Draft law to define who is transgender is expected to provoke debate

Full sex change surgery would be required for legal recognition

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 5:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 10:11am

The government is poised to stoke a public debate on whether transgender people unwilling to undergo full sex-change surgery should have the same rights as "post-operative" transsexuals.

On Friday, the Security Bureau published a bill to amend the city's marriage ordinance - the first concrete action taken since last year's landmark Court of Final Appeal ruling granted a male-to-female transgender person known only as W the right to wed her boyfriend.

If passed, the bill would enshrine in law a pre-existing government policy that transgender people must undergo surgery to remove their genitals and construct new ones before they can qualify for legal recognition of their sex reassignment.

"I am surprised they are doing this, because it flies in the face of indications by the city's highest court as to how the matter should be dealt with," said Michael Vidler, lawyer for W.

"The judgment made it clear that Hong Kong's policies should be reviewed with an aim to comply with international human-rights standards, and to use the British Gender Recognition Act as a model," he said. Britain does not require surgery and in 2004 set up a panel of legal and medical experts to hear applications and grant legal recognition on a case-by-case basis.

W's ability to marry her boyfriend would not be affected by the proposed law because she underwent full sex-reassignment surgery in 2008. Others, however, are reluctant to undergo such invasive surgery.

"I have heard of many cases of botched surgeries in Hong Kong. But despite the risks, transgender people feel pressured to get the surgery anyway," said Kaspar Wan, a 35-year-old transgender man. "It amounts to forced sterilisation."

The Court of Final Appeal had expressed concern that using surgery as a basis for recognition might produce an "undesirable coercive effect on persons who would not otherwise be inclined to undergo the surgery".

The judgment described Britain's system as a "compelling model" for Hong Kong.

But a Security Bureau spokesman said the bill was in accordance with court orders because the judgment had "left open the question of whether transsexual persons who have undergone less extensive treatment might also qualify in law to be entitled to be included as a person in the reassigned sex".

Ahead of a Legislative Council debate on March 19, lawmaker Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said she supported the bill. "Hong Kong is not a Western society and should not follow Britain's model, as this would lead to social chaos," she said.

Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of People Power said: "The bill is so restrictive that I'm concerned it would create more problems than it would solve."

Lawmaker Charles Mok said the government should draft a comprehensive gender-recognition ordinance.



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