Victoria’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016

Update: 14 January 2017

 

Unfortunately, this necessary and important legislation was voted down by the Victorian Legislative Council on December 6 2016.

 

As reported by SBS here (‘Gender change voted down in Vic parly’), the Victorian Liberal and National Parties combined with cross-bench conservative MLCs to reject the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016.

 

In the process, Victorian Coalition MPs have ensured that the process for transgender people to amend their birth certificates remains onerous, and continues to exclude a large number of trans and gender diverse people completely, especially those who identify as non-binary and gender-fluid.

 

The decision to reject this vital reform was shameful, and will hopefully be remembered by all LGBTI Victorians when they go to the polls next, in November 2018.

 

Original post:

 

The Andrews Labor Government, elected in November 2014, has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Victorians in its first two years in office. This includes:

  • Creating the nation’s first Minister for Equality (Martin Foley)
  • Appointing a Gender and Sexuality Commissioner (Rowena Allen) and establishing an LGBTI Taskforce
  • Legalising adoption by same-sex couples
  • Apologising to people unjustly convicted for historical homosexual offences
  • Committing funds to establish a Pride Centre, and
  • Defending the Safe Schools program from Commonwealth Government attacks.

It is currently pursuing two further important items of law reform. The first of these is the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 (the second, the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016, will be the subject of a later post).

As noted by Attorney-General Martin Pakula in the Bill’s second reading speech, “[t]he bill implements the government’s pre-election commitment to remove barriers for trans, gender diverse and intersex Victorians to apply for new birth certificates.”

Specifically, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 will:

  • Remove the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to undergo gender affirmation surgery in order to alter their official records, including birth certificates
  • Remove the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to be unmarried in order to alter their records (thus ending the policy of ‘forced trans divorce’)
  • Simplify the process for adults to alter their records – with the new system based on a statutory declaration by the individual, supported by a statement from another adult who has known them for more than 12 months
  • Allow children to alter their records for the first time (with the application made by parent(s) or guardian(s), and supported by a statement from a doctor or registered psychologist that the alteration is in the child’s interest), and
  • Allow individuals to nominate a descriptor of their choice – ‘male’, ‘female’ or any other term chosen by the applicant (provided it is not obscene or offensive) – to recognise their trans, gender diverse or non-binary identity.

Writing as a cisgender gay man, these reforms seem very straightforward – allowing trans and gender diverse people to access documentation that reflects their identity, removing inappropriate and unjust barriers (such as the requirement to undergo gender affirmation surgery – something many trans people will never do – and abolishing the horrific practice of forced trans divorce).

The reforms also appear to be widely supported by trans, gender diverse and intersex advocates, with Transgender Victoria’s Chair Brenda Appleton noting that “[t]his is a profoundly important reform for our community, as many of us are currently prevented from changing the most basic form of documentation to reflect our true identity.”[i]

Intersex advocate Gina Wilson also welcomed the changes in the same media release: “[f]or the Victorian Parliament to say ‘we give you here a document that acknowledges the truth of your life’ would be life changing… It is very difficult to explain to someone who has never struggled to fit in the way Intersex people often have to how much joy and relief that would bring.”

Consequently, one would hope such legislation, respecting the autonomy of people to nominate their own gender identity or sex, rather than having one imposed upon them (by the medical profession, and ultimately by the Government), would be uncontroversial.

Alas, those hopes were forlorn. The Bill has been opposed by the ‘unholy’ triumvirate of contemporary Australian politics: the right-wing of the Coalition, the Australian Christian Lobby, and News Corp (in this case, via the Herald Sun).

The Bill has already been debated, and voted on, in the Legislative Assembly, where it only passed by a margin of 45 votes to 35. The debate leading up to this vote saw a number of ill-informed and, frankly, intolerant, contributions by some members of the Liberal and National Parties, perhaps none ‘less-informed’ than that by the Member for Ripon, Louise Staley. Her speech included the following ignorant observations:

“I oppose this bill. This bill goes too far. This government is in thrall to highly contested gender theories. This is the sort of post-modernist mumbo jumbo we have come to expect from the Andrews Labor Government…

“I ask the house to reflect on what we are doing when we allow a man – and the statistics show most transgender people are born male – who has male chromosomes and who naturally has the right to enjoy the privileges we as a society still give to men, such as earning more and dominating business and politics, to choose to be recognised by the state as a woman because he feels like a sex he biologically is not and cannot by definition actually ever experience. I cannot help feel that such men are engaged in a radical form of mansplaining, telling women what really makes one a woman…

“The feminist in me objects strongly to a man changing his birth certificate to female because he feels enough of a woman to identify as one but not enough to take the step of permanently doing so…

“There are also women-only spaces, services, shelters et cetera that explicitly exclude men for feminist or safety reasons. Allowing preoperative transgender people to join these bodies – especially, I may add, to make political points or to pursue activism – will at some point cause great distress to all involved.”

Many of the worst aspects of transphobia – deliberately misgendering trans people, invalidating non-binary identities, creating panic about trans women accessing women’s spaces – are present and accounted for in Ms Staley’s offensive and outrageous speech. If you want to read the full catastrophe, you can find it here (but make sure you don’t eat immediately beforehand).

