|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
Two transgender professionals from the Philippines attending a conference in Hong Kong fell victim to the very discrimination they'd come to talk about - they were denied entry to bars in the city "because they were not women".
Last week, Naomi Fontanos and Santy Layno attended a lecture for an undergraduate course at Hong Kong University entitled Sexuality and Gender: Diversity and Society. That evening they went to Wan Chai for a drink with Dr Sam Winter, the course organiser and an associate professor in the faculty of education at the University of Hong Kong, and human rights lawyer Michael Vidler, who had attended the lecture.
On arriving in Wan Chai, they were told they were not welcome in certain bars. Initially, the group went to Amazonia, known for its live music.
Winter and Vidler were allowed to enter but the others were not.
The men remonstrated with door staff about this, only to be told that they were allowed to come in, but their friends weren't.
The doorman was insistent. They couldn't go in because "they are not women, they are men".
"They are lady boys" and "there are other places for people like that," he said - meaning gay clubs.
Later that night the pair were also refused entry to other Wan Chai bars - Escape and Dusk til Dawn.
A spokesman for Amazonia said: "It's up to our security's discretion who gets in on any given night. There is no discrimination here. We often let transvestites in and we have no problem with that. They are all paying customers."
A spokesman for Escape said this was also their policy. Dusk til Dawn said it reserved the right to refuse admission to customers.
Fontanos, 32, has a degree in secondary education from the University of the Philippines in Manila and prepares teaching materials for an English language teaching company. "I felt very offended and hurt. We were doing nothing wrong or illegal," Fontanos said. "I was surprised that this thinking exists in Hong Kong as it is a global city. It markets itself as a cosmopolitan place where all cultures converge, but there's an underlying bigotry and ignorance here."
Layno, 24, has a degree in mass communications from the University of St Louis in Baguio City, and works in communications. She was equally shocked. "Hong Kong should be more advanced than this but the fact is it isn't. These people associate us with working girls, which is why they didn't let us in, but we are not. The thing is, working girls can still go into these bars but we can't."
The pair also work for the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines. Winter had brought them to speak at the University of Hong Kong, where he runs the course Sexuality and Gender: Diversity and Society.
"Naomi did a presentation about being transgender in the Philippines, while Santy took part in the question and answer session afterwards," Winter said. "They are educated, eloquent and teach on transgender issues around various campuses in the Philippines ... It's a quite depressing reminder of the ignorance, bigotry and prejudice that still exists on the streets of this city. There's a real issue here as to why ordinary, decent and law-abiding people can't get through the door at Amazonia or places like it in Hong Kong."
Human rights solicitor Vidler was appalled that the transgender pair came to Hong Kong to address transgender issues here, only to fall prey to the very discrimination that they had come to talk about.
He said he knew at least two women officers in the disciplined services - he would not say which one lest doing so revealed their identities - who are transgender.
"If they were working undercover, they wouldn't be allowed into these bars either, as they'd be assumed to be lady boys.
"They also would have no recourse against an establishment like this. But they would have recourse if the discrimination was to do with a government establishment.
"This is why there's got to be legislation introduced to protect against this kind of thing happening."
The Equal Opportunities Commission has received fewer than 10 complaints from transgender people since it was formed in 1996, a spokeswoman said.
Such complaints must be made under the disability discrimination ordinance since there is no law specifically on transgender discrimination, she said.