Identity, not Surgery

This post is part of a series looking at the unfinished business of LGBTI equality in Australia. You can see the rest of the posts here

 

Last year, I wrote about the push to end forced trans divorce, which helped to (finally) deliver marriage equality to trans and gender diverse Australians.

 

However, ending forced trans divorce was only one small part of the wider battle to ensure trans and gender diverse people can access identity documentation, including birth certificates, that reflects who they are.

 

A bigger – and arguably more important – challenge is ensuring that people can update their identification without the need for surgery, and without doctors or other medical professionals acting as ‘gate-keepers’ (that is, the inappropriate medicalisation of gender identity).

 

In practice, I would argue that there are (at least) three principles that should be reflected in the law in this area:

 

  1. Access to amended identity documentation must not depend on surgery or other medical treatments
  2. Access to amended identity documentation must not depend on approval by doctors or other medical professionals, and
  3. Access to amended identity documentation should be granted on the basis of self-identification, through a statutory declaration.

 

Unfortunately, as we shall see below, the laws of most states and territories fail to adopt these principles – in most cases, falling short on all three.

 

NSW

 

In New South Wales, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 provides that, in order to apply to alter the register to record change of sex, a person must first have ‘undergone a sex affirmation procedure’ (section 32B), which is defined in section 32A as:

 

‘means a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs carried out:

a) for the purpose of assisting a person to be considered to be a member of the opposite sex, or

b) to correct or eliminate ambiguities relating to the sex of the person.’

 

Section 32C then requires any application to ‘be accompanied by… statutory declarations by 2 doctors, or by 2 medical practitioners registered under the law of any other state, verifying that the person the subject of the application has undergone a sex affirmation procedure.’

 

In short, NSW law reflects worst practice in this area, and is in urgent need of reform.

 

Such reform was being considered three years ago by Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich as part of his discussion paper looking at removing the surgical requirements for changes to birth certificates (see my submission to that consultation process here).

 

There were also hopeful comments of possible movement in this area during parliamentary debate on the bill that abolished forced trans divorce in NSW, however trans and gender divorce people need more than just indications of possible future co-operation, they need practical action now.

 

Victoria

 

In August 2019, Victoria moved from having ‘worst practice’ laws in this area, to now having the second-best laws in the country (behind Tasmania, see below). This is because of passage by the Andrews Labor Government, supported by most of the upper house cross-bench, of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Act 2019 (which was the same Bill that had been rejected by the Liberal and National Parties in the Legislative Council in 2016).

 

This legislation achieves two-and-a-half of the three objectives identified above:

  • It removes the requirement for surgery
  • It removes the requirement for other medical approval (at least for adults – it still requires a doctor, health professional or a member of a prescribed class of persons to support an application with respect to a child), and
  • It is primarily based on the self-declaration of the applicant.

 

However, section 30A also requires that, for adults, they must submit a ‘supporting statement’ made by a person who is aged 18 years or over and who has known the applicant for at least 12 months and state that the person making the supporting statement:

  • believes that the applicant makes the applicant makes the application to alter the record of the sex of the applicant in good faith; and
  • supports the application.

 

This second requirement in particular (that another person ‘supports the application’) is unnecessary, and was not included in the best practice Tasmanian laws passed earlier this year. In my personal view, it should be removed in the future (while other states and territories should be aware of this difference as they pursue their own reforms).

 

Nevertheless, the Bill enjoyed strong support from Victoria’s trans and gender diverse community, and its passage will undoubtedly make a huge difference to their lives.

 

Queensland

 

Queensland is another jurisdiction that falls short on all three criteria, although there is more cause for optimism that these laws will be changed in the future.

 

Currently, section 22 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 provides that ‘the reassignment of a person’s sex after sexual reassignment surgery may be noted in the person’s entry in the register of births’.

 

Section 23 then includes the ‘the application must be… accompanied by… statutory declarations, by 2 doctors, verifying that the person the subject of the application has undergone sexual reassignment surgery…’

 

However, when the Queensland Government ended forced trans divorce in early 2018, they indicated they were also actively considering further reforms to identity documentation for trans and gender diverse people. And they supported those statements by undertaking a public consultation process looking at ‘Registering Life Events’ (see my submission to that discussion paper here), which included discussion of removing surgical pre-requisites.

