Two Hong Kong students have sued their former schools over their bans on long hair for boys. The lawsuits came months after the city’s equality watchdog terminated investigations into the students’ complaints citing no “actual loss.”

Nathan Lam Chak-chun (right) and Wong Wing-hei outside District Court on November 15, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Nathan Lam Chak-chun (right) and Wong Wing-hei outside District Court on November 15, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Students Nathan Lam and Wong Wing-hei on Wednesday launched two separate lawsuits at the District Court against their respective secondary schools, which had banned them from having long hair before they graduated earlier this year.

The litigants, both aged 18, questioned why the ban on long hair was only applied on male students. They said they hoped the court would rule in their favour and conclude that such regulation amounted to discrimination.

The controversy over the regulation of male students’ hair emerged last July, when Lam shared a video online about a complaint he had lodged with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) against Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Wong Fut Nam College.

The school allegedly told Lam to cut his hair or risk being barred from school activities or possibly being suspended.

Nathan Lam Chak-chun
Nathan Lam. Photo: Nathan Lam Instagram screenshot.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Tang Fei of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers said at the time that it would be “major shock” for the city’s education sector if the equality watchdog upheld Lam’s complaint. He also defended the school rule, saying it was designed to reflect requirements imposed by the Education Bureau, as well as the mission and traditional values of the school’s sponsoring body.

Wong complained to the equality watchdog against Tin Shui Wai Methodist College in May 2021, around a month after he was allegedly barred from taking a test over the length of his hair. He said he was subsequently barred from attending lessons and was sent to a medical room from which he watched a livestream of his classes on a mobile phone.

The school had completely neglected his special educational needs through the remote learning arrangements, which continued for around three months, Wong said. The student, who has autism and ADHD, added it was very difficult for him to blend in with his schoolmates afterwards and he fell far behind in terms of study progress.

The equality watchdog terminated its probes into both complaints in March, after it found no information that showed the schools had violated any laws and the incidents did not cause any “actual loss” to the students.

Equal Opportunities Commission EOC
Equal Opportunities Commission. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“It seemed the only effective way to resolve this citywide issue was to take it to court,” Lam told the press in Cantonese outside the District Court on Wednesday.

Lam and Wong said they had received around 100 messages on social media from other secondary school students who claimed they had been forced or pressured to cut their hair. Some teachers had allegedly cut student’s hair at school, which Wong described as a “very disrespectful” move.

“You’ll see that teachers would use their authority to make students grow in the way they prefer, without actually paying attention to the fact that each of us is different,” Wong said.

Wong and Lam estimated the civil proceedings may take up to two years, and although they had applied for legal aid in March, they were currently without representation. If the court dismissed their cases and ordered them to cover the legal fees of the schools, they may “go bankrupt,” the students said.

Both cases will be heard on January 29 next year.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.