Lawyer Michael Vidler is savouring victory in a ruling on transsexual marriage. The battle was just one of his many fights for human rights
After solicitor Michael Vidler skimmed through the top court’s landmark ruling affirming the right of his client, a transsexual woman known as “W”, to marry her fiancé, he summed up how the victory felt. It was, he said, like “taking a through-train to justice”.
It was one of the high points in Vidler’s professional life in Hong Kong – a career stretching back to the early 1990s. But he very nearly decided to give the city a miss when he arrived.
After a brief stint in London, the young British law graduate embarked on a journey east, with a plan to eventually head north and take the Trans-Siberian Railway back west towards home.
Hong Kong was “grey, wet, humid, frankly miserable”.
But its charms soon won him over and, scrapping his itinerary, Vidler decided to stay, and he was admitted as a solicitor in 1992.
Vidler has since emerged as a human rights defender. His devotion to protecting the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual (LGBT) community stems from an early, formative experience, he says.
“When I was in university, I shared a flat with a gay man … I saw the way he was treated when we were going out,” Vidler says.
by Sam Winter
Sally is a young Hong Kong Chinese woman. She is bright, attractive, likeable – and transsexual. Born with a male anatomy, she has been identifying as female for as long as she can remember. She is gender dysphoric – deeply unhappy about being regarded by others as male, and about having a male body. Puberty was a really difficult time for her. She remembers trying to pray away the changes she saw daily in the mirror.
Sally has taken hormones for some years. She looks no different from other attractive young Chinese women. You would not know she is transsexual. Poor in general health, she has not undergone the invasive genital surgery that “W” famously underwent. She is, as we say, “pre-op’”
Rejected for years by family and friends on the grounds of her transsexualism, unable to get a job because of a male ID card that leaves her open to whatever prejudices are out there, she recently slipped into a deep depression about her situation, attempting suicide twice in one week.
First hospitalised for emergency treatment, Sally was later committed into a local mental health institution; to a male ward, on the grounds that she had a male ID card. She spent several weeks there, surrounded by male inmates and male staff, until her discharge. She was deeply distressed and the experience has scarred her further. The bright light in Sally’s life is her loving boyfriend. She would like to marry him. But that male ID card means she won’t be able to.
When Ina was born, her mother was proud to have a son. But Ina grew up identifying as a girl. As a child, she would play with girls’ toys, play girls’ games, and dress in whatever female clothes she could get hold of. She hated being treated as a boy. Today a young transsexual woman, Ina would very much like to have surgery (breasts and genitals), but she has not so far had the chance. Ina’s documentation shows her to be male. She can’t get a job, and has no one to turn to. She does street sex work to survive. Recently, she was arrested for soliciting. She was prosecuted and sentenced to time in prison.
Correctional Services Department policy is that she is male. So there she is, a timid and anxious individual, female-identified but surrounded by male convicts. And, despite a compassionate magistrate’s recommendation, hormone treatment is being withheld.
Julie is a 41-year-old transsexual woman, born in China, who came to Hong Kong around her first birthday. Experiencing gender dysphoria even in early childhood, and bullied in school on account of her feminine behaviour, she tried to repress her feelings for many years, hoping in vain that they would go away.
Depressed, she finally decided to begin living as a woman. She has been taking hormones for several years, has had laser facial hair treatment, and one day may have genital surgery. Desperate to be treated as a woman now rather than later, she recently made amateurish amendments to her ID card, getting caught when she tried to open a bank account in her female name. I saw Julie after her arrest. In one of the saddest confessions I have heard in 15 years working with transsexual people, she said, tears in eyes: “I just wanted to be able to go into the bank and have the counter staff address me as Miss. That’s all I wanted.” She faces serious charges.
The recent “W” judgment is a clear step forward for transsexual rights in Hong Kong. “Post-op” transsexual women like ‘W’ undergo surgery that is long, invasive and painful, and renders the individual forever sterile. Complications are common. Convalescence is long. It is not surgery that all transsexual women can undergo. Some are afraid. Some simply feel they cannot, for medical reasons.
