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Hong Kong’s transgender community still faces an uphill battle against discrimination

Hong Kong’s transgender community still faces an uphill battle against discrimination

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on November 6, 2016.

Despite growing awareness of transgender issues in Hong Kong, rights groups say that transgender people still face an uphill battle against discrimination and unfair treatment.

Those who want to legally change their official gender must complete a series of psychiatric assessments lasting about two years before going under the knife for full sex reassignment surgery.

Gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder – the condition of experiencing distress because of a mismatch between one’s biological sex and gender identity – affects a growing number of Hongkongers. The number seeking psychiatric help in public hospitals doubled from 75 in 2011-12 to 158 between last year and this year.

At present about 160 patients are seeking treatment. With the end of Pink Season today – a festival celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) acceptance, inclusion and awareness – activists are pushing for fairer treatment for transgender individuals.

According to Dr Greg Mak Kai-lok, a psychiatrist who formerly worked for the government and has treated more than 100 gender dysphoria patients in the public sector, transgender individuals in the city are still subject to immense stigma. Hong Kong needs to have more formalised training for medical professionals working with such patients, he added.

Although the government opened a designated centre last month at the Prince of Wales Hospital providing a one-stop clinic for those seeking mental or physical treatment relating to their gender, Mak described the move as “just filling one missing puzzle.”

“These services should not be regarded as a specialised service,” he said. “It should be as important as diabetes treatment ... People do suffer if they have gender dysphoria.”

“These people are still marginalised,” he added. “They are fragile, sensitive and have been living with stigma for a long time.”

Hongkongers have slowly started to embrace transgender individuals in recent years, especially after a landmark case in 2013 allowing a transsexual woman who had completed government-funded sex realignment surgery, “W” , to marry her boyfriend.

Yet the city’s treatment of such individuals still falls drastically short. In September, two transgender women visiting Hong Kong from Bangkok for sightseeing and shopping were refused entry at the airport because they “did not satisfy the purpose of their holiday.” Officials asked the women if they were “cut already,” telling them to sign documents confirming that they had completed full gender reassignment surgery and that they would voluntarily return to Thailand immediately.

Earlier this summer, the Post reported that all male-female transgender prisoners were being regarded as mentally ill and detained in male wards in a maximum-security psychiatric centre. Rights groups said that transgender inmates had allegedly had their hair forcibly shaved off and hormone supplies denied and experienced verbal and sexual abuse.

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