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City Weekend

Hong Kong transgender centre seeks to make the ‘invisible’ visible

Organisation that gives crucial information for people not recognised by law finally finds a home after nearly 10 years

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 February, 2018, 8:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 11:46am

Sandwiched between a fishball street stall and a cha chaan teng, or local teahouse, in an old neighbourhood in Hong Kong, a distinctive rainbow flag stands out.

After almost 10 years of being “invisible” in society because of a lack of resources to set up a permanent venue, non-profit Transgender Resource Centre has finally opened its door in a city where transgender people have yet to be recognised legally.

“It’s really important to be visible in society,” says its founder and chairwoman Joanne Leung Wing-yan, while standing at the entrance of the two-storey centre and handing out promotion pamphlets entitled The Book of Transgender in Hong Kong.

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“We are giving people a chance to know more about the transgender community so it doesn’t really matter whether they support or disagree.”

Leung, who was born a boy and later underwent a sex-change surgery, first set up the group in July 2008 with an aim to raise awareness by organising social events and providing counselling services to the city’s transgender men and women and their families.

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The group did not have a fixed venue until December last year, when a space became available in Whampoa, Kowloon.

Leung, 54, says that is because the centre was originally a psychiatric clinic run by her friend and psychiatrist Dr Gregory Mak Kai-lok.

“I’m glad to see Transgender Resources Centre continue its operation in the new space,” Mak was quoted as saying on the centre’s website. “I hope by having a transgender community centre within the community, more people would learn to understand the trans people and discard their prejudices.”

It’s really important to be visible in society
Joanne Leung

Mak is subletting the space to Leung, charging her only a token rent of HK$1 and paying the rest himself as a way to support her cause. Leung would not reveal the exact amount.

Leung says her centre relies on private donations and has 10 regular volunteers. She also works as a part-time programme specialist at a US legal association responsible for organising events to promote the trans community.

Another goal of her centre is to let transgender people access medical and legal information more easily. She says the transgender community is reluctant to share information with each other.

She recalls she once needed help finding transitioning medication and a doctor’s letter to identify her as a woman to allow her to use the ladies’ bathroom, as some transgender people are reluctant to share such information.

“It’s the atmosphere within the community – they are not very keen on sharing information,” Leung says. “I think that’s because they have been receiving lots of pressure from society, and it’s harder for them to build trust with others.”

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A 2016 study by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that more than half of Hongkongers are in favour of anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people.

Leung says society has become more accepting towards transgender people over the past decade, and she is confident that this positive attitude will spread.