Hong Kong's top court makes landmark ruling protecting transgender rights

The Court of Final Appeal on Monday ruled that the policy of barring transgender people from changing their gender shown on Hong Kong Identity Cards unless they undergo full sex reassignment surgery violates their rights and is unconstitutional.

A panel of five judges unanimously sided with appeals launched by transgender activists Henry Tse and another appellant identified as "Q" and quashed the Commissioner of Registration's decision to refuse their applications to change their gender on their ID cards.

Thirty-one-year-old Tse and thirty-year-old Q were both diagnosed with gender identity disorder. Tse, 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.

Tse and Q underwent lengthy medical and surgical treatments, including hormonal therapy and the removal of breasts. However, the registrar still required them to conduct a full sex reassignment surgery, which the pair argued was unnecessary, unwanted, and highly invasive.

"The policy's consequence is to place persons like the appellants 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," the judges wrote in their judgment.

"Clearly this does not reflect a reasonable balance. The Policy imposes an unacceptably harsh burden on the individuals concerned."

Tse welcomed the judgment as it would solve the issues he encountered due to possessing a wrong ID, and he called for a gender recognition law. "Today's result is delayed justice, a Pyrrhic victory."

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 the 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.

"We are still far away from trans equality," Tse added.