Despite its preeminence as one of the banking hubs of the world, Hong Kong still lags behind when it comes to the rights of its transgender community, continuing to categorize gender identity disorder as a mental health condition.
According to Dr York Chow, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, a significant number of transgenders face outright discrimination, loss of employment and other humiliations in their daily lives.
However, the Equal Opportunities Commission can address discrimination complaints from the victims only under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance since gender identity disorder is regarded as a mental health condition.
In a commentary in the South China Morning Post, the official has urged for legislation to protect against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
A survey in 2012 found nearly one in four respondents not ready to accept transgenders. Nearly 40 per cent felt the community suffered from social stigma and insults.
A whopping 77 per cent did not know what “transgender” meant.
Chow says the public lack of awareness is partly due to the community’s relatively small size and invisibility.
There are no concise figures about the strength of the transgender population in Hong Kong. Between October 2007 and September 2009, 86 patients were diagnosed with gender identity disorder.
The number of transgenders is likely to be under-reported, not just in Hong Kong but worldwide, due to fear of social stigma and discrimination.
In May, the campaign for gay rights received a boost with the court allowing a transsexual, who had undergone surgery for a female identity, the right to be recognized as a woman and marry the man she wanted to.
The court also ruled that the government should begin to address the process of recognizing a person’s acquired gender.
“… Without a clearly defined gender recognition process, transgender individuals in Hong Kong, who do not undergo an operation, are in a legal limbo, unable to change their identity documents and access the rights of their identified gender,” Chow says.
He is also calling for “better counseling and long-term support for their physiological and social needs”.