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Hong Kong’s trans activists score landmark ID card victory – Asia Pacific News News – Report by AFR

Hong Kong’s top court ruled on Monday that transgender people can change the sex marked on their identification cards without undergoing surgery, a landmark victory for LGBTQ equality.

Activists have long criticised the Chinese financial hub as failing to address discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.

Under the outgoing policy, Hong Kong’s ID cards display the sex assigned to a person at birth, unless the person medically transitions with a gender confirmation surgery. 

Henry Tse, one of the activists who filed the legal challenge in 2017, said transgender people were “prohibited from full participation in life” due to this policy, which can also cause safety concerns.

“We are outed every time we present our ID,” Tse told AFP before the ruling.

The requirements around changing the IDs effectively coerced trans people into undergoing expensive and invasive medical procedures despite health risks, he added.

In its ruling, the Court of Final Appeal agreed, finding the surgery requirement unconstitutional, saying it imposed “an unacceptably harsh burden on the individuals concerned”.

The government had defended its policy as helping prevent “practical issues” in the provision of sex-specific services, including law enforcement, emergency response, social services and bathroom access.

“This is a sensitive matter, involving not only the rights of trans people but also of others and public interest,” lawyer Monica Carss-Frisk told the court last month.

Freely allowing trans people to change their sex identifier on ID cards could lead to “arbitrariness and inconsistency”, she added.

British lawyer David Pannick, representing the activists, had argued that the inability to change their IDs caused transgender people “regular humiliation, loss of dignity and distress because it requires them to disclose a most intimate aspect of their private life”.

In 2021, more than half of 234 transgender people surveyed by the Chinese University of Hong Kong said they faced discrimination, with many reporting symptoms of depression.

Hong Kong activists have long argued for self-declared sex markers on identification cards, with the push gaining traction after legal changes in Taiwan, Argentina and other places. 

Transgender rights were last debated at Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal nearly a decade ago, with judges affirming the right of transgender people who have undergone surgery to marry.

But little progress has been made since then to change the city’s laws to further protect transgender rights.

“The lawsuit’s favourable outcome would solve the burning issues I encounter due to possessing the wrong ID,” Tse wrote in a statement shared after the verdict.

“We are still far away from trans equality,” he added, however.

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