In September 2013, transgender Colombian national Eliana Rubashykn traveled to Hong Kong to update her passport and described being frisked and mocked by immigration and customs officers who behaved “like animals” during a nine-hour ordeal where she was put in detention at the Chek Lap Kok airport. Six months later, Rubashykn tells the South China Morning Post that she is a stateless refugee in Hong Kong, where it’s been “hell” to be recognized as a woman.
According the original Post report from November, then-25-year-old Rubashykn was living in Taiwan and had to update her passport photo at the Hong Kong Colombian consulate, the closest option. She arrived on September 16 but ran into security problems over her identity at the Chek Lap Kok airport because hormonal treatment had transformed her looks as different from the photo on her passport—the reason she had traveled to Hong Kong to update it.
Rubashkyn was refused passage into the city, apparently because her looks contradicted the “male” identity on her passport. Rubashkyn said she was detained at the airport for several hours and was ridiculed by male security officers who carried out a body search on her, although the Immigration Department denies these claims.
Finally Rubashkyn was allowed to enter Hong Kong after contacting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees through Amnesty International, but this required her to give up her passport and take the status of refugee.
Although she is under UNHCR’s protection, she now describes life in Hong Kong as “a nightmare”, where she can’t apply for paid jobs and has no Hong Kong ID card, no income and now, no suitable place to live.
Rubashkyn’s situation highlights struggles not only of refugees living in the city but also of those of transgendered people in Hong Kong who face discrimination that’s further backed by government policies.
“It is a merge of two rather complicated areas, refugees and sexual minority rights,” a lawyer named Michael Vidler told the Post. His client was W, a transgender woman who was granted the right to marry in Hong Kong last year.
Activists have long urged governments to see that the rights of transgender travelers are accounted for. The National Center for Transgender Equality, for example, has called on the US’ Department of Homeland Security to offer training to its personnel who interact with the public so that they can counter discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
In Rubashkyn’s case, the Immigration Department is refusing to take into account a letter issued by the UNHCR telling them that she is, in fact, recognized as a female.
Instead, she has been issued a “Recognizance Form 8” by the department which doesn’t include her sex—a highly unusual case.
Rubashkyn has said that the smallest victory in the case is that the Hospital Authority in Hong Kong has registered her as a female patient based on her lack of identity documents.
According to a report released last month by Gay News Network, Hong Kong’s transgender people could soon gain the right to to be recognized as their identifying gender without having to undergo reassignment surgery.
The bill follows last year’s Hong Kong court ruling in favor of the aforementioned W, a trans woman who was granted the right to marry her boyfriend in a defining rule just short of allowing same-sex marriage, an issue which, as we learned in January, Hong Kong residents are still largely divided on.