 

Hopefully they follow through on their commitments in this area, although it is concerning that there doesn’t appear to be any action more than 18 months later. If the Palaszczuk Government doesn’t act, it’s up to the community to put pressure on them to do so, especially before the next election due in October 2020.

 

Western Australia

 

Western Australia’s legislation, the Gender Reassignment Act 2000, is also in need of reform, although in this case the High Court has at least helped to clarify that surgery is not a pre-requisite for access to amended identity documentation.

 

First, to the text of the legislation itself. Section 14 provides that applications for recognition certificates may be made by a person that ‘has undergone a reassignment procedure’.

 

Under section 15(b), the Gender Reassignment Board may then issue a certificate if it “is satisfied that the person-

i) believes that his or her true gender is the gender to which the person has been reassigned; and

ii) has adopted the lifestyle and has the gender characteristics of a person of the gender to which the person has been reassigned; and

iii) has received proper counselling in relation to his or her gender identity.”

 

Importantly, section 3 defines ‘reassignment procedure’ as “a medical or surgical procedure (or a combination of such procedures) to alter the genitals and other gender characteristics of a person, identified by a birth certificate as male or female, so that the person will be identified as a person of the opposite sex and includes, in relation to a child, any such procedure (or combination of procedures) to correct or eliminate ambiguities in the child’s gender characteristics.”

 

In practice, however, the Gender Reassignment Board declined to issue gender reassignment certificates to two trans-men who were undertaking testosterone therapy and had undergone bilateral mastectomies on the basis that they had not also had surgery on their genitals.

 

These two men successfully challenged this decision in the High Court, which in AB v Western Australia; AH v Western Australia [2011] HCA 42 6 October 2011, clarified that “a surgical procedure to alter the genitals or other gender characteristics is not required of an applicant for a recognition certificate. The definition of ‘reassignment procedure’ refers to a ‘medical or surgical procedure’” [emphasis in original].

 

Nevertheless, while this decision was welcome, enabling these two men to access updated identity documentation, this decision still does not mean that future access is based on self-identification. As noted by the Court:

 

“The construction placed upon s 15(1)(b)(ii) and the identification which is its concern, does not mean that a recognition certificate is to be provided based only upon a person’s external appearance, and that person’s belief about his or her gender. Section 14 must be satisfied before a person can apply for a certificate.”

 

Therefore, there is still a need for the Western Australian Parliament to amend these laws, to remove all requirements for medical or surgical procedures, and to finally allow trans and gender diverse people to determine their own identities.

 

Positively, many of these best practice principles were reflected in the final report of the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia which was examining the issue of recognition of a person’s sex, change of sex or intersex status (see my submission to that inquiry, here and the final WALRC report here). It will be interesting to see whether the WA Government implements its recommendations.

 

South Australia

 

South Australia’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 is one of the few relevant laws that doesn’t fail on all three criteria – although it still involves unnecessary medicalisation of trans and gender diverse people’s identities.

 

Section 29L of the Act provides that if ‘the Registrar is satisfied that the applicant has undertaken a sufficient amount of appropriate clinical treatment in relation to their sex or gender identity, the Registrar may make an entry about the change of the person’s sex or gender identity in the Register…’

 

Section 29H clarifies that ‘clinical treatment need not involve invasive medical treatment (and may include or be constituted by counselling).’

 

Although the Act still requires that ‘clinical treatment constituted by counselling only cannot be regarded as a sufficient amount of appropriate clinical treatment unless the period of the counselling is equal to or greater than the prescribed period.’

 

Regulation 7C of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Regulations 2011 states that ‘the prescribed period may be comprised of:

a) at least 3 separate counselling sessions aggregating 135 minutes; or

b) counselling sessions occurring over a period of at least 6 months.’

