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Hong Kong trans activist’s fight for a normal life

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Identified as “female” on his Hong Kong ID, trans activist Henry Tse waged an arduous legal battle to have his real gender recognised.

Henry Tse

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

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

“(My) ID card says ‘female,’ which is clearly different from my real gender identity, it’s wrong. Carrying such a card, even if all other information on it is correct… people won’t believe it is me.”

Frequently facing rejection and humiliation 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 imagined it would be so long.

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

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

Until now, trans adults in Hong Kong could only change their IDs by proving they had had an operation to alter their genitalia.

In its February 6 verdict, the Court of Final Appeal found requiring transgender people to undergo surgery to change their IDs

unconstitutional, saying it imposed “an unacceptably harsh burden” on Tse and Q.

Following Tse and Q’s victory, the government’s Security Bureau said it would “seek legal advice on follow-up actions.”

Hong Kong does not have any overall legislation on gender identity, and a government task force set up in 2017 has yet to issue an update.

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

Still, the verdict sends “a strong message” to the authorities to “reform Hong Kong’s outdated criteria for legally recognising trans people.”

Dozens of countries have adopted laws around gender identity, with some—including Argentina, Denmark, and Spain—allowing legal recognition of transitions without a psychological or medical assessment.

In Taiwan, a trans woman took her ID card battle 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, though many limitations apply – including that the person must be over 18, unmarried and produce proof they have informed their families.

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

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

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