160930-louise-staley

Transphobic Victorian Liberal MLA Louise Staley

Of course, right-wing Liberal and National Party MPs are not the only ones capable of extreme transphobia. As expected, Lyle Shelton and the Australian Christian Lobby have lived down to their already-low public reputation by inciting bathroom panic as part of their campaign against the Bill. In a web post titled “Why is This Government Putting Women at Risk?”[ii] (yes, seriously), they wrote:

“Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said radical changes that would allow men identifying as women to enter women’s private spaces such as toilets and change rooms needed wider discussion…

“Mr Shelton said Mr Andrews [sic] new laws would make private space unsafe for women. “Why should a man identifying as a woman be allowed into a woman’s gym or a domestic violence shelter? Why should biological males identifying as women be allowed into women’s public toilets and shower facilities?””

It seems the ACL is intent on importing the worst kind of hate-speech from its international counterparts, and especially from anti-LGBTI groups in the United States, whipping up fear against trans women and vilifying people on the basis of their gender identity[iii].

And of course, where right-wing Liberals and Nationals and the ACL ‘lead’ (into the gutter), News Corp papers usually follow – with the Herald Sun backing the transphobic campaign against what should, on its merits, be uncontentious legislation.

In an appalling article titled “Laws allowing Victorians to choose sex on birth certificate raise safety concerns,”[iv] Rita Panahi wrote:

“New laws allowing Victorians to choose their sex on a birth certificate will compromise the safety of female-only spaces, including single-sex schools  changing rooms, domestic violence shelters and even prisons, according to a women’s rights group…

“The proposed changes, which passed the Lower House earlier this month, could see boys and men identifying as female – but with no intention of undergoing gender reassignment or clinical treatment – being allowed access to areas reserved for girls and women.”

Umm, Rita, that would be because they are girls and women, and therefore have the right to access ‘areas reserved for girls and women’. And, just like Ms Staley and Mr Shelton before you, you should already be aware that deliberating misgendering trans people in this way is extremely offensive.

The Bill that has prompted this backlash is expected to be debated in the Legislative Council in the week beginning Tuesday 11 October. Given that the ALP does not have a majority in the Upper House (even with the addition of Greens and Sex Party MLCs), and the ongoing scare campaign against its provisions, it is now uncertain whether the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 will in fact be passed.

As a result, I have sent the below short email to all Members of the Victorian Legislative Council, calling on them to support the Bill. If you have time between now and October 10th, I encourage you to do the same. You can find the contact list for MLCs here.

**********

Friday 30 September 2016

Dear Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly

Please Support the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016

I am writing to you to urge you to support the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 when it is debated and voted upon in October.

This legislation is important because it will remove the barriers that exist for trans, gender diverse and intersex people in terms of accessing new birth certificates.

Specifically, I understand that the Bill will:

  • Remove the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to undergo gender affirmation surgery in order to alter their official records, including birth certificates
  • Remove the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to be unmarried in order to alter their records (thus ending the policy of ‘forced trans divorce’)
  • Simplify the process for adults to alter their records – with the new system based on a statutory declaration by the individual, supported by a statement from another adult who has known them for more than 12 months
  • Allow children to alter their records for the first time (with the application made by parent(s) or guardian(s), and supported by a statement from a doctor or registered psychologist that the alteration is in the child’s interest), and
  • Allow individuals to nominate a descriptor of their choice – ‘male’, ‘female’ or any other term chosen by the applicant (provided it is not obscene or offensive) – to recognise their trans, gender diverse or non-binary identity.

These appear to be straightforward reforms that respect the autonomy of people to nominate their own gender identity or sex, rather than having one imposed upon them by clinicians or the Government. I note they are also supported by trans, gender diverse and intersex advocates.

As highlighted by Jo Hirst, these reforms “won’t mean much to most Victorians, but to an estimated 4 per cent of the population it means everything. It’s certainly significant for my little boy, who’s transgender. He recently told me it would mean more to him than food.”[v]

Hirst then further observes that “[t]o have their birth certificate reflect their true identity would empower young transgender people to fully participate in all the educational, social, sporting and job opportunities our society has to offer. Most importantly it would give them a sense of validation that would help them feel whole.”

I therefore call on you to support the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 to better recognise the human rights of trans, gender diverse and intersex Victorians, by simplifying the process by which they can ensure official records reflect their gender identity or sex.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact me at the details provided below.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

**********

Footnotes:

[i] Media Release, Birth certificate reforms will deliver respect and recognition for trans, gender diverse and intersex Victorians, 12 September 2016.

[ii] Australian Christian Lobby, Why is this Government Putting Women at Risk?, 29 August 2016.

[iii] Noting of course that anti-LGBTI vilification is not prohibited currently under either Victorian or Commonwealth law.

[iv] Herald Sun, Laws allowing Victorians to choose sex on birth certificate raise safety concerns, 27 September 2016.

[v] Sydney Morning Herald, Surgical sterilisation shouldn’t be the cost of correcting a transgender person’s birth certificate, 15 September 2016.

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