 

And section 29K provides that an application to change sex or gender ‘must be accompanied by… a statement by a medical practitioner or psychologist certifying that the person has undertaken a sufficient amount of appropriate clinical treatment in relation to the person’s sex or gender identity (including in the case of a person whose sex or gender identity has now become determinate)…’

 

So, even though South Australia has abolished the requirement for surgery in order to have a change of sex recorded, it still places undue emphasis on clinical treatment, and elevates doctors and/or psychologists to the place of ‘gate-keepers’ for trans and gender diverse people accessing identity documents. It should be replaced by a self-identification scheme, based on statutory declarations – nothing more and nothing less.

 

Tasmania

 

Tasmania has – at least in the past two decades – led the way on LGBT law reform within Australia. And, following the passage of the Justice Related Legislation (Marriage Amendment) Act 2019, it now does so again on access to birth certificates and other identity documentation for trans and gender diverse Tasmanians.

 

As a result, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999 now allows trans and gender diverse people, including people 16 years and over, to self-determine their own gender identity, without the need for surgery, without the need for medical approval and based solely on self declaration (there is also a process for children younger than 16 to have their gender identity recognised, with support from parents or guardians).

 

This legislation, which took effect on 5 September 2019, is now the standard that other jurisdictions need to adopt.

 

ACT

 

The Australian Capital Territory adopts a similar approach to South Australia on this issue.

 

Section 24 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1997 provides that a person applying to have the register amended to reflect a change of sex must have ‘received appropriate clinical treatment for alteration of the person’s sex.’ This term does not appear to be defined, meaning it does not explicitly require surgical intervention.

 

However, just like South Australia, the role of doctors and medical professionals as ‘gate-keepers’ is confirmed by section 25, which requires that any application ‘must be accompanied by a statement by a doctor, or a psychologist, certifying that the person has received appropriate clinical treatment for alteration of the person’s sex…’

 

Therefore, while the ACT has the equal-third best current regime of any state or territory, it must still be amended to remove the requirement for ‘appropriate clinical treatment’ – as interpreted and approved by a medical professional – and allow trans and gender diverse people to determine their own gender identity.

 

NT

 

The Northern Territory has also recently amendment their Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act to make some improvements in that jurisdiction, although it still falls short of best practice.

 

On the positive side, it has abolished the requirement to have surgery in order to access accurate identity documentation.

 

However, the new section 28B of the Act still requires trans and gender diverse people to show that they have ‘received appropriate clinical treatment in relation to the adult’s sex or gender’ (although, positively, there is no such requirement for intersex people).

 

Section 28C then clarifies that an application for updated identity documentation must be accompanied by ‘a statement by a medical practitioner or a psychologist certifying that the adult has received appropriate clinical treatment in relation to the adult’s sex or gender’ (similar processes apply for children).

 

In effect, doctors or psychologists remain gate-keepers, standing in the way of trans and gender diverse people obtaining accurate identity documentation, including birth certificates. So, will the recent changes are a step forward, there is still a long way to go for trans law reform in the Northern Territory.

 

[NB For a quick summary of birth certificate legislation, including relevant fees and charges and whether X marker options are available, see Liz Duck-Chong’s website.]

 

**********

 

Trans and gender diverse Australians are exactly that: diverse. Not all will seek medical treatment as part of transition, and only some will undertake surgical interventions (while some others may wish to, but are currently prevented due to the exorbitant costs involved and a lack of Commonwealth Government financial support).

 

But their gender identities should be recognised irrespective of whether they had surgery, and irrespective of the type of other medical interventions they have received (if any). The law should be changed to reflect identity, not surgery. And trans and gender diverse Australians must be in control of that identity, not doctors or other medical professionals.

 

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Ending Forced Trans Divorce: Mission Accomplished

It is now 18 months since the passage of legislation that finally allowed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people the right to marry under Australian law.

 

Well, most LGBTI people. Because it did not immediately overrule the laws of some Australian states and territories that prevent people who are married from changing their identity documentation to reflect their gender identity. In effect, making some trans and gender diverse people choose between the recognition of their relationship, and recognition of who they are.

 

Instead, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 gave states and territories 12 months in which to update relevant legislation to provide married people with the same opportunity to update their birth certificates as unmarried people.

