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Hong Kong Amends Its Surgery Requirements to Change Gender Markers on IDs TIME

View of Immigration Tower in Wan Chai. 12OCT17 SCMP/ Roy Issa

Hong Kong no longer requires transgender people to undergo full gender-affirming surgery to change their legal gender markers in their IDs, more than a year after the Chinese enclave’s top court called the requirement unconstitutional.

The government announced the change on Wednesday, “having prudently considered the objective of the policy, relevant legal and medical advice, as well as drawing reference from the relevant practices overseas.”

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Under the new rules, Hong Kong residents who have not undergone full sex reassignment surgery [SRS] who want to have their gender marker on their ID changed still must have completed select surgical treatment to modify their sexual characteristics—removal of the breasts for transgender men, removal of the penis and testes for transgender women—along with medical documentation. Previous guidelines required the removal of the uterus and ovaries or the construction of a penis or “some form” of it for female-to-male transition, and the removal of the penis and testes and the construction of a vagina for male-to-female transition.

“We are still concerned about the heavy emphasis on sex reassignment surgeries being a requirement,” Wong Hiu-chong, the lawyer for transgender activist Henry Tse, whose case led to the policy change, told TIME. “SRS can be life threatening.”

Those who wish to change their gender markers must also statutorily declare that they have gender dysphoria—the medical term for the psychological distress a person feels when their gender identity does not match with their assigned sex at birth—and have lived as the opposite sex for at least two years before their application. They must also show proof of receiving hormonal treatment throughout the previous two years, and will be subjected to random blood tests to check their hormonal profile.

“Our clients have waited a very long time for such an unconstitutional policy to be revised, and for them, the wait has been painful,” Wong said in a statement. She also questioned the need for blood tests, calling this requirement, among others that remain for gender marker changes, “potentially discriminatory” as it does not apply to other Hong Kong ID card holders.

A government spokesperson clarified in the announcement that the gender marker change will only apply to the Hong Kong Identity Card and that “the sex entry on a Hong Kong identity card does not represent the holder’s sex as a matter of law. It does not affect any other policies of the Government or the handling of any other gender-related matters under the law in Hong Kong or relevant legal procedures.”

The policy change comes years after Tse filed a case in 2017 to question the full gender-affirming surgery requirement. Despite the city’s Court of Final Appeal issuing a ruling deeming the requirement unconstitutional in February 2023, implementation of the ruling was long-delayed, which Tse also challenged. The ruling said “such surgical procedures are at the most invasive end of the treatment spectrum” and that “full SRS is not medically required by many transgender persons whose gender dysphoria has been effectively treated.”

Chad de Guzman

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