Did You Know? Trans People in NSW and Queensland Still Require Surgery to Update Their Birth Certificates

This week marked an important milestone on the long march to trans and gender diverse equality in Australia. From 1 May 2020, trans and gender diverse people in Victoria can update their birth certificate and other identity documentation without requiring surgery.

Unfortunately, there are still two Australian jurisdictions that continue to impose this unjustified and unnecessary barrier, as well as a third where the laws also require urgent amendment.

New South Wales

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

‘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.’

The Berejiklian Liberal National Government has given no commitments to fix this appalling provision during the current parliamentary term, with the next election not due until 25 March 2023 (which would represent a dozen years of inaction on this vital reform).

If the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW) is not updated before then, another event in February and March 2023 – Sydney World Pride – will ensure that the Berejiklian Government is rightly subject to significant global criticism.

Queensland

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 birth.’

The Palaszczuk Labor Government actually engaged in a public consultation process about removing this requirement, releasing the Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families discussion paper more than two years ago.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to have been much movement on this issue since then, and time is quickly running out, with just five months left of sittings before Parliament is dissolved before the state election scheduled on 31 October 2020.

The clock is ticking for the Palaszczuk Government to fix the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 (Qld) – trans and gender diverse Queenslanders have waited long enough for access to identity documentation that accurately reflects who they are.

Western Australia

The situation is only slightly better in the nation’s West, where section 14 the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 allows people to apply for gender recognition certificates where that person ‘has undergone a reassignment procedure’. 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.’

Fortunately, following a decision of the High Court in AB v Western Australia; AH v Western Australia [2011] HCA 42 6 October 2011, this has been interpreted such that genital surgery is not required. However, physical medical treatment, such as hormone therapy, remains a pre-requisite to access a new birth certificate in Western Australia.

These issues were examined in the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia’s 2018 Report: Review of Western Australian legislation in relation to the registration or change of a person’s sex and/or gender and status relating to sex characteristics, which recommended that applications for change of gender involve a simple administrative process, including a statutory declaration, with no requirement for surgical or other medical treatment.

With less than 12 months left before the next state election, due on 13 March 2021, the pressure is on the McGowan Labor Government to implement these reforms.

South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory

These three jurisdictions have abolished the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to have surgery, or other physical medical interventions, in order to access updated birth certificates and identity documentation.

However, they do still require doctors or other health practitioners, such as counsellors or psychologists, to approve such applications, which remains inappropriate medicalisation of people’s gender identities, that should instead be based on self-identification.

Section 29L of South Australia’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 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…’, with section 29H clarifying that ‘clinical treatment need not involve invasive medical treatment (and may include or be constituted by counselling).’

Likewise, section 24 of the Australian Capital Territory’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration 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’. Clinical treatment is not further defined, meaning it does not explicitly require surgical intervention.

The Northern Territory has also adopted a similar approach, with section 28B of their Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act providing that trans and gender diverse people can update their birth certificates if they can show that they have ‘received appropriate clinical treatment in relation to the adult’s sex or gender’.

It is positive that each of South Australia, the ACT and NT have removed the requirement for surgery or other physical medical interventions. However, in order to reflect the self-determination of trans and gender diverse people, they should still amend their laws to remove the role of health practitioners as ‘gate-keepers’ of their identity.

Victoria

As indicated above, Victoria’s new birth certificate reforms mean trans and gender diverse Victorians can update their identity documentation without having surgery or other physical medical interventions.

Importantly, these changes, which were introduced by the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Act 2019 (Vic), also mean that trans and gender diverse people do not need approval from doctors or other health practitioners, such as counsellors or psychologists. Their role as ‘gate-keepers’ is over.

However, there is one requirement which fails the principle of complete ‘self-identification’. That’s because section 30A of the Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 requires adults to 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 application to alter the record of their sex in good faith, and
  • supports the application.

This second requirement in particular (that another person must ‘support’ the application of a trans or gender diverse person for a new birth certificate) is unnecessary, and is the reason why Victoria’s new scheme, while a massive improvement from the previous regime, falls short of Australian best practice.

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Ideally, access to accurate identity documentation for trans and gender diverse people should not depend on whether another person ‘supports’ their application.

Tasmania

That honour belongs to Tasmania’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. Following amendments earlier last year, it allows trans and gender diverse Tasmanians (aged over 16) to self-determine their own gender identity.

Without the need for surgery or other physical medical interventions. Without the need for medical approval. And based solely on self-identification.

When NSW, Queensland and Western Australia finally bring their own birth certificate laws into the 21st century, it is the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999 (Tas) they should be emulating.

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This article is part of a series. Find other ‘Did You Know?’ posts here.

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An LGBTI Agenda for NSW

Today marks exactly two years until the next NSW State election (scheduled for Saturday 23 March, 2019).

 

Despite the fact we are half-way through it, there has been a distinct lack of progress on policy and law reform issues that affect NSW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities during the current term of Parliament.

 

This is in marked contrast to the previous term – which saw the abolition of the homosexual advance defence (or ‘gay panic’ defence), as well as the establishment of a framework to expunge historical convictions for gay sex offences.