 

At the end of this 12-month period, on 9 December 2018, the existing exemption under sub-section 40(5) the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 was repealed:

 

Nothing in Division 2 renders it unlawful to refuse to make, issue or alter an official record of a person’s sex if a law of a State or Territory requires the refusal because the person is married.

 

So how did the states and territories respond?

 

First, there are two jurisdictions that had already abolished forced trans divorce prior to the passage of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act:

 

The Australian Capital Territory, where section 24(1) of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1997 does not make any distinction on the basis of whether a person is married or unmarried, and

 

South Australia, where sub-section 29I(3) of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 explicitly states that an application to change sex or gender identity ‘may be made under this section even if the person is married.’

 

There are four other jurisdictions that passed legislation within the 12 month time-frame granted to repeal forced trans divorce:

 

Victoria, where Parliament approved the Justice Legislation Amendment (Access to Justice) Act 2018 on 22 May. Among other things, this law repealed the requirement in section 30A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 that a person be unmarried in order to apply to alter their details on the register, and

 

New South Wales, which passed the Miscellaneous Amendment (Marriages) Act 2018 in June. Similar to the Victorian Act, this legislation removes the requirement in sub-section 32B(1)(c) of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 that a person be unmarried in order to apply to alter the register to record change of sex.

 

Queensland, which also passed its Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Act 2018 in June, amending the requirement in section 22 of the original Act that a person be unmarried for their sexual reassignment to be noted on the Register, and

 

The Northern Territory, which passed the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2018 in late November, taking effect on 6 December with only three days to spare.

 

Which means that, at the time of the December 2018 deadline, two out of eight Australian states and territories had failed to repeal forced trans divorce:

 

Western Australia, where the Gender Reassignment Amendment Bill 2018 passed the Legislative Assembly in November 2018, but was not passed by the Legislative Council before the end of 2018. Update: The Legislative Council passed the Bill on Tuesday 12 February 2019, and

 

Tasmania, where the Justice and Related Legislation (Marriage Amendments) Bill 2018 – which makes a range of important amendments beyond simply repealing forced trans divorce – passed the Legislative Assembly in November 2018 despite Government opposition, and awaits consideration by their Legislative Council in March this year. Update: This Bill was passed by the Legislative Council in April 2019, and took effect in May 2019.

 

Of course, it is disappointing that it took another 17 months for trans and gender diverse Australians to gain access to marriage on the same terms of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

 

But it is still worthy of celebration that the abhorrent legal discrimination that was forced trans divorce has finally been made history.

 

Finally, this doesn’t mean the struggle for LGBTI equality in Australia is over – there is plenty left to do as part of the LGBTI agenda (see here).

 

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* This article was originally published in June 2018 as ‘Ending Forced Trans Divorce: Mission Half Accomplished’.

Submission re Queensland Registering Life Events Discussion Paper

The following is my submission in response to the Queensland Government Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families Discussion Paper. For more information on this review, go here.

 

BDM Act Review Team

PO Box 15188

City East, Brisbane QLD 4002

bdmlegislativereview@justice.qld.gov.au

 

Wednesday 18 April 2018

 

To the BDM Act Review Team

 

Submission re Registering Life Events Discussion Paper

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in response to the Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families Discussion Paper.

 

I write this submission as a long-time advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

 

I also write this as a cisgender gay man, and am therefore guided by the views of those groups directly affected by the provisions of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003.

 

Specifically, with respect to questions 1 to 7 I endorse both the submission to the current review by Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA),[i] and the Sex and Gender Advisory Group’s letter to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department Review of the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender.[ii]

 

Where there is any inconsistency between this submission and the views of these groups, I defer to them as experts in these areas.

 

Question 1. How should a person’s sex be recorded on the birth, adoption and death registers?

Question 2. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

I support the views expressed in Recommendation 3 of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission that: Queensland should end legal classification of individuals by sex or gender, in line with the Darlington Statement and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.

