Hong Kong court rules trans people must undergo invasive surgery to change legal gender

Participants of Hong Kong's annual pride parade march with a giant rainbow flag

Trans people in Hong Kong cannot have their gender officially recognised on identity documents unless they undergo gender-affirming surgery, a court has ruled.

The Hong Kong Court of Appeal on Wednesday (26 January) rejected an appeal filed by Henry Tse and a person only identified as Q. The pair had filed a challenge against a High Court judgement in February 2019 which affirmed the government’s current policy that trans people can only change their gender on ID cards if they undergo full gender-affirmation surgery.

Both Tse and Q have British passports which list their gender as male. They have also both had top surgery, but neither has had full gender-affirmation surgery.

But Hong Kong’s current policy would require them, as trans people, to undergo surgical procedures which would include removal of their internal reproductive organs and the construction of “some form of a penis”, Hong Kong Free Press reported.

According to the judgment, Q was concerned about the risks that such an invasive procedure might have on him.

But the Court of Appeal said that authorities must have a “clear, definite, consistent and objective yardstick” in determining a person’s gender identity. As such, the judges said surgery would give a trans individual “clear and irreversible resemblance closest to the preferred sex”.

The judges said they were “profoundly conscious of the hardship” that the appellants faced, but they argued that these ID cards would be checked only on a “need basis”.

Q said in a statement published by his lawyer that the ruling was just a “setback” as the fight for LGBT+ rights would continue.

“This is a setback, but I take comfort from the fact that there are others before us fighting for LGBT+ rights to be recognised, who have had to appeal their cases all the way through the courts before succeeding,” Q said.

Tse, in the same statement, described the ruling as a harsh “blow” as he had endured enough “humiliation and discrimination every time I have to present my identity card”.

“I remain determined however to pursue my case to the Court of Final Appeal so that I don’t have to undergo unnecessary and degrading surgery in order to have an ID card that reflects my acquired gender,” he added.

Tse told the South Morning China Post that a bank employee once refused to believe he is a man after they noticed his identification documents still listed him as female.

“I was given two choices: either I experience this chronic torture on a day-to-day basis or acute physical torture on my body,” Tse said.

Joanne Leung, chairperson of Hong Kong’s Transgender Resource Centre, slammed the Court of Appeal’s ruling in a statement to AFP.

“The court has a very limited understanding of what sex and gender are, and still upholds a binary separation of biological sex,” Leung said.