Equal Opportunities Commission



Martin Lectures: “Challenging Gender, Gender Challenges””
Organised by the St. John’s College of the University of Hong Kong

Response by Mr Lam Woon-kwong, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission to Dr Sam Winter’s presentation on “Gender and Culture: Identity and Expression - Transgender People in Gendered Cultures”

  1. The numbers affected may be small (100 or so) but the principle involved is fundamental: it concerns the extent to which an individual should be allowed to self-identify their own gender.

  2. The subject can be approached from several angles: biological, psychological, medical, religious, legal, and social as well as cultural. The first five of these will have been covered in other forums in this Lecture series, so I am not going into them. We should focus on the social and cultural aspects.

  3. EOC has over the years handled a number of cases in this field, using the SDO and the DDO, the SDO for sexual harassment (the provisions in the SDO is gender neutral), the DDO (not uncontroversial but GID is a recognized disability under the DDO) for other circumstances ranging from discriminatory dismissal to recognition of club membership. These two ordinances are not ideal vehicles in dealing with these cases but are nevertheless admissible.

  4. We would have liked designated legislation to deal with discriminatory practices in this category for the main reason that it would help the community to focus and be alert to the need for common respect to transgender people as individual persons, irrespective of how one sees or feels about their gender change.

  5. We have indeed accumulated a degree of experience in the process of handling this limited number of complaints and in providing conciliation and legal services. Our observations can be summarized as follows:

    1. The lack of social acceptance and proper legislation to protect their rights and interests (e.g. employment, harassment, marriage) do put them under sustained stress and anxiety. They typically see and feel themselves as outcasts of the community;

    2. In all of the cases that we have handled, it is fair to observe that none of their gender identity choices would have brought about any hardship or detriment to the public interest. Nor is there any real or apparent material prejudice to any third parties resulting from these conciliated settlements; and

    3. The gender identity of each of the transgender people had been chosen after conscious and often painful considerations (because of the fear of social repugnance), at great personal cost too in terms of physical sufferings as a result of gender affirmation surgery plus the need for social accommodation during gender transition.

  6. Hong Kong, as an open and free City, has always taken pride in its staunch support of individual freedom and human rights. We have for decades been the refuge for those who seek justice and the rule of law so they may live in freedom and in dignity. Respect for individual freedom and living our lives in dignity form part of the core values of this society. This is in our blood, in our genes. Our people may tend to exhibit a more conservative culture when it comes to sexual issues. But it does not necessarily mean that we lack the capacity to tolerate diversities. It must have been in this spirit that since the 1980s, Government hospitals have been authorized to undertake surgical operation for transgender people at subsidized costs. It must have been in the same spirit that Legco recently passed an amendment in the domestic violence law to include same sex couples in its provisions.

  7. Transgender people will probably never be fully understood by most because their numbers are simply too small to attract sufficient public attention and debate. Their plight might never be addressed if we continue to leave it to time to sort out its controversies. Inaction under the disguise of consensus seeking will not make the issue go away. We should have faith in our people’s capacity to respect diversity, and act positively in accordance with our core values to give our transgender people their deserved rights and legal protection, in the name of freedom, dignity and inclusion.