hong Kong government’s refusal to let a transsexual woman marry her boyfriend was unconstitutional. The woman had undergone sex reassignment surgery though her birth certificate stated she was male. The court left the legislature to decide whether new laws should be enacted in the wake of the ruling.

Ray Chan said that many of the deputations at Monday’s hearing were filled with “misconceptions, discrimination, exaggeration, and inaccuracies, fear and even hatred.” He said that some speakers – including lawmaker Shiu Ka-fai – mistakenly conflated the issue of gender identity with homosexuality.

‘No such thing’

One of the Liberal Party’s district councillors, Dominic Lee, expressed concerns that such legislation would threaten Hong Kong’s one-man-one-woman definition of marriage.

He also told the working group that there was “no such thing as a real sex change,” as reassignment surgery cannot change someone’s DNA or allow them to reproduce using a different set of reproductive organs.

Dominic Lee. Photo: Screenshot/LegCo.

He argued that gender dysphoria was an illness and that transgender people should receive psychological treatment rather than legal recognition: “When there is no way to change the gender of these people, why should we establish these gender recognition systems to lie to ourselves, and lie to others?”

Lee received a round of applause after his remarks, however – over recent decades – many medical institutions have shifted away from designating trans people as having a mental illness.

At a protest before the hearing, Lee told HKFP: “When the government is taking a look at the legislation and forming policies we have to make a balance between human rights as well as the values of society… And I think Hong Kong is quite a conservative place, and so at this point to make any sort of big changes that contradict our core values, our moral values, will not be suitable.”

He also claimed that hormone treatments lead to psychological problems, and said post-op transgender people were 20 times more likely to commit suicide – using statistics from a commonly misinterpreted study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

Photo: Dan Garrett

Peter Shiu, also of the Liberal Party, said that he had many gay friends, but said parents and religious organisations were concerned about encountering trans people in bathrooms and changing rooms.

Gloria Mok of God’s Glory Ministry Ltd claimed that many transgender people abroad end up committing suicide and that they should learn to love themselves as they are: “Really, the only ultimate solution is to accept that you are either born male or female, then you stick with it. Why do you bother to change it?” She told the hearing that “the entire society will have to pay a price” if legislation is introduced. Mok

‘Prejudice, discrimination’

Ray Chan urged the working group to take comments seriously as – even with legislation – transgender people still face a difficult time in society: “Everyone asked: why is it that, after gender recognition laws were established in other countries, there are still people committing suicide? It’s because these prejudices, discrimination, and hate cause even those who undergo a sex change to continue to have a tough time.”

In an AM730 column on Wednesday, Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung responded to misconceptions expressed by some participants at the hearing.

Alvin Yeung. File photo: In-Media.

He said some mistakenly believed that laws allowing transgender people to receive legal recognition would result in a “trivial process.”

He said that these comments were unfair, as Hong Kong would use British laws as a reference, and according to those, applicants must have lived for one to two years as their chosen gender in order to apply. The UK also has groups of experts including doctors, psychologists, lawyers and other professionals handling each case.

“If Hong Kong is to legislate, it will use the UK system as a reference, and the application process is absolutely not trivial. Transgender people already experience emotional disturbance due to their mismatched minds and bodies, so why should we increase their pain with misunderstanding and discrimination?”


Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.