A transsexual woman who has surgery does so in the knowledge that it will get her a new ID card reflecting her experienced gender. The card makes life easier in all sorts of ways – challenges such as going for a job, getting that apartment lease, and opening up that bank account – without facing the humiliation and degradation that comes from being addressed and treated as a man (or, worse, simply being refused that job or denied that bank account). If she is unfortunate enough to be hospitalised, or indeed jailed, it will be as a woman. And now, with the “W” decision, she knows she will be able to get married to the man she loves.
But what does the “W” judgment mean for pre-op transsexual women? For the moment, not much. The government now has 12 months to sort out legislation regarding transsexual marriage. The decisions taken in the next few months will be of immense significance to people such as Sally, Ina and Julie.
What they need, and badly, is a Gender Recognition Ordinance. One that goes beyond marriage issues, taking account of all those other situations in which gender recognition matters greatly to transsexual people. One that also addresses the needs, not only of post-op transsexual women like “W”, but also of pre-op transsexual women. Tinkering around with the ordinances on marriage just won’t suffice.
Sounds like a big job? No. In the “W” judgment, the UK Gender Recognition Act is presented as a possible model for Hong Kong legislation. Since 2004, the act has provided gender recognition in law to transsexual people who can show, with proper documentation, that they experience (or have experienced) gender dysphoria, that they have lived in their gender for at least two years, and that they intend living in that gender for the rest of their life.
The act provides a good model. But it is not the only one. Other jurisdictions have enacted (or are moving towards enacting) laws that set aside surgical preconditions for gender recognition.
If, contrary to good practice in Britain and elsewhere, Hong Kong were to put in place a law that set surgery as a precondition for legal gender recognition, then we would in effect be saying to transsexual women: “You want to enjoy the rights and opportunities enjoyed by the rest of us? You want to live in dignity and respect? First strip out your genitals, rearrange your insides, and make sure you come out sterile. Then come back and ask.”
That is coercive medicine. And seen in the light of the emotional pain that many transsexual women already experience, it would constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The same would go for transsexual men – for whom the surgery is even more invasive. That would not be a Hong Kong many of us would be proud of.
Dr Sam Winter is an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the board of directors of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health
by Patrick Boehler
Police in Changsha have detained a young gay rights activist after he organised a protest in the capital of Hunan province to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
A 19-year-old man, identified only as Xiang, was arrested on Saturday and will be in administrative detention for 12 days for organising an “illegal protest”, police said, according to a report in the local Xiaoxiang Morning News, which has since been deleted online.
Xiang has been transferred to the Changsha Municipal Detention Centre, said A Qiang, a fellow demonstrator and well-known activist from Guangzhou.
Xiang has been active in the local LGBT community since age 14. A Qiang said Xiang had approached police about the protest before it took place on Friday afternoon.
The protest called for an end to homophobia and discrimination. It was second time Changsha’s LGBT community has organised such a protest. Police had not interfered in last year’s demonstration. Some 80 to 100 people participated this year.
“They said if we don’t see you, we don’t have to handle it,” A Qiang said. “We knew we couldn’t apply for permission to demonstrate, so we decided to call it a marketing event for Hunan With Love”, a commercial community website.
“Companies do that all the time,” he said. “The police seemed to be OK with it.”
A Qiang said police did not interfere with the protest, except towards the end, when police approached the protesters, telling them not to shout slogans and impede traffic.
By 2.45am on Saturday, Xiang and three other people were taken away by police from a hotel room they were staying in. All except Xiang were released by the afternoon.
A Qiang said the protest was one of at least 10 across China on Friday. Demonstrations took place in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengsu, and also in second-tier cities such as Nanchang.
He said he did not recall anyone else ever having been but briefly detained for organising such protests.
Activists in Guangzhou told the South China Morning Post on Saturday that they had been detained and questioned by police for distributing fliers on Friday.
On Monday, searches for “protest” and “Changsha” were blocked on Sina Weibo, the country’s largest microblogging platform.
Pink Alliance is delighted to announce that the popular local historian and writer Jason Wordie is generously donating his time to lead three guided walks in Hong Kong. Jason’s walks are packed with historical information all delivered in a lively and anecdotal way. You can visit Jason’s website for more information – http://www.jasonwordie.com/index.php/top-nav-pages/about-us/
The fundraising historical walk is HK$400 per person per walk. All monies raised will used to support our programs to advocate LGBT rights in Hong Kong. For details, please go to our website: http://tcjm.org/
Reservoirs and Redoubts: Shing Mun and the “Gin Drinker’s Line”
Date: 11 May 2013 (Sat)
Time: 1:45pm – 5:00/5:30pm
Please note: All walks require appropriate footwear for walking. Please remember to carry water. We also suggest insect repellent, sunscreen, hat and an umbrella.
