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Hong Kong transgender activist gets new male ID after yearslong legal battle

For many of us, an identity card is a little piece of plastic tucked away in a wallet that we rarely think much about.

But for Hong Kong transgender activist Henry Tse, his ID card was something that dominated his world for the past seven years, the center of a lengthy court battle and a fight for recognition that finally concluded this week.

On Monday, Tse finally picked up a new ID card that registered his gender as male at Hong Kong’s immigration office.

“This card in my hand means a lot to me and others who can finally get their new IDs,” he told reporters and photographers gathered outside.

Clad in a pink-and-blue-striped shirt over a white t-shirt – the colors of the transgender flag – he declared: “Finally, here comes the genuine solution to all the embarrassment and daily problems caused by an incompatible identity card.”

Tse’s legal battle is symptomatic of a wider trend across many places in East Asia where LGBTQ activists are forced to seek change through the courts against often conservative governments, even as public polls show growing acceptance for greater equality, especially among younger generations.

The 33-year-old activist, who holds both British and Hong Kong passports, identifies as a man and has lived as a man for years. His British passport identifies him as male but Hong Kong authorities refused to make that change for the city’s identity card, which is compulsory for all residents.

The card is essential for everything from filing tax returns and opening a bank account, to booking a tennis court or a doctor’s appointment.

For years, Hong Kong authorities insisted a gender change could not be registered unless the applicant had completed full gender confirmation surgery which, under the city’s rules, meant the removal or reconstruction of their genitalia.

Transgender rights groups have long argued that surgery is an individual’s choice and only one part of a person’s transition. Not all transgender people choose to have surgery, can afford to or are healthy enough to undergo such procedures which, like any surgery, can carry risks.

So in 2017, Tse took legal action against the Hong Kong government, which fought the case all the way.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal eventually ruled in Tse’s favor in February last year. But it took authorities more than a year to amend their policy to comply with the ruling, hence the long wait before Tse could finally retrieve his new ID card.

Even under the new legal framework unveiled by Hong Kong’s government, female-to-male transgender applicants are only required to undergo top surgery (the removal of breasts). However, male-to-female applicants still must have full gender confirmation surgery.

Hong Kong’s Immigration Department said it had to “consider and study carefully” the court ruling as the policy-making process, involving legal and medical opinion, is “complex.”

Battle for equality

Tse said life remained challenging while he waited for the government to act on the court order.

He described almost missing a flight because airline staff took issue with his gender on his old identity document and said he was detained by Chinese immigration officers while crossing the border into the mainland.

“I was still so anxious and felt being treated like a prisoner,” he said.

In late March, he filed another lawsuit accusing the government of “unreasonable delay.” Two weeks later, the government announced the new policy.

LGBTQ activists in Hong Kong have long questioned why they must keep fighting through the courts to gain recognition and equality, but they have nonetheless seen repeated successes.

That contrasts heavily with LGBTQ rights in mainland China where the community has come under increased pressure and scrutiny during the leadership of Xi Jinping.

In September last year, Hong Kong’s top court handed down the most far-reaching ruling yet, ordering the government to set up a new framework to legally recognize the rights of same-sex couples, despite not vouching for full marriage.

The government has not yet announced a concrete plan to put in place the court’s ruling.

Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019, two years after its Constitutional Court ruled that restrictions were unconstitutional.

Last year Japan’s top court ruled against the government’s requirement that transgender people must be sterilized before they changed their gender.

Meanwhile, a high court in Japan found in March this year that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, according to Reuters, in a case set to continue in the courts.

For Tse, his battle for equality has at least concluded.

“What is normal for any other men has finally become normal for me,” he said.

This post appeared first on cnn.com

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