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LGBT rights in Hong Kong

LGBT rights in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China
Same-sex sexual activity legal?

Female homosexuality: Always legal

Male homosexuality: Legal since 1991,
age of consent equalized since 2006
Gender identity/expression A transsexual person who has received a full sex re-assignment surgery is allowed to change the legal gender, except the "sex at birth"
Discrimination protections The Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap. 383) protects individuals against sexual orientation discrimination from the Government and public authorities of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Family rights
Recognition of
"Marriage" is defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. A transsexual person who has received a full sex re-assignment surgery is to be treated, at marriage registration, as being of the sex to which the person is re-assigned and is therefore eligible to marry a partner of the opposite sex
Adoption Same-sex couples may not adopt jointly

Homosexuality is legal in Hong Kong and public opinion shows increased awareness about and tolerance for LGBT people. The Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap. 383) protects individuals against sexual orientation discrimination from the Government and public authorities of the Hong Kong Special Adminisrative Region. However, there are no legal recognition of same-sex couples.


  • Criminal law 1
  • Discrimination protections 2
  • Gender identity/expression 3
  • Recognition of same-sex relationships 4
    • Civil Partnership and British Nationals (Overseas) 4.1
  • LGBT rights movement in Hong Kong 5
  • Living conditions 6
    • Representations in the media 6.1
    • Public opinion 6.2
    • Professional opinion 6.3
      • The Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists 6.3.1
      • The Hong Kong Psychological Society 6.3.2
      • Hong Kong Association of Doctors in Clinical Psychology (HKADCP) 6.3.3
    • Civil Service vacancies 6.4
    • Business sector 6.5
  • Summary table 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9

Criminal law

The criminal laws against male homosexuality were initially a product of British colonialism, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. During the 1970s – 1980s, there was a public debate about whether or not to reform the law in line with human rights principles. As a result, in 1991 the Legislative Council agreed to decriminalize private, adult, non-commercial and consensual homosexual relations.

However, an unequal age of consent was established, 21 for gay men and 16 for heterosexuals, with the law remaining silent about lesbianism. LGBT rights groups lobbied the legislative council to equalize the age of consent law, but were told that the legal inequality was necessary to protect youth and preserve tradition.[1] A lawsuit was initiated to challenge the unequal age of consent in court.

In 2005, Justice Hartmann found that the unequal age of consent was unconstitutional under the Bill of Rights Ordinance, violating the right to equality.[2][3] The ruling was upheld by the Hong Kong Court of Appeal;[4] thus, since 2006, there is an equal age of consent of 16, for both heterosexual and homosexual sex.

Discrimination protections

The Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance 1991 prohibits discrimination on a variety of grounds, including "other status". In the case of Leung TC William Roy v. Secretary for Justice (2005), this has been interpreted to include sexual orientation. However, the Bill of Rights only applies to government sponsored discrimination and not the private sector.[1] Since the 1990s LGBT rights groups have lobbied the Legislative Council to enact civil rights laws that include sexual orientation without success.

In 1993, former legislator Anna Wu proposed an Equal Opportunities Bill through a private member's bill to outlaw discrimination on a variety of grounds, including sex, disability, age, race, and sexuality. Her effort didn't yield any result until 1995 when equal opportunities law was enacted. However, sexuality was not included in the passage of the bill.[5][6][7]

Currently, there is no law against discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation in Hong Kong.

Political opposition tends to come from social conservatives, often with evangelical Christian ties, who view homosexuality and cross-dressing as signs of immorality.[1] For example, after the court ruled against the unequal age of consent, Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang, a devote Catholic, publicly opposed the court's decision and fought for an appeal until 2006.[1] Otherwise most political parties and individual politicians tend to avoid making public statements in favor of LGBT rights, although this has slowly begun to change.

In 2010, Legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan, and former legislators Dr Fernando Cheung, Reverend Fung Chi Wood and Dr Lo Wing-lok participated in public demonstration against homophobia.

Of note, civil servants are expected to provide service to members of the public impartially, irrespective of their clients' sexualities. Failure to perform any duty/duties that are required by the laws in Hong Kong can be construe as an act of misconduct in public office. Any person convicted of the aforementioned crime could face a maximum jail term of seven years. Currently, The Independent Commission Against Corruption is the only government agency which have the powers conferred by the Independent Commission Against Corruption Ordinance to investigate and/or charge anyone for their alleged misconduct behavior in public office.[8]

Although there are no specific laws targeting hate crimes directed against the LGBT community, The Hong Kong Police force can still charge anyone found intimidating any person irrespective of the victim's sexuality, under section 24 of the Crimes Ordinance.[9]

Gender identity/expression

Cross-dressing per se is not illegal.[10] Hong Kong law allows change in legal documents such as the identity card, and passport, but does not allow the birth certificate to be changed, after a person has undergone sex reassignment surgery.[11]

The Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong ruled that a transsexual woman has the right to marry her boyfriend. The ruling was made on the 13th of May, 2013.[12][13]

On 16 September 2013 a United Nations and Hong Kong NGOs to provide assistance as a refugee becoming an stateless person,[15] she suffered for more than 9 hours invasive body search.[16]

Recognition of same-sex relationships

Same-sex marriage or civil unions are not currently recognised in Hong Kong.

