Let transgender people have status recognised without undergoing sex reassignment surgery, Hong Kong equality watchdog urges

In submission to government, Equal Opportunities Commission also proposes system based on statutory declaration

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 11:46am

Hong Kong’s equality watchdog has urged the city’s government to recognise the legal status of transgender people without them having to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

In a potentially controversial move, the Equal Opportunities Commission also proposed that transgender people should be recognised as long as they had made a “statutory declaration that he or she intends to live permanently in his or her affirmed gender”.

The commission’s proposal was in sharp contrast to the views of some local Christian leaders, who suggested that discriminatory issues faced by transgender people could be resolved with social policies and facilities such as gender-neutral toilets, rather than legislation as demanded by LGBT activists.

The government organised a public consultation from June to December last year over the issue of legal recognition for transgender people, to which it had 15,000 responses. The consultation was prompted by a 2013 case in which the top court granted a transgender woman the right to marry her boyfriend. Since the ruling, transgender people who have undergone sex reassignment surgery have been able to get married. But academics say their status remains unclear on other issues such as housing and insurance.

The commission publicised its submission to the government on Tuesday.

Highlighting its key points in a statement, the commission said “comprehensive gender recognition legislation” was necessary.

EOC chairperson Professor Alfred Chan Cheung-ming said that the government’s working group “should not be [consulting] on whether a gender recognition scheme should be introduced in Hong Kong but rather what kind of gender recognition scheme should be adopted”.

The government currently issues new identity cards to transgender people only if they have had surgery to remove their genitals and construct new organs.

The commission said the requirement should be removed, and “there should be no requirement for medical diagnosis” for transgender people to be recognised.

It argued that the move would be “in line with” international developments such as the World Health Organisation’s recognition that trangenderism is not a sickness.

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The commission proposed that for a transgender person to be legally recognised, he or she would mainly rely on “a statutory declaration … from a medical practitioner or psychologist confirming that [he or she] has been receiving appropriate treatment in relation to changing gender”, or living under their affirmed gender for at least several months.

To avoid abuse of the new system, the commission said, the person concerned might also be required to make an additional statutory declaration that he or she intended to live permanently under his or her affirmed gender.

The commission’s proposal echoed minority groups’ demand for Hong Kong to follow in Britain’s footsteps and pass a Gender Recognition Act, under which a judicial panel would issue recognition certificates if applicants fulfilled criteria such as being clinically assessed on their perceived gender.

Chan also urged the government to announce its decision on the issue and the next steps “for introducing a gender recognition scheme as soon as possible”.

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Separately, the Society for Truth and Light, a Christian group that opposes gender recognition legislation, also unveiled its submission to the government on its website on Tuesday.

Choi Chi-sum, general secretary of the society, said it was “deeply regrettable that the commission’s recommendations were more radical than” those of minority groups.

“A lot of confusion will be caused if a transgender person can be recognised without medical diagnosis or surgery,” he said.

Choi added that as a publicly funded body, the commission should “not be going beyond its responsibilities in advocating radical reforms”.

The society maintained that transgender people should continue to be required to complete their sex reassignment surgery in order to be recognised. This would help protect “social stability” and moral values, it added.

The society also dismissed the idea that Hong Kong should “follow the international trend” in relying on declarations, rather than surgery, when recognising transgender people. Such a trend was “bad” for Hong Kong, it argued, as the concept of gender would become vague and subjective.