Hong Kong high court passes landmark gender recognition ruling

The highest court in Hong Kong established that full gender affirmation surgery should not be a requirement for legal gender recognition.

Flag of Hong Kong, where the highest court passed a landmark gender recognition ruling.
Image: Via Shutterstock - Evannovostro

On Monday, February 6, the highest court in Hong Kong ruled that the country’s policy on legal gender recognition was in breach of trans people’s rights. With this ruling, the court established that the government can no longer impose full gender affirmation surgery as a requirement to change one’s own legal gender.

The landmark ruling is the result of a years-long legal battle brought by Henry Edward Tse, a trans man who, together with two other men identified as “Q” and “R”, in 2019 challenged a decision taken by the Commissioner of Registration that refused to review their gender status on their Hong Kong identity cards.

Their appeal was rejected by two lower courts in 2019 and 2022 that sided with the government and ruled that a trans person is required to undergo full gender affirmation surgery in order to amend their gender marker on legal documents.

The case finally came before Hong Kong’s top court, the Court of Final Appeal, last month. With a written ruling, the court established that the legal gender recognition policy in the country violated people’s constitutional rights to privacy under the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

The court judged that such policy posed a disproportionate limit to the appellants’ rights because it placed them “in the dilemma of having to choose whether to suffer regular violations of their privacy rights or to undergo highly invasive and medically unnecessary surgery, infringing their right to bodily integrity.”

Activists in the country welcomed the news saying that this ruling represents a positive starting point for future debates on trans rights in Hong Kong. However, they are calling for crucial gender recognition legislation as the next step to effectively protect the rights of trans people.

Henry Edward Tse, the man who brought the case forward, celebrated the victory, saying, “Much like myself, many trans folks in Hong Kong Kong, especially my friends who are trans men, have been longing for today’s final victory for years”.

“We all dreamt that we will not be outed by our ID cards anymore, that we will no longer be rejected to cross borders and come back to Hong Kong, our home, and be stripped of our rights to marry and establish a family with the opposite sex. In every aspect of everyday life, our dignity has been damaged,” Tse continued. “This case should never have happened in the first place.”

On the day after this ruling was passed, Wales also announced changes in their policies for the protection of trans rights with the launch of their LGBTQ+ Action Plan. Following Scotland’s lead, the plan includes policy changes that will make it easier for trans people to have their preferred gender recognised in legal documents.

Deputy Minister for Social Partnership in Wales, Hannah Blythyn, commented on the plan by saying: “We have come a long way in the past few decades, but we cannot be complacent. Progress can and never should be taken for granted. LGBTQ+ communities remain under attack, with our hard-fought-for rights at risk of being rolled back around the world, including here in the UK.”

Blythyn added, “The plan is ambitious but with hope at its heart. We are absolutely committed to meaningful change for LGBTQ+ communities, creating a society and country where LGBTQ+ people are safe to live and love authentically, openly and freely as ourselves.”

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