 

I also agree with IHRA that this recommendation is unlikely to be achieved in the short-term and therefore support their recommendation 4, namely that: In the absence of an end to legal classification of individuals by sex or gender, Queensland should recognise ‘non-binary’, alternative (for example, self-affirmed) and multiple sex markers. Changes should be available [via] a simple administrative procedure, for example, via a statutory declaration.

 

I note that this terminology, and in particular the use of the term ‘non-binary’, was also supported by the Sex and Gender Advisory Group in its letter of 24 September 2015.

 

Question 3. Should any changes be considered to the BDMR Act and BDMR Regulation to improve the legal recognition of sex and gender diverse people in Queensland? If so, what should the changes be?

Question 4. Should any changes be made to the BDMR Act’s provisions regarding an application to note a reassignment of sex for children/young people under the age of 18? If so, what should the changes be?

 

Yes, significant changes must be made to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 to improve the legal recognition of sex and gender diverse people in Queensland. This includes the removal of the major hurdles that currently prevent people from accessing accurate and appropriate identity documentation.

 

First, the requirement that trans and gender diverse people must have ‘sexual reassignment surgery’[iii] before being able to update their sex on the birth register must be removed. This requirement is inappropriate as not all transgender people want or are able to undertake such procedures (for a variety or reasons, including financial).

 

Second, the requirement that applications to note the reassignment of a person’s sex ‘must be accompanied by statutory declarations, by 2 doctors, verifying that the person the subject of the application has undergone sexual reassignment surgery’ [section 23(4)(b)] must also be removed. The medicalisation of identity recognition processes is also inappropriate – doctors should not be ‘gatekeepers’ of the identity of trans and gender diverse people.

 

The process for updating sex and gender details should be based on the experience and/or identity of the individual involved – not the opinion of medical ‘experts’ – and should be straight-forward, most likely affirmed through a simple statutory declaration.

 

The same principles should also apply with respect to minors, with no medical gatekeepers involved, and the only caveat being that they are able to demonstrate their capacity for consent. Obviously, this also means that where a minor is able to demonstrate such capacity, they should be permitted to amend their identity documentation in the absence of approval from parent(s) or guardian(s).

 

Finally, I endorse Recommendation 6 of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission that: In the absence of legislation and regulation that implements prior BDM recommendations, the Queensland government should ensure that a separate, simple and accessible pathway is available for people born with variations of sex characteristics to correct details on birth certificates.

 

Question 5. Should the BDMR Act contain provisions to allow for the reassignment of a person’s sex for individuals who reside in Queensland but whose birth was registered elsewhere?

Question 6. Should BDMR Act allow for the issuing of a gender recognition certificate/identity acknowledgement certificate which can be used by a person as proof of their sex or gender?

Question 7. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

Yes, I support the inclusion of provisions to allow for the reassignment of a person’s sex for individuals who reside in Queensland but whose birth was registered elsewhere. This would seem to be an important practical measure for people who are unable to update these details in other jurisdictions, for a variety of possible reasons.

 

I am not in a position to comment on the process for such recognition – including the specific proposal for the issuing of a gender recognition certificate/identity acknowledgement certificate – and defer to the views of trans, gender diverse and intersex organisations on this question.

 

Question 8. Should the BDMR Act be amended to permit same-sex parents to choose how they are recorded on a birth or adoption registration?

 

Yes, although this should not be limited to ‘same-sex parents’ – all parents should be able to nominate how they are recorded. This would better reflect the diversity of modern families, not just in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, but also in terms of methods of family creation.

 

Question 9. If so, what descriptors should be available and in what combinations?

 

At the very least, parents should have the option of nominating as ‘mother’, ‘father’ or ‘parent’, thereby allowing the combinations of mother/father, mother/mother, father/father, mother/parent, father/parent and parent/parent.

 

I am not in a position to comment on what other terms may be preferable (especially with respect to the potential use of ‘birth mother’ or ‘birth parent’) but encourage the BDM Act Review Team to consult directly with rainbow families on these issues.

 

Question 10. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

I note that the Discussion Paper states that ‘[t]he issue of whether or not a child’s birth or adoption registration should include more than two parents and the issuing of integrated birth certificates listing more than two parents will be canvassed in a subsequent discussion paper.’