About the walk: Shing Mun, and its extensive series of wartime sites, will interest and intrigue those who combine an interest in the Pacific War period with enjoyment of Hong Kong’s magnificent open countryside. This adventurous, multi-layered walk takes in a significant section of the full-day Battlefields trip, and expands on the overall significance of the defended area around the Shing Mun Reservoir.
Terms and Conditions: Important – before you make the booking, please read carefully as follows: http://www.jasonwordie.com/index.php/terms-and-conditions
- A booking form must be completed for each person attending a walk.
- Bookings are only considered confirmed when written confirmation to the attendee has been issued by us, and confirmation of receipt has been confirmed by the attendee, for the walk on the date specified.
- To make a booking please send an e-mail, once payment has been made the booking will be confirmed.
- Please note that the walks are not suitable for children under 15 years of age.
Please include the following in your e-mail for booking:
- Mobile number:
- Selected walk:
- Number of participants:
Contacted person: Barry Lee
We will send you e-mail as Booking Confirmation. Then, please proceed the payment as follows:
1) Please deposit a cheque or make money transfer to the following bank details:
- Name of the Bank: HSBC
- Account Number: 112-194386-001
- Name of the account: Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting
2) Please send the copy of your bank-in slip or transfer record to Barry Lee e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also mention your name, selected walks and number of participants.
- Once your booking and payment have been received a final confirmation will be issued including where to meet information and contact details. Other general information can also be found on the website.
- More than 48 hours prior to the event – 100% refund
- Cancellation within 48 hours of the event – 50% refund
- Cancellation within 24 hours of the event – No Refund
- Cancellations made by the attendee, on behalf of any attendee, must be made in writing. A confirmation of cancellation will issued once it is accepted.
Cancellations Due To Weather:
- Walks will be automatically cancelled in the event of a Typhoon Signal No. 8 or a Black Rainstorm.
- Participants must be aware that walks are, by definition, a weather-dependent outdoor event. Given the vagaries of weather conditions in Hong Kong, localised weather circumstances may change quickly, regardless of forecast weather conditions on the day.
- In the case of unsuitable weather conditions attendees will be contacted prior to event, in general no later than 07:00 on the morning of the scheduled event. Notification will be by email, SMS and – where possible – by personal follow-up telephone call.
- The final decision whether or not to go ahead with the scheduled walk remains at our sole discretion.
- In general, a re-schedule date will be arranged, and those registered for the cancelled event will have priority for re-registration.
- The attendee will be refunded in full.
“Consultations offer a chance to discuss and to allow the society to better understand the issue. The Church does not support discrimination.”
“Is legislation the only way out? By asking people to not do the wrong thing is a negative approach. One may still harbor discrimination deep down. It’s important that one learns more about homosexuality. They [homosexuals] are not wild beasts, they are not monsters.”
“There are some bottom lines we ought to defend. The Church will not support same-sex marriage as marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman. Relationship other than marriage, we can give it another name.”
The Church believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, it’s about the Truth. If believers were to be jailed for the Truth, then so be it. I am not too concerned.”
“The Church does not officiate wedding ceremonies for divorcees. If the Government sues us, we welcome it. We have our bottom lines. Religion has freedom and the Church has its own stance. We need to preserve our fundamental beliefs.”
“First we should not equate homosexuals with pedophiles. It is unfair to think that they are immoral because they are homosexuals. Is this to say that a man cannot teach in a female school? Whether homosexual or not, one should not be a pedophile anyway.
“One should not affiliates it [homosexuals] with AIDS, promiscuity or pedophilia. Some could be isolate cases, but one should not blame it all on homosexuality.”
“The Government needs an equilibrium, protecting homosexuals from discrimination does not mean the rights can be fully open to them. For example, as a reverend, I cannot adopt a child. Am I being discriminated? Children should be adopted by traditional families. Sometimes we think too much, worry too much. Our society is more rigorous than we think. I am not worried.”