HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s highest court ruled on Monday that full sex reassignment surgery should not be a condition for transgender people to have their gender changed on their official identity card, in a move likely to have far-reaching consequences for the transgender community.
A transgender activist, Henry Edward Tse, and a person identified only as Q, filed an appeal in court last month over the government’s refusal to change the genders on their identity cards over their decision not to undergo full sex reassignment surgery.
Tse and Q are both transgender men who have had their breasts removed, undergone hormonal treatments, and have lived their lives as men with professional support and counseling, as well as psychiatric treatment.
The Court of Final Appeal’s ruling is expected to have a broad impact on the LGBTQ community, as many of its transgender members consider the surgery unnecessary and risky.
The two went to court because existing government policy allows transgender people to change their official gender only if they have removed their wombs and ovaries and constructed male genitalia. Only those who cannot undergo the surgical procedures for medical reasons can be exempted.
Both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal rejected the judicial review brought by Tse and Q. The two were allowed to go to the Court of Final Appeal.
In a verdict made public on Monday, the court said the government’s policy was unconstitutional and imposed an “unacceptably harsh burden”. They also said the policy was “disproportionate” in encroaching on the two’s rights to gender identity and physical integrity.
The judges also said that any administrative issues that usually arise often relate to the appearance of a transgender person and not the appearance of their genitals, and that leaving the gender unchanged on their identity card “caused more confusion or embarrassment”.
Tse welcomed the ruling and said that many transgender people have longed for a “final victory” for years.
“Now that I have a male ID card, it will be a lot easier for me to access gender-segregated spaces,” he said. “I wouldn’t be questioned and humiliated by being exposed by my ID that doesn’t match who I am.”
Liam Mak, co-founder and president of local transgender youth organization Quarks, described the win as a “significant milestone” for Hong Kong’s transgender community.
“We believe that the gender identity of yourself should not be tied to medical intervention, we should ensure minimal to no medical intervention in the policy,” said Mak. “Given that each individual has different preferences or decisions in their own gender transition journey, I hope the government will refer to the court’s advice to protect the rights of all transgender people.”