Dreams of ‘normal life’ fuel trans activist struggle in Hong Kong

HONG KONG: Marked as “female” on his Hong Kong ID card, trans activist Henry Tse waged an arduous legal battle to have his true gender recognized.

Six years later, he won the case in the city’s high court to change his gender marker to “male” – a victory he hopes will help make life easier for Hong Kong’s transgender community as a whole .

“I had no choice,” Tse told AFP of his lawsuit, which he was pursuing with another trans man identified as Q by the court.

“[My]ID says ‘female’, which is clearly different from my actual gender identity, that’s wrong. If you carry a card like that, even if all the other information on it is correct, people won’t believe it’s me.”

He was frequently rejected and humiliated when trying to complete simple tasks like checking into a hotel or going to the gym. All he wanted was a “normal life”.

Tse knew his fight for recognition would be tough, but he never thought it would take so long.

Q told AFP the win felt like “achieving an impossible mission.”

“We just want the same rights as everyone else and fight for our dignity,” he said.

– “Restricted scope” –

Until now, trans adults in Hong Kong could only change their IDs by proving they had undergone surgery to alter their genitals.

In its Feb. 6 ruling, the final appeals court found that transgender people had to undergo surgery to change their identity cards, saying it placed “an unacceptably heavy burden” on Tse and Q.

After Tse and Q’s victory, the government security office said it would “seek legal advice for follow-up action.”

Hong Kong has no general gender identity legislation, and a government task force set up in 2017 has yet to issue an update.

Human Rights Watch said the recent ruling was “of limited scope.”

Still, the ruling sends “a strong message” for authorities to “reform Hong Kong’s outdated criteria for legal recognition of trans people.”

Dozens of countries have enacted gender identity laws, with some — including Argentina, Denmark and Spain — allowing transitions to be legally recognized without psychological or medical evaluation.

In Taiwan, a trans woman took her ID dispute to court and won in 2021.

But her victory has yet to translate into a policy change applicable to other trans people.

In mainland China, transgender people can change their legal gender after undergoing surgery, although many restrictions apply – including that the person must be over 18, unmarried and provide proof that they have informed their families.

In Hong Kong, some fear Beijing’s crackdown on the opposition is jeopardizing further progress towards LGBTQ equality.

Many of the city’s most prominent rights activists and its only openly gay lawmaker were arrested, leaving few advocates in the halls of power.

– ‘Can’t live a normal life’ –

In 2021, a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found alarming levels of social exclusion among transgender respondents in the city, with half reporting discrimination and 77 percent saying they had considered suicide.

Growing up, Tse attended an all-girls Christian school, which required students to wear traditional cheongsam dresses, advised them to grow their hair long, and called anything other than heterosexuality “unnatural.”

His family “felt my gender imbalance was a disease.”

While studying at Britain’s University of Warwick, Tse was able to explore his identity.

When he returned to Hong Kong in 2017, he faced routine trouble because his ID card identified him as a woman.

“I get outed every time I show my ID,” he said.

At a gym, he was barred from using the locker rooms, while a gender-segregated dorm turned him away.

“Of course I was supposed to go to the men’s room, but they were afraid that something would happen, but actually nothing would happen,” he said.

“If (my ID card) causes so many everyday problems and unequal treatment, I cannot live a normal life like everyone else in Hong Kong,” he added.

– ‘The best years of my youth’ –

In 2017, Tse went to court to demand that his gender be stated on his ID card.

For nearly six years he attended hearings and held rallies while judges, attorneys and newspapers analyzed the most intimate details of his life and biology.

“I was mentally prepared to fight to the end but I never thought it would take this long,” he said.

“It took me time, effort, money, the best years of my youth.”

His struggle inspired him to start an NGO in 2020 to fight for trans rights in Hong Kong.

Tse has vowed to continue raising public awareness and fighting social stigma.

Everyone must know “that we are normal people,” he said.

“We are your friends and colleagues. We just want to live, work and get married in Hong Kong.” –AFP

https://www.thesundaily.my/home/dreams-of-normal-life-fuel-hong-kong-trans-activist-s-fight-IH10716934 Dreams of ‘normal life’ fuel trans activist struggle in Hong Kong

Russell Falcon

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