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Hong Kong to debate recognition of 'non-operative' transgender people

If passed, a new bill would enshrine in law a pre-existing government policy that transgender people must undergo full gender reassignment surgery to change their legal gender

Should transgender people unwilling to undergo full gender reassignment surgery have the same rights as 'post-operative' transsexuals?

That is the question before the public and lawmakers in Hong Kong after the Security Bureau on Friday published a proposed bill to amend the city's marriage ordinance.

Hong Kong law currently allows a transgender person who has undergone gender reassignment surgery to change their gender status in legal documents such as the identity card and passport, but not the birth certificate.

The proposed bill follows the Court of Final Appeal ruling last year which granted a transgender woman – known only as W in media reports – the right to marry her boyfriend.

The South China Morning Post quoted a Security Bureau spokesman as saying that the bill was in accordance with court orders because the judgment had 'left open the question of whether transsexual persons who have undergone less extensive treatment might also qualify in law to be entitled to be included as a person in the reassigned sex'.

If passed, the bill would enshrine in law a current government policy that transgender people must undergo full gender reassignment surgery to change their gender status legally.

Lawyer Michael Vidler, who respresents W, says his client’s ability to marry her boyfriend would not be affected by the proposed law because she had undergone full gender reassignment surgery in 2008.

'The judgment made it clear that Hong Kong's policies should be reviewed with an aim to comply with international human-rights standards, and to use the British Gender Recognition Act as a model,' he said in the Post.

The Court of Final Appeal last year described Britain's system as a ‘compelling model’ for Hong Kong, and expressed concern that using surgery as a basis for recognition might produce an 'undesirable coercive effect on persons who would not otherwise be inclined to undergo the surgery'.

The Post reports that Britain does not require surgery and in 2004 set up a panel of legal and medical experts to hear applications and grant legal recognition on a case-by-case basis.

Few countries in the world including Germany and Spain require transgender people to undergo partial or full gender reassignment surgery to have their gender recognized.

Some transgender people do not desire to alter their bodies while others are reluctant to undertake the risks of complicated surgeries which will render them permanently infertile.

The Legislative Council will debate the issue on March 19. 

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