JOANNE LEUNG is Hong Kong’s first openly transgender politician and rights activist that energetically fights for the LGBT community.
Joanne Leung Wing Yan founded Transgender Resource Center (TGR) in 2008. She was previously the chairperson of the Pink Alliance, an organization that aims to facilitate cooperation between advocates for, and supporters of, LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong. Her organization (TGR) raises awareness of the issues facing the Hong Kong and mainland transgender– or trans – community, while also providing support for local trans people through services such as an online and telephone counseling service and a peer support group. In 2014 she spoke to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and was the first transgender person from Hong Kong.
Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti
China-underground: When did you realize that your being did not reflect, your physical side? Have you always had very clear ideas about your identity?
Joanne Leung: I didn’t feel comfortable with my gender since around age 6. But at that time back in the ’60s, there ain’t a lot of information on transgender and I am just confused about having this kind of mindset. After a long time of struggling and discovered that I am attracted to women at the age of 19, I have forced myself even harder to become a man.
This is a selected interview from
Planet China Vol. 05 issue
Was there a particularly significant moment that changed your life?
It has been really hard for me to believe in God since kindergarten. Being told as a sinner and could not escape from the gender incongruous drawn me almost to end my life. In 2009, I made a decision to move ahead with the sex change and believe that God will never leave me. I gave myself a new name Wing Yan in Chinese to remember myself the rest of my life will be for praising God!
“After the surgery, I felt as if I could do anything because I no longer had that confusion in my body and soul. I also started to think about how I could support the transgender community.” SCPM
What gave you the strength to fight for being yourself?
Besides my religious belief, I actually didn’t have another choice that can retain my life from committing suicide at that time because of no support in society. And that’s why I told myself to be the first transgender person to stay in supporting the community after my surgery.
Why do we need activism nowadays? Are things changing, or is there still much to do?
The acceptance of transgender people in Hong Kong became much better since I came out to the public. I became a public figure and the first transgender politician here in Hong Kong that change the perception of the whole society toward gender incongruous. Some people will think they can hide in the closet and live as they wish but I don’t see they become more happy living under anxiety. Activism let society be free to the oppression that benefits themselves as well. And more important to let the trans community understand they are not doing anything wrong to be true to themselves. There is still a lot to be accomplished as the majority of the trans community here wouldn’t believe they have a future!
“Society needs to accept diverse gender identities. Society needs to change its perspective. Do not tell people what they need to do, who they need to be.” Hong Kong FP
Are there frequent discrimination and common stereotypes in Hong Kong?
Yes, not only toward trans people but a lot of men and women suffered a lot in the gender stereotypes in Hong Kong.
What about your work experience as founder of Transgender Resource Center (TGR) and as chairperson of the Pink Alliance? What are the biggest challenges?
Working with TGR means the focus is on an even more narrow transgender topic that most of the community are still suffered a lot at the moment which is not yet ready to walk with the center along the road of activism. And that means I am working most of the time alone on doing all-important roles. Fortunately, there are other LGB organizations that are really supportive like Pink Alliance on advocacy. But working with a bigger organization means you cannot only focus on your works but have to spend a lot of the time dealing with people, resources, and networks that could be drawn a lot of energy.
In 2017, the U.S. Consulate Hong Kong and Macau selected Leung as the nominee for the Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award, honoring women who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in acting to improve others’ lives.
How many transgenders are in Hong Kong? Do Transgender people support one another?
There isn’t any possible and scientific way to know a near number of the transgender population in Hong Kong. But based on our experience and the number of members in a few crossdresser fora, we can assume that there are at least 30K transgender people in Hong Kong. TGR has been put a lot of effort into encouraging trans people to support each other but still, it is not an easy job. We can see there are more and more trans people who wish to pay it forward in the community and be willing to take up the leading role soon.
How important is the support of family and friends? Are families and/or friends involved in Hong Kong to avoid emotional emargination?
Trans people tend to cut off from family and friends or else hide in the closet some years ago. My experience tells me that it is not working. We have done a Transgender Mental Health Survey and a Violence Against Transgender people Survey in Hong Kong and noticed there is a very high risk of the community suffered from mental issues and suicidal thoughts. With our hotline and counseling service, we have re-engaged a lot of families to support them trans kids as well as connecting trans people with a healthy social life.
She was selected as one of the “45 People Aged 45 or Below Making a Difference in Hong Kong” by Baccarat Magazine in 2012.
I read that you’re Christian. Why do you think some Christians fail to accept LGBTQ people when one of the main teachings is to love thy neighbor as thyself?
Although I have some thoughts on this, I keep telling myself not to judge, or otherwise you will be judged. I once thought that they might be bad guys or they might not read through the Bible. But Jesus just told me to love and do not judge. And I am the only LGBT activist that keep talking sincerely with the anti-LGBT groups and hope one day they can be changed because of LOVE.
What do you wish people understood about persons that align their bodies with their gender identity?
A very simple belief as not to judge. See the world as one and the beautiful creations of diversity.
She has been active for more than a decade highlighting the need for gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation to be enacted in support of transgender individuals.
Photo courtesy of Joanne Leung