 

I take this opportunity to pre-emptively express the view that, in contemporary Australia, there is already a wide range of family structures in existence – including where children are raised by three or four different parents – and that the law should be amended to reflect this reality.

 

Additional Comments

 

I also take this opportunity to express my support for the first two recommendations of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission to the current review, namely that:

 

Recommendation 1. Queensland should protect children’s right to bodily integrity, in line with the Darlington Statement and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10

and

Recommendation 2. The Queensland government should protect people from discrimination and violence on grounds of ‘sex characteristics’, in line with the attribute defined in the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.

 

These are important issues and both represent serious shortcomings in Queensland law (as well as in other jurisdictions within Australia). The Queensland Government has in recent years adopted a progressive agenda on LGBTI issues overall – I strongly encourage it to add both of these items to that list.

 

Thank you for considering this submission as part of this important review. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details below should you require additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

Palaszczuk

The Palaszczuk Labor Government has already enacted a strong LGBTI reform agenda – but there’s plenty left to do.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Morgan Carpenter, 4 April 2018: https://ihra.org.au/32033/submission-bdm-queensland/

[ii] Gavi Ansara, Sue Webeck, Morgan Carpenter, Peter Hyndal and Sally Goldner, 24 September 2015, as published on the National LGBTI Health Alliance website: https://lgbtihealth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/FOR-DISTRIBUTION-AGD-Sex-and-Gender-Guidelines-Review-Advisory-Group-Endorsement-Letter.pdf

[iii] Defined in the Act as:

‘means a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs carried out:

(a) to help the person to be considered a member of the opposite sex; or

(b) to correct or eliminate ambiguities about the sex of the person.’

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.

Submission to Alex Greenwich Discussion Paper re Removing Surgical Requirement for Changes to Birth Certificate

Alex Greenwich MP

58 Oxford St

PADDINGTON NSW 2021

sydney@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Friday 21 August 2015

Dear Mr Greenwich

SUBMISSION ON DISCUSSION PAPER RE REMOVING SURGICAL REQUIREMENT FOR CHANGES TO BIRTH CERTIFICATE

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this short submission in response to the above-mentioned Discussion Paper, and for highlighting what is clearly an important issue for transgender people in NSW.

I should begin by noting that I am writing this from the perspective of a cisgender gay man and that, if this submission is contrary to the views expressed by trans* individuals and organisations, then those submissions should obviously be preferred.

Nevertheless, as a long-term advocate and activist within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, I find it hard to disagree with the premise of the Discussion Paper which is that trans* people should not be required to undergo irreversible sex affirmation surgical procedures before being able to apply to amend their birth certificate.

Similarly, I can see no valid reason why the approach which has been adopted by Ireland – and which is described in the Discussion Paper as ‘world’s best practice’ – should not be adopted here.

This approach – allowing transgender individuals to legally change their birth certificate through a statutory declaration process without any need for medical documentation – has a number of significant advantages.

These include:

  • Recognising the diversity of experience within the transgender community
  • Respecting the personal autonomy of people to identify themselves and
  • Removing the unnecessary ‘medicalisation’ of this process.

Above all, adopting the Irish approach would make it easier for trans* people to obtain documentation which reflects their gender identity, which is a positive outcome in and of itself.

I look forward to seeing the Final Report of this consultation later in 2015, and to the ongoing work of yourself and the NSW Cross-Party LGBTI Working Group on a wide range of other, related issues, including (but not limited to):

  • The abolition of incredibly unjust ‘forced trans* divorce’ laws
  • The removal of exceptions to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 which allow private schools to discriminate against trans* students and teachers[i] and
  • The abolition of the unjustifiably broad exceptions granted to religious organisations in sub-section 56(d)[ii] of the same Act.

Thank you in advance for taking this submission into account. Please contact me at the details provided below if you would like clarification or further information about any aspect of this submission.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

[i] Section 38K of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, which covers education, provides that “[n]othing in this section applies to or in respect of private educational authorities”.

[ii] “Nothing in this Act affects: … (d) any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

State Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich (source NSW Parliament website).

State Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich (source: NSW Parliament website).