Nonetheless, in June 2009, the Hong Kong Government extended limited recognition and protection to cohabitating same-sex couples in its Domestic Violence Ordinance.[17]

In 2013, Hong Kong's High Court ruled that a transgender woman can marry her boyfriend and told the government that they had one year to draft a law that allows for post-operation transgenders to marry. In spring of 2014, it was announced that though the law had not been finished, transgender citizens could start marrying in July. Some rights activists have expressed their discontent with the provision that a person must be fully operated to receive a marriage license. On 17 July 2014, it was announced that transgender citizens could marry and that the law will be finished after the summer recess. Some have stated that the delay of the final draft is a positive thing since the current law has "lots of holes and ambiguity".[18]

Civil Partnership and British Nationals (Overseas)

Neither same sex marriage nor civil partnership registered inside or outside Hong Kong is recognised by the Law of Hong Kong. However, many Hong Kong residents are also a British National (Overseas). By virtue of the passage of Civil Partnership (Registration Abroad and Certificates) Order 2005 in the UK, all British nationals, including British Nationals (Overseas), are allowed to register civil partnerships with a limited number of British consulates or embassies abroad. Thus, LGBT Hong Kong couples, with either one of the couple having a British national status, enjoy the right to register civil partnerships with British consulates in 22 countries.[19]

Arranging a civil partnership registration with a British consulate will generally take at least a month and must be done in person in the country where the consulate is located. Those whose British Nationals (Overseas) passports have expired or who no longer hold a valid passport need to apply for a renewal before arranging a civil partnership registration with a British consulate.

The British Consulate-General in Hong Kong refrains itself from providing such service to British nationals because of the disagreement from the Hong Kong government. Thus, British nationals are able to apply for a same-sex civil partnership ceremony with British consulates or embassies in the following 22 countries.[20]

Oceania Australia
North America Costa Rica Guatemala
South America Argentina Colombia Peru Uruguay Venezuela
Asia Israel Japan Mongolia Philippines Turkmenistan Vietnam
Europe Austria Bulgaria Croatia Hungary Ireland Latvia Moldova Portugal

LGBT rights movement in Hong Kong

In the early 1990s, the first two LGBT rights groups, Rainbow Action and Tongzhi Culture Society exist to campaign for LGBT rights and to organize various public educational and social events.

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau established in 2005, The Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Unit, to enhance the equal opportunities for people of different sexual orientation and transgendered persons.[21]

Currently, as of August 2012, The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau have been sponsoring a series of Public Service Announcement broadcast through radio station about the need of equal treatment when employing anyone who is homosexual.[22]

Living conditions

Along with several gay nightclubs, LGBT pride festivals occur yearly as well as other social events including film festivals. On each International Day Against Homophobia, a procession is held like many other European cities. The first IDAHO procession was held in 2005. Political involvement has also become more common when comparing to the colonial era. Prominent Legislators and Councillors attend IDAHO procession and gay pride nowadays to show solidarity with the LGBT community.[23]

As the government cannot discriminate against LGBT person as stipulated in the Bills of rights, gay people can have access to a wide range of services provided by the Hong Kong government like any other citizens. For example, when applying for non-contribution base Job Seeker's Allowance (Comprehensive Social Security Allowance), one must satisfy the means test component. Whether ones satisfy the mean test component, the Social Welfare Department takes into account the income of family members living together irrespective of their sexual orientation.[24] Violent crime are rare in Hong Kong and crimes directed against the LGBT community are virtually unheard of List of countries by intentional homicide rate. Citizens of Hong Kong, no matter gay or straight, generally enjoys a living condition on par or above that of their European counterpart. This is evident through the Very High Human Development Index, ranking 13 in the world(2011), which is above that of Iceland, Denmark and the United Kingdom Human Development Index.

Representations in the media

Since the 1990s, several Hong Kong films have had LGBT characters or themes in them. Television programming tended to avoid LGBT characters or themes, until recently.

