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Hong Kong eases but doesn’t eliminate surgical requirements for ID gender change

A new law allowing legal gender change was introduced on 3 April, though with major caveats

By Dale Fox

Hong Kong skyyline
Hong Kong has introduced new rules around changing gender on ID cards (Image: Vecteezy)

Hong Kong has amended its policy on allowing transgender individuals to change their legal gender on identification documents, no longer requiring full gender reassignment surgery but still mandating certain surgical procedures, its government announced on Wednesday (3 April).

The new rules come over a year after Hong Kong’s top court ruled that the previous requirement for complete sex reassignment surgery to alter one’s gender marker on their ID card was unconstitutional. However, transgender rights advocates have criticised the revised policy for retaining what they view as overly invasive surgical stipulations.

Under the updated guidelines, transgender men must undergo a mastectomy, while transgender women must have their penis and testes removed in order to change their gender on their Hong Kong Identity Card. Applicants will also need to provide medical documentation proving they have been on continuous hormone treatment for at least two years prior to their gender marker change request.

“SRS can be life-threatening” – Lawyer Wong Hiu-chong

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

Reuters reported that Zephyrus Tsang, a director at the transgender youth organisation Quarks, described the new surgical demands as “a violation of the rights of physical integrity” of transgender people. Meanwhile, Christine Chu from Quarks said forcing transgender women to remove their genitals amounted to “forced sterilisation”.

While welcoming the removal of the full sex reassignment surgery prerequisite, activists have questioned the need for invasive procedures and worried the revised policy still ran afoul of the Court of Final Appeal’s ruling that “full SRS is not medically required by many transgender persons”.

Announcing the updated law, the Hong Kong government said the changes balanced “legal and medical advice” with the court’s objective, while clarifying the new rules only applied to identity cards and did not impact other gender-related policies.

In September 2023, the country’s top court ruled in favour of same-sex unions in Hong Kong, giving its government two years to enact a scheme to recognise same-sex relationships.