 

The parliamentary term before that was even more productive, with a suite of measures for rainbow families (including the recognition of lesbian co-parents, equal access to assisted reproductive technology and altruistic surrogacy, and the introduction of same-sex adoption) as well as the establishment of the registered relationships scheme.

 

With a (relatively) new Premier in Gladys Berejiklian, now is the time for the Liberal-National Government specifically, and the NSW Parliament generally, to take action to remedy their disappointing recent lack of activity.

 

Here are 12 issues, in no particular order, which I believe need to be addressed as a matter of priority – and if Premier Berejiklian won’t fix them in the next 24 months, then they must be on the agenda of whoever forms government in March 2019.

 

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The first four issues relate to the state’s fundamentally broken anti-discrimination laws, with the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 now one of, if not, the worst LGBTI anti-discrimination regime in the country[i].

 

  1. Include bisexual people in anti-discrimination laws

 

NSW was actually the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce anti-discrimination protections on the basis of homosexuality, in 1982.

 

However, 35 years later and these laws still do not cover bisexuality – meaning bisexual people do not have legal protection against discrimination under state law (although, since 2013, they have enjoyed some protections under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984).

 

NSW is the only state or territory where bisexuality is excluded. This is a gross omission, and one that the NSW Parliament must rectify urgently.

 

  1. Include intersex people in anti-discrimination laws

 

The historic 2013 reforms to the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 also meant that Australia was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to provide explicit anti-discrimination protection to people with intersex traits.

 

Since then, Tasmania, the ACT and more recently South Australia have all included intersex people in their respective anti-discrimination laws. It is time for other jurisdictions to catch up, and that includes NSW.

 

  1. Remove excessive and unjustified religious exceptions

 

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 also has the broadest ‘religious exceptions’ in the country. These legal loopholes allow religious organisations to discriminate against lesbian, gay and trans people in a wide variety of circumstances, and even where the organisation itself is in receipt of state or Commonwealth money.

 

The most egregious of these loopholes allow all ‘private educational authorities’, including non-religious schools and colleges, to discriminate against lesbian, gay and trans teachers and students.

 

There is absolutely no justification for a school – any school, religious and non-religious alike – to be able to fire a teacher, or expel a student, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

All religious exceptions, including those exceptions applying to ‘private educational authorities’, should be abolished beyond those which allow a religious body to appoint ministers of religion or conduct religious ceremonies.

 

  1. Reform anti-vilification offences

 

NSW is one of only four Australian jurisdictions that provide anti-vilification protections to any part of the LGBTI community. But the relevant provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 are flawed in two key ways:

 

  • As with anti-discrimination (described above), they do not cover bisexual or intersex people, and
  • The maximum fine for a first time offence of homosexual or transgender vilification is lower than the maximum fine for racial or HIV/AIDS vilification.

 

There is no legitimate reason why racial vilification should be considered more serious than anti-LGBTI vilification so, at the same time as adding bisexuality and intersex status to these provisions, the penalties that apply must also be harmonised.

 

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The following are four equally important law reform and policy issues for the state:

 

  1. Reform access to identity documentation for trans people

 

The current process for transgender people to access new identity documentation in NSW – which requires them to first undergo irreversible sex affirmation surgical procedures – is inappropriate for a number of reasons.

 

This includes the fact it is overly-onerous (including imposing financial and other barriers), and makes an issue that should be one of personal identification into a medical one. It also excludes trans people who do not wish to undergo surgical interventions, and does not provide a process to recognise the identities of non-binary gender diverse people.

 

As suggested in the Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich’s Discussion Paper on this subject[ii], the process should be a simple one, whereby individuals can change their birth certificates and other documentation via statutory declaration, without the need for medical interference.

 

At the same time, the requirement for married persons to divorce prior to obtaining new identity documentation (ie ‘forced trans divorce’) should also be abolished.

 

  1. Ban involuntary sterilisation of intersex infants

 

One of the major human rights abuses occurring in Australia today – not just within the LGBTI community, but across all communities – is the ongoing practice of involuntary, and unnecessary, surgical interventions on intersex children.

 

Usually performed for entirely ‘cosmetic’ reasons – to impose a binary sex on a non-binary body – this is nothing short of child abuse. People born with intersex characteristics should be able to make relevant medical decisions for themselves, rather than have procedures, and agendas, imposed upon them.

 

The NSW Government has a role to play in helping to end this practice within state borders, although ultimately the involuntary sterilisation of intersex infants must also be banned nation-wide.

 

  1. Ban gay conversion therapy

 

Another harmful practice that needs to be stamped out is ‘gay conversion therapy’ (sometimes described as ‘ex-gay therapy’).

 

While thankfully less common that it used to be, this practice – which preys on young and other vulnerable LGBT people who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, and uses pseudo-science and coercion in an attempt to make them ‘straight’/cisgender – continues today.

 

There is absolutely no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence that it constitutes extreme psychological abuse, often causing or exacerbating mental health issues such as depression.

