Tolerance the key word on sexual orientation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am
 

The government's view seems quite clear: if you are biologically born a male, then you cannot marry a man, even if you have had a sex-change operation. Indeed, so determined are authorities to prevent W, a transsexual who is fighting in court for the right to marry her boyfriend, that they have brought in a Queen's Counsel from London to fight their case.

Their argument is that to let her do so amounts to giving the green light to same-sex marriages. It is an argument that has been made elsewhere, and now a Hong Kong court will have to grapple with the issue as well. Following the government's line in theory - and in practice, as we report today - a transsexual woman like W could marry a woman, but not a man. So much for trying to stem same-sex marriages.

But it is not just the logic of this case that seems confusing; it is the government's position as well. Or, in this case, the government's positions. W's sex-change operation and after-surgery care were carried out at a public hospital, just as happened with 28 other people between 2000 and 2009. There has been no objection to her identity card being changed to show that she is a woman; similarly, numerous other documents, including school reports, have also been changed. So there does not seem to be any official objection to sex-change operations, or the resulting changes in other policies and documents.

Except to her getting married. It seems like a classic case of one part of the government pursuing different policies from another.

Reasonable people can differ about the causes of transsexualism. But what should not be at issue is how people with different sexualities are treated. The Basic Law and Bill of Rights guarantees them the same as every other member of society: dignity, equality and respect.

How many people in Hong Kong face the same problem as W is unknown. The stigma attached to those who are unable to identify with the sex that they were born with, who change their sex, who cross-dress and whose sexual orientation is not typical means that secrecy is the most likely option. That also used to be the situation for single parents, but society has moved on. In our enlightened age, there is no reason why this should not apply to transsexuals, gays and lesbians.

Society is not so accepting, though. In Hong Kong, as elsewhere, people who choose to live a life that is different from that of their sex can face discrimination. Most often this is in the workplace, where few legal protections apply. Those unable to find a job are forced into poverty and dependence on social welfare.

They are prone to be the target of hate crimes. Verbal abuse, harassment and acts of physical and sexual abuse are not unheard of. Such possibilities lead many to keep their differences private. That is not good for the mental state of transsexuals and transgenderists - studies in Europe and North America show that 50 per cent take their own lives before the age of 30.

Our laws should reflect our proclaimed tolerance. The protections that apply to society should be extended to all minorities to cover every circumstance and situation. All parts of the government have to speak with the same voice, using the same rules. Sexual orientation, appearance and gender should not be excluded.

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