Legislator Ray Chan has slammed 21-year-old school sex education guidelines which classify transgender identity under “abnormal” sexual practices alongside cross-dressing, flashing and voyeuristic behaviour.

The Legislative Council’s Panel on Education met on Friday morning to discuss sex education and the handling of sexual harassment in schools. Chan said that transgender issues relate to gender recognition and are not a matter of “personal choice.” Such classifications appear to label it as something that is bad, he said.

The guidelines have not been updated for 21 years, according to Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong. According to the Education Bureau, they are designed for reference in the implementation of sex education and “should not be regarded as a curriculum guide.” However, no new guidelines have been published since the 1997 document to replace or update its content.

Ray Chan. File photo: In-Media.

“There’s a need to review this. Any guidelines – [even if] for reference purposes only – should not have such biased elements,” Chan said.

Asked by Chan whether the guidelines can be withdrawn altogether, Undersecretary for Education Choi Yuk-lin said they were merely a “historical document” and will not be deleted. Choi said that the curriculum has since been reformed and the emphasis is now on cross-curriculum programmes in civic education – under which sex education is taught.

‘Controversial’ topics

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung also questioned whether teachers would be “forced” to teach “controversial” issues on sex and gender education which -according to the document supplied by the Education Bureau – include same-sex marriage, gender recognition and gender identity of transgender people.

Leung said, traditionally, gender equality only referred to “equality between male and female” and this is protected by the law. Leung also that the freedom of religious belief is guaranteed under Basic Law Article 141.

Leung said teaching institutions have approached her for assistance, as there are parents who have challenged their “long-standing beliefs” in areas of moral education in schools and the hiring of teachers.

“Are you trying to intrude into these very excellent schools… and make them follow certain practices that are not covered by the law, unlike the sexual equality ordinance [sic]?” Leung said, referring to the sex discrimination ordinance which prevents gender discrimination. She added that the Education Bureau should not cave in to pressure.

Edward Lau Kwok-fun. File Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Pro-Beijing DAB lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fun said that he believed young people were experiencing information overload in terms of sex education, and the question is how the school could assist them in sorting the information and steering the students in the right direction.

Lau also questioned the ability of teachers to provide sex education. “Maybe some teachers have never dated before, and they have no experience… how do they teach it?”

Lau said that the Education Bureau and schools may need to seek the assistance of experts in preparing teaching materials and groups experienced in the subject, so as to alleviate the pressure on teachers.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.