Sex research academic claims HKU censorship

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am


An academic who specialises in sexuality and gender research has accused the University of Hong Kong of censoring his work by refusing to extend his contract when he turns 60 next month.

Dr Sam Winter, an associate professor in the faculty of education, said its human resources committee had decided not to continue his contract as a full-time researcher because it claimed it was not in the best interests of the university.

'It's such an obvious case of academic victimisation,' he said.

'They want to see this sort of work no longer happening so you get rid of me, you get rid of the subject.'

Winter, who recently wrote a report for the United Nations on transgender health issues and has more than a decade of expertise in the area, said he had been offered a part-time teaching role but the new contract did not cover research.

'I will no longer be paid to do research or community engagement in Hong Kong, the region or on an international basis,' he said.

But Winter said that he would continue his research 'with increased energy'.

Winter has been employed at the university for 28 years, the past 12 years in the area of sexual health, rights, values and diversity.

He is also the sole board member representing Asia on the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and advises the World Health Organisation on diagnostic reform in the area of sexual health and disorders.

More than 800 people have signed an online petition to save Winter's position at the university, including business administration student Gigi Choy.

The 21-year-old took Winter's Sexuality and Gender: Diversity and Society class last September and said it was important to offer such subjects. 'In high school, we don't have formal sex education so it's important to have a course like this at university,' she said.

The course was so popular that she missed out in her first year. So when applications opened in the second year, Choy said she woke up early that morning to register online in order to secure a spot.

'It's very popular and you can't find a course like this at any other university in Hong Kong,' she said.

Winter said the recent tour success of Lady Gaga - renowned for her sexually explicit and ambiguous performances - in Hong Kong reflected a shift in attitudes by the public towards sexual minorities.

'Lady Gaga is a great advocate of sexual and gender minority issues and it doesn't seem to in any way to have lessened her popularity here,' Winter said, estimating that one in every 300 people in Hong Kong were transgender.

A spokeswoman for HKU said the decision to stop Winter's contract was 'completely unrelated' to his areas of teaching and research.

She said the university was 'very positive and forthcoming for transgender research and teaching'.

'The overriding consideration behind whether or not an extension should be offered is whether it is in the university's best interests to retain the appointee's services,' she said, referring to the university's rules.

Transgender issues in Hong Kong came into the spotlight last year after a landmark case involving a transsexual woman who wanted to marry her boyfriend but was not allowed to because she could not change her sex on her birth certificate.