High-level Roundtable on Gender Identity, Rights and the LawPublished on Thursday, 02 October 2014 14:09
A High-level Roundtable on Gender Identity, Rights and the Law was held in Hong Kong on 2 October. The High-level Roundtable, jointly convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) at the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law, sought to advance transgender people’s rights in Asia and the Pacific.
The gathering brought together key opinion and decision makers to explore some of the critical problems faced by individuals, who often identify as transgender and desire to live and be accepted in a gender other than the one that society has assigned to them. It coincided with ongoing debate in Hong Kong and throughout the region on gender recognition. In Hong Kong legislators are soon set to vote on a Marriage (Amendments) Bill, a law which would require transgender people intending to marry to undergo sterilization surgery and genital reconstruction.
Gender recognition policies matter because of the stigma, discrimination, harassment and abuse transgender people often experience. Many transgender people live with the threat of violence. They commonly report challenges in securing rights and opportunities in education, housing, work, health and other key areas of their lives. Many of these problems were spotlighted in a recent UNDP report. Carefully designed and implemented gender recognition policies can help lessen these problems.
The Roundtable also addressed the needs for the legislative change in Hong Kong and the region in line with Member States commitments under international human rights conventions, regional commitments, and in line with authoritative guidelines from the United Nations, WHO, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), and the American Medical Association (AMA), which have all called for gender recognition policies that dispense with preconditions involving specific medical procedures. Furthermore, the Roundtable highlighted the positive development impact for society as a whole of legal gender recognition.
The Roundtable was moderated by James Chau, Special Contributor for China Central Television (CCTV9) and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador in China. The full listing of panelists was as follows: Legal gender recognition panel:
- Gender Recognition, Respecting Human Rights is Good for Business: The Hon. Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia
- Gender Recognition Legislation, Issues and Challenges faced in Japan: Dr. Yuko Higashi, Professor of Sociology, Osaka Prefecture University and the co-chair of Sexual Rights Committee at World Association for Sexual Health, Japan
- Gender Recognition, What would it Mean in Hong Kong? Sam Winter, Member of Board of Directors of WPATH & Professor at University of Hong Kong
- Legal Gender Recognition, the Indian Experience: Dr. Shabeena Francis Saveri, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
- Gender Recognition and the Role of Medicine: Dr. Stan Monstrey, Professor in Plastic Surgery and a leading member of Gent University Hospital’s Centre for Sexology and Gender, Belgium
- Gender Recognition and High Level Governmental Functions: Personal Reflections Group Captain Catherine McGregor AM, Australia
- Litigating for Transgender Persons’ Right to Marry in Hong Kong, the “W” Case: Michael Vidler, Lawyer and Advocate Solicitor, Vidler & Co., Hong Kong
- The Effects of diverse States’ Gender Recognition Policies, the Australian Experience: Peter Hyndal, Founding Member of A Gender Agenda
- Fighting against Sex Reassignment Surgery, the Korean Experience: Lee Seung-hyun, Researcher at the Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
- Contradiction in Gender Recognition Policies, the Singaporean Experience: Joe Wong, Project Manager at the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network, APTN
- Denial of Gender Recognition & the Role of the Church, the Filipino Experience: Brenda Alegre, Founding Member of the Society of Transsexual Women in the Philippines
- Freedom, Empowerment & Advocacy, the American Experience: Geena Rocero, Founder of Gender Proud
- Transgender Persons in China, Findings from Being LGBT in Asia: Karen Liao, LGBT and Human Rights Officer, UNDP China
- Gender recognition, in documents and in law, is important for transgender people.
- Without such recognition, it is difficult or impossible to enjoy the rights and opportunities available to other people in one’s society.
- Failure to extend recognition is a rights issue, and has consequences for transgender people’s health and wellbeing.
- Onerous preconditions for recognition (depriving many transgender people of opportunities to be recognized in their experienced gender) run counter to international rights norms and state commitments under key international conventions. They also make no sense on health grounds.
- Medical preconditions, involving surgery (including sterilization surgery) and hormones are particularly problematic, on the grounds that they serve to coerce people into undergoing medical procedures. Some of those procedures are invasive, complex, and often beset with complications. They may be medically inadvisable for some transgender people.
- We endorse recent calls by influential voices in health and rights (WHO, UNDP, OHCHR, UN Women, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, OSF, WPATH, Amnesty International, and the American Medical Association) for more progressive policies on gender recognition for transgender people.
- We endorse the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s recommendations related to transgender people and calling on countries to: (a) stop punishing transgender people for being who they are. Instead, repeal laws that criminalize behaviors associated with transgender identity and amend anti-discrimination laws to explicitly include gender identity, non-conforming gender status, and sexual orientation; (b) ensure that transgender people have access to health care supplies and services (including preventive services) in non-discriminatory environments, as well as access to health care personnel trained to respond to their unique medical and health needs; (c) remove existing barriers (whether legal, administrative, or regulatory) that prohibit transgender and people of non-conforming gender status from forming public community organizations and associations; (d) recognize and respect existing civil and religious laws and practices that support individual privacy; and (e) change laws and administrative policies to enable transgender people to obtain identification documents that reflect their lived gender, whether or not they have undergone any gender-related medical procedures.
- We agree with the recent Open Society Foundations Report, “License to be Yourself”, on gender recognition listing the following best practices in regard to gender recognition: (a) recognition based on self-defined gender identity, with no pathologising diagnosis required; (b) recognition that does not require forced sterilization or medical procedures; (c) recognition that does not require living continuously or permanently in one’s gender identity; (d) recognition that does not require divorce or a civil partnership; (e) recognition that allows existing or prospective parenting; (f) recognition that is available to children; (g) recognition that includes intersex people; (h) recognition that applies to all residents , including those born overseas; (i) procedures that are simple, timely, low-cost, transparent rather than discretionary, and protective of privacy.
- We note that an increasing number of jurisdictions worldwide are adopting more progressive policies along the lines of what is recommended by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and in the OSF report. We welcome court decisions from South Asia, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, recognizing third gender identity without medical preconditions. We also welcome gender identity legislations from Argentina and Denmark, in which individuals are able to determine their legal gender status through a simple administrative process. 10. We urge Hong Kong legislators to reject any legislative proposal that requires of transgender people that they undergo any form of medical treatment as a precondition for gender recognition.