Finding Ms right


The legal decision to allow transgender woman Ms W to marry could spark a new dawn for gay rights in Hong Kong, as Arthur Tam finds out

The battle for gay rights in Hong Kong has taken what many view as a huge step forward over the past fortnight. Right after the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – or IDAHOT – rally on May 12, which had the theme title In.Justice, a landmark decision was served up by the courts. On Monday May 13, The Court of Final Appeal – ruling four-to-one – finally granted 37-year-old transgender woman Ms W (her alias, of course) the right to marry her long-time boyfriend. It was a huge decision which could have profound implications for how human rights laws develop over the coming years in our city.

"It came as an absolute surprise that there would be a majority decision," says Ms W's representing attorney and advocate for human rights, Michael Vidler. "It's been a long five-year struggle but I am pleased about the reaffirmation of human rights in Hong Kong and I am happy for W. We have been vindicated." The court has given the government 12 months to decide how to amend the Marriage Ordinance to fit with the ruling. However, regardless of how they word the new law, Ms W (soon to be Mrs) is legally allowed to wed her long term sweetheart.

Ms W, having gone through complete gender reassignment surgery in 2008, was able to change her gender to female on her HKID card and passport, but not on her birth certificate, which is what sparked the ensuing legal battle over her right to wed. Now, after the third attempt, Ms W has finally won. She said, at a press conference which followed the court decision on the day, she was 'extremely happy that I can be with the person I love'. "Finally I am recognised as a woman – a woman who can marry," she said. "I'm not a transwoman who cannot marry."

Ms W has won this battle but there are still many discrimination issues surrounding the LGBT community – especially for the transgender community. The fact that she is remaining anonymous is a tell-tale sign that discrimination still exists and may not change all too soon. "For example, workplace discrimination is but one of the issues," Ms W has said since the court case. "There are still no laws that protect transgender people or sexual minorities in general from unlawful discrimination. But, hopefully, from my case, the court's support for our community might change the public's opinion on anti-discrimination laws."

Legal change of sexual identity can only be given to people who undergo complete sexual reconstructive surgery. Ms W is a man who has become a woman. But when it comes to a woman becoming a man, it's even more difficult as they must have all their defining sexual characteristics removed. This includes the dangerous process of taking out the uterus and ovaries, which the medical community at large has denounced (unless the individual requests it). There is a misconception that all transgender people want to go through a complete change. According to Joanne Leung of the Transgender Resource Centre: "Some choose to do none, some choose to do some and some choose to go all the way. It's all based on the individual's needs."

So there is clearly much more to be done in the name of progress but Ms W's case is being seen as a step (or, in fact, a pretty big leap) in the right direction for LGBT rights in Hong Kong. As Vidler says: "The Court of Final Appeal is reminding the lower courts that the rights of minorities – in this case sexual minorities – are not subject to the whims of the majority. Human rights are human rights and our constitution protects that."

Leung says she wants to consult with the Legislative Council over the next year to make sure the new legal standpoints created by the changes to the Marriage Ordinance reflect the needs of the city's LGBT community. "They are going to need a transgender person's perspective in order carry out the process and negotiate effectively with government officials," she says. "Also, the next steps would still be to bring more public awareness about the transgender community, so we are in need of volunteers."

Leung was recently on RTHK Radio 1's show, Voice of Freedom, and she spoke to the Christian leader of the Society of Truth and Light, Choi Chi-sum, about the Ms W case. Leung says: "He is not without reason but he keeps pointing out all these potential problems with the change in law, but won't think of solutions or even allow for solutions. But, in society, even the smallest changes can give rise to potential problems. But what we do is – we face them. I think he represents a group of people who, because of fear, never do anything at all."

As Ms W plans for her wedding – a date hasn't officially been set yet – she has one extra bit of advice for those in the transgender community. "Live your lives and never give up." We hear you, girlfirend.

For details on the Transgender Resource Centre visit


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