In 2006, RTHK broadcast a television film called Gay Lovers, which received criticism from social conservatives for, "encouraging" people to become gay. In 2007, the Broadcasting Authority ruled that the RTHK-produced programme "Gay Lovers" was "unfair, partial and biased towards homosexuality, and having the effect of promoting the acceptance of homosexual marriage." On 5 May 2008 Justice Michael Hartmann overturned the ruling of the Broadcasting Authority that "Gay Lovers" discussion on same sex marriage was deemed to have breached broadcasting guidelines for not including anti-gay views.[25]

As the society is becoming more open and accepting to the LGBT community, there are more artist coming out than the last 20 years.

A famous folk singer, Chet Lam (林一峰), came out to the public through an interview with advocate(UK).[26]

Recently, well known artist, Anthony Wong (黃耀明), came out as gay during one of his concert series, with fans giving him a very positive response.[27]

In September, 2012, newly elected lawmaker Ray Chan Chi-chuen (陳志全), a former radio and TV host, revealed to Oriental Daily that he is gay, making him the first openly out legislator in Greater China.[28] Local media coverage of his coming out as gay was largely positive.

On Nov 10, 2012, Denise Ho (何韻詩) announced her sexual orientation on stage at the "Dare to Love" event during the Hong Kong Pride Parade 2012. She called herself "tongzhi," a Chinese slang word for gay. She is the first mainstream female singer in Hong Kong to come out.[29]

Public opinion

In a 2013 poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong, 33.3% of respondents supported same-sex marriage for same-sex couples, with 43% being opposed.[30] Another poll conducted by the Liberal Party showed that 29% supported same-sex marriage while 59% were against it.[31]

A more recent conducted by the University of Hong Kong showed that 39% supported same-sex marriage while 42% were against. At the same time, the same poll found out that 74% of the respondents agreed that same-sex couples should have the same or some rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.[32] Thus, this can show that legalizing same-sex unions is feasible in Hong Kong.

Professional opinion

The Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists

On 15 November 2011, the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists, as a licensing body of professional psychiatrists in Hong Kong, published an announcement stating that homosexuality is not an illness and there is no scientifically proven evidence to support the attempts to change one's sexual orientation.[33] Until February 2012, the announcement has not been uploaded onto the College's website or published in any professional journals; it is, however, available in electronic pdf format upon request. The Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists is the very first professional authority in Asia that ever explicitly and publicly opines their professional standing on issues regarding homosexuality and treatments altering one's sexual orientation.[34]

The Hong Kong Psychological Society

In light of the absence of practice guidelines for lesbians, gays, and bisexual individuals for psychologists in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Psychological Society, as both a learned society and a professional association, formed a work group in July 2011 to tackle the problem.[35] On 1 August 2012, the Society published a position paper titled, Position Paper for Psychologists Working with Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexual (LGB) Individuals. There are 11 major guidelines in this position paper:[36]

Psychologists understand that homosexuality and bisexuality are not mental illnesses.
Psychologists understand that homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual attractions, feelings, and behavior constitute normal variants of human sexuality.
Psychologists understand that efforts to change sexual orientation are not proven to be effective or harmless.
When using and disseminating information on sexual orientation, psychologists fully and accurately represent research findings that are based on rigorous scientific research design and are careful to avoid any possible misuse or misrepresentation of these findings.
Psychologists understand the societal stigma imposed on LGB individuals and the effects on their lives.
Psychologists always act to ensure the public is accurately informed about sexual orientation and LGB-related issues.
Psychologists are aware of their own attitudes, beliefs and knowledge about sexual orientation and LGB individuals’ lives and experiences. They do not impose personal beliefs or standards about sexual orientation when they are offering professional services.
Psychologists understand the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Stereotypical gender conformity or non-conformity is not necessarily indicative of one’s sexual orientation.
Psychologists understand the heterogeneity among LGB individuals (e.g., sex, gender, age, socioeconomic status, physical and mental abilities, race, marital status, parental status, and religious beliefs).
Psychologists are respectful of LGB individuals’ choice to disclose or not to disclose their sexual orientation.
Psychologists advocate for an inclusive society and the promotion of equal opportunity. this includes advocating for the elimination of homophobia, biphobia, discrimination, bullying, harassment, or any form of stigmatization towards LGB individuals.

Hong Kong Association of Doctors in Clinical Psychology (HKADCP)

HKADCP's Code of Ethics ensures the HKADCP Registered Clinical Psychologists avoid discrimination in all forms and are sensitive to power differentials in dealing with current and former clients, employers, employees, and peers by striving to protect individuals who may be in a position of lower power. They are particularly sensitive to the needs of underprivileged and otherwise vulnerable individuals.