 

There are multiple policy options to address this problem; my own preference would be to make both the advertising, and provision, of ‘conversion therapy’ criminal offences. Where this targets people aged under 18, the offence would be aggravated, attracting a higher penalty (and possible imprisonment)[iii].

 

  1. Improve the Relationship Register

 

As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National Government continue to dither on marriage equality (despite it being both the right thing to do, and overwhelmingly popular), in NSW the primary means to formalise a same-sex relationship remains the relationships register.

 

However, there are two main problems with the ‘register’ as it currently stands:

 

  • Nomenclature: The term ‘registered relationship’ is unappealing, and fails to reflect the fundamental nature of the relationship that it purports to describe. I believe it should be replaced with Queensland’s adopted term: civil partnership.
  • Lack of ceremony. The NSW relationship register also does not provide the option to create a registered relationship/civil partnership via a formally-recognised ceremony. This should also be rectified.

 

Fortunately, the five-year review of the NSW Relationships Register Act 2010 was conducted at the start of last year[iv], meaning this issue should already be on the Government’s radar. Unfortunately, more than 12 months later no progress appears to have been made.

 

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The following two issues relate to the need to ensure education is LGBTI-inclusive:

 

  1. Expand the Safe Schools program

 

Despite the controversy, stirred up by the homophobic troika of the Australian Christian Lobby, The Australian newspaper and right-wing extremists within the Commonwealth Government, Safe Schools remains at its core an essential anti-bullying program designed to protect vulnerable LGBTI students from harassment and abuse.

 

Whereas the Victorian Government has decided to fund the program itself, and aims to roll it out to all government secondary schools, in NSW the implementation of Safe Schools has been patchy at best, with limited take-up, and future funding in extreme doubt.

 

Whatever the program is called – Safe Schools, Proud Schools (which was a previous NSW initiative) or something else – there is an ongoing need for an anti-bullying program to specifically promote the inclusion of LGBTI students in all NSW schools, and not just those schools who put their hands up to participate.

 

  1. Ensure the PDHPE curriculum includes LGBTI content

 

Contrary to what Lyle Shelton et al might believe, the LGBTI agenda for schools goes far beyond just Safe Schools. There is also a need to ensure the curriculum includes content that is relevant for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

 

One of the key documents that should include this information is the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) curriculum.

 

The NSW Education Standards Authority is currently preparing a new K-10 PDHPE curriculum. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be genuinely-inclusive of LGBTI students, with only one reference to LGBTI issues (conveniently, all in the same paragraph, on the same page), and inadequate definitions of sexuality/sexual orientation.

 

Fortunately, there is an opportunity to make a submission to the consultation process: full details here. But, irrespective of what the Education Standards Authority recommends, if the PDHPE curriculum does not appropriately include LGBTI students and content, then the Parliament has a responsibility to step in to ensure it is fixed.

 

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The final two issues do not involve policy or law reform, but do feature ‘borrowing’ ideas from our colleagues south of the Murray River:

 

  1. Appoint an LGBTI Commissioner

 

The appointment of Rowena Allen as Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality appears to have been a major success, bringing together LGBTI policy oversight in a central point whilst also ensuring that LGBTI inclusion is made a priority across all Government departments and agencies.

 

I believe NSW should adopt a similar model, appointing an LGBTI Commissioner (possibly within the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet), supported by an equality policy unit, and facilitating LGBTI community representative panels on (at a minimum) health, education and law/justice.

 

  1. Create a Pride Centre

 

Another promising Victorian initiative has been the decision to fund and establish a ‘Pride Centre’, as a focal point for the LGBTI community, and future home for several LGBTI community organisations (with the announcement, just last week, that it will be located in St Kilda).

 

If it acted quickly, the NSW Government could acquire the T2 Building in Taylor Square – just metres from where the 1st Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Parade started in June 1978 – before it is sold off by the City of Sydney. This is an opportunity to use this historic site for purposes that benefit the LGBTI community, and including the possible housing of an LGBTI Museum and/or exhibition space.

 

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This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I’m sure there are issues I have forgotten (sorry), and I’m equally sure that readers of this blog will be able to suggest plenty of additional items (please leave your ideas in the comments below).

 

But the most important point is that, if we are going to achieve LGBTI policy and law reform in the remaining two years of this parliamentary term, we need to be articulating what that agenda looks like.

 

And, just as importantly, if we want to achieve our remaining policy goals in the subsequent term – from 2019 to 2023 – then, with only two years left until the next election, we must be putting forward our demands now.

 

Gladys Berejiklian at Mardi Gras

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at the recent Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. It’s time to back up this symbolic display of support with progress on policies and law reform.

 

Footnotes:

[i] For more, see What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[ii] See my submission to that consultation, here: Submission to Alex Greenwich Discussion Paper re Removing Surgical Requirement for Changes to Birth Certificate.

[iii] For more on both of the last two topics – intersex sterilization, and gay conversion therapy – see my Submission to NSW Parliament Inquiry into False or Misleading Health Practices re Ex-Gay Therapy and Intersex Sterilisation.

[iv] See my submission to that review, here: Submission to Review of NSW Relationships Register Act 2010.