(Friday January 16, Beijing) Transgender female sex workers are amongst the most marginalized and discriminated populations in China, Asia Catalyst said in a new report published today. The Chinese government should decriminalize sex work and enact anti-discrimination legislation including gender identity and sexual orientation as protected categories.

The 72 page report, “My life is too dark to see the light– A Survey of the Living Conditions of Transgender Female Sex Workers in Beijing and Shanghai” documents the daily reality for transgender female sex workers in Beijing and Shanghai. Based on 10 months’ research by Asia Catalyst and two Chinese community based organizations, Beijing Zuoyou Center and Shanghai CSW (commercial sex worker)&MSM (men who have sex with men) Center, the report documents discrimination, police violence, legal restrictions and a policy environment preventing this highly marginalized group’s access to public services, legal identity and appropriate health care. They experience amplified stigma due to both their gender identity and their profession.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 11.22.37 AM“Severe prejudice is a major stumbling block for even the most basic tasks,” said Zheng Huang, executive director of Shanghai Xinsheng.  “Imagine being laughed at when using a public toilet, being evicted from your home or, even worse, dangerously self-medicating hormone use because no doctor will see you.”

As sex work is illegal in China, the police are one of the greatest challenges that transgender sex workers face. Interviewees reported police abuse, especially verbal and physical violence leveled at their transgender identity. Transgender women whose ID cards designate them as male, are detained together with men. The report found that criminalization of sex work is a major obstacle to effective HIV interventions for this population.

Chinese law allows transgender people to change the gender identity on official documents only on condition of Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS). For those that do not want SRS, or cannot afford to do so, these requirements leave them with identity documents that do not match their gender identity, resulting in frequent public humiliation, and barriers in accessing basic services.

“Banking, travel, or renting an apartment, can quickly deteriorate into an exercise in public humiliation if the gender on your I.D card does not match your gender identity,” said Guo Ziyang, executive director of Beijng Zuoyou Center.  “Making surgery a pre-condition to change the gender on your I.D denies people the right to choose how, when and if to affirm their gender identity through medical procedures. The law should have no place in this very personal decision.”

The report noted, by 2020 transgender women and MSM (men who have sex with men) will most likely constitute the majority of all new HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region. However, the research found that most services for transgender populations in China are only included as part of men who have sex with men (MSM) programming. This is not only at odds with the gender identity of transgender women, but has also served to limit attention and resources to the unique HIV-related needs of transgender people. It has also prevented the development of effective public health interventions for this population.

“Globally, transgender female sex workers are among the populations most heavily affected by, and at risk of, HIV,” said Charmain Mohamed, Executive Director of Asia Catalyst. “But transgender specific data collection, HIV programming and outreach is almost non-existent in China.”

Read the full report here or by clicking the image above. 

For more information and press interviews please contact:

Tingting Shen (English and Chinese)
Director of Advocacy, Research and Policy, Asia Catalyst

Guo Ziyang (Chinese)
Beijing Zuoyou Center

Zhenghuang (Chinese)
Shanghai CSW&MSM Center

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