Civil Service vacancies

The Government, at all level, is not allowed to have any unjustified differential treatments on ground of sexual orientation as the direct results of a series of high profile court cases. Particularly, in Secretary for Justice v. Yau Yuk Lung Zigo, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that one's sexual orientation is a protected status against discrimination under the provisions of Articles 25 and 39 of the Basic Law and Articles 1 and 22 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance. Because of such interpretation from the judiciary, the Government has the responsibility to actively ensure all its policies, decisions, and actions are free of sexual orientation discrimination. It should be aware, however, that the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance only have effects on the Government, its agencies, and its representatives but not private companies. As such, general notes of civil service vacancies advertisements include the assertion of equal opportunities employer: "As an Equal Opportunities Employer, the Government is committed to eliminating discrimination in employment. The vacancy advertised is open to all applicants meeting the basic entry requirement irrespective of their disability, sex, marital status, pregnancy, age, family status, sexual orientation and race." In addition, current government employees who feel discriminated or suffer from unfair treatments because of their sexual orientation should seek advice from their lawyers and may file civil actions against the Government in court.

Business sector

Since homosexuality is still a sensitive taboo issue in Hong Kong, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the corporate sector is pervasive. LGBT employees are often victims of various levels of discrimination or harassment. Most companies do not include sexual orientation in their diversity and inclusion policies. And, with no legislation protecting LGBT employees, the situation is far from being resolved satisfactorily. This is also true for multinational corporations. Although a lot of US- or Europe-based companies in Hong Kong may have non-discrimination policies protecting their LGBT employees in their home countries, most of them do not adopt such practices in Hong Kong. Such a phenomenon makes many local employees and even expatriates vulnerable targets for discrimination.[1]

For years, advocate groups have worked to promote and advance the extension of non-discrimination policies in the corporate sector for LGBT minorities. Only a limited number of multinational companies have explicitly embraced such policies, namely Goldman Sachs and IBM.[2] Only a handful of local and China-based companies have extended non-discrimination protection to LGBT employees, including blue-chip stock companies.

The following table shows sexual orientation non-discrimination practices of these Hong Kong companies as of 3 March 2012.

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (since 1991)
Equal age of consent Yes (since 2006)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes Government employment only
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes Government goods and services only
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriage(s) No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples or single gay person No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Right to change legal gender Yes
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No

See also


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ Phil CW Chan, "Stonewalling through Schizophrenia: An Anti-Gay Rights Culture in Hong Kong?", Sexuality & Culture, 2008
  3. ^ 'Hong Kong gays fight sodomy laws, triggering debate in traditional society', The Advocate, 31 December 2005
  4. ^ Secretary for Justice v. Leung TC William Roy (CACV317A/2005)
  5. ^ Legislative Archive, entre for Comparative and Public Law, Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong
  6. ^ Hong Kong: Legislative Council Considers Anti-Discrimination Bill, IGLHRC
  7. ^ History, TCJM
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Bolich, G. G. (2007), Transgender History & Geography: Crossdressing in Context, vol. 3, Raleigh: Psyche's Press, p. 207, ISBN 0-615-16766-7
  11. ^ Ms W vs. the Hong Kong Registrar of Marriages,
  12. ^ Chan, Kelvin. "HK Transgender Woman Wins Legal Battle to Marry". ABC News. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  13. ^ "Hong Kong court supports transsexual right to wed". BBC News. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  14. ^ "Hong Kong customs officers behaved 'like animals' during body search", South China Morning Post, 1 November 2013, retrieved 2 Feb 2014 
  15. ^ 為換護照慘失國籍失學位失尊嚴 被海關當畜牲跨性別博士來港三失不是人 - Tragic loss of a nationality, 1 November 2013, retrieved 2 Feb 2014 
  16. ^ Trans woman subjected to invasive search at Hong Kong airport, 1 November 2013, retrieved 2 Feb 2014 
  17. ^ Pink News, "[3] Gay couples to be protected by Hong Kong domestic violence law
  18. ^ "Wedding bells ring for transgender people". South China Morning Post. 17 July 2014. 
  19. ^ in the UKCivil Partnership (Registration Abroad and Certificates) Order 2005
  20. ^ How to register a civil partnership
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ [4]
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ The Wall Street Journal . 
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ [5]
  31. ^ "News (in traditional Chinese only): A survey found out that almost 60% of Hong Kong people are against the legalization of same-sex marriage.". 
  32. ^
  33. ^ "Announcement from Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists". 
  34. ^ "News on Announcement from Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists". 
  35. ^ work group on the position paper for psychologists working with LGB individuals
  36. ^ Position Paper for Psychologists Working with Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexual (LGB) Individuals
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