EOC to push for change on transgender rights

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 December, 2010, 12:00am

The equal opportunities watchdog has vowed to do all it can to help speed up the introduction of legislation to fight discrimination towards the city's transgender and intersex community.

Lam Woon-kwong, Equal Opportunities Commission chairman, made the pledge yesterday as a guest speaker during the 'Challenging Gender, Gender Challenges' lectures at the University of Hong Kong. The symposium discussed medical, cultural, religious and legal issues related to gender and transgender people.

A transsexual is someone who is born one sex but feels they belong to the other sex. In October, a transgender woman lost her legal challenge to get married in Hong Kong in one of the most high-profile cases of its kind in the city. The transsexual, known as W, took the government to court because she could not marry her boyfriend under Hong Kong law.

From 2005 to 2008 she underwent the procedures necessary to change her gender. But last year the Registrar of Marriages ruled she could not marry her boyfriend. This is because her birth certificate - which cannot be changed under the law - still shows her to be a man.

Same-sex marriages are illegal in Hong Kong, so W can only legally marry a woman. While the city prohibits marriage by someone who has acquired a new gender, the practice is legal on the mainland. Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan already allow such marriages, as do Australia, New Zealand, most European countries, including Britain, and many states and provinces in the United States and Canada.

Lam could not comment on the W case as the ruling is under appeal, but in a question-and-answer session after the lecture, he said he had no problem with transgender unions.

'I truly believe in the values of non-discrimination and that must mean respect for the individual freedom and rights of a human being, whoever they may be,' he said. 'Acting on this premise, I can't see any reason why anyone with these values would object to the marriage of a transgender person in Hong Kong.'

Lam said the commission would push the government to consult the public on the broader issue of transgender rights. 'We do advocate respect for individuals' rights. Since this small community is facing problems and feels helpless at times, we firmly support the bringing in of any special legislation by the government to help these people fight discrimination.

'We don't have the power to bring about new legislation ourselves, but that is why I am here speaking today on this subject - to bring these issues to people's attention.

'The speed in which this type of legislation is brought in varies in different countries - here in Asia we are still pretty conservative. But once a government has the willpower to protect the human rights of the community, no matter how small that community is, then change will always take place.'