Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Australian commission releases amazing report on gender diversity

As I documented in my article "Against the Surgical Requirement for Change of Legal Sex," Australia has in some respects been a global leader on transgender rights. A 2001 Australian Family Court decision is one of the leading cases on legal recognition of gender transition. In 2004, that court favored access to puberty-delaying hormone treatment for trans adolescents, and called into question the wisdom of requiring reassignment surgery as a prerequisite for legal recognition.

Yet in some ways Australian law is still strict when it comes to gender. Throughout the country, changing your sex on government documents is only possible if you are unmarried and have had reassignment surgery. Now the Australian Human Rights Commission has released a fantastic report entitled Sex Files: The legal recognition of sex in documents and government records. The Commission consulted with trans advocates and individuals through meetings, written submissions and a special blog. It arrived at the following recommendations:

1. Access to the system for having sex legally recognised to accord with sex
identity should be broadened. Specifically,

  • marital status should not be a relevant consideration as to whether or not a person can request a change in legal sex
  • the definition of sex affirmation treatment should be broadened so that surgery is not the only criteria for a change in legal sex
  • the evidentiary requirements for the legal recognition of sex should be relaxed by reducing the quantity of medical evidence required and making greater allowance for people to self-identify their sex
  • the special needs of children and young people who wish to amend their documents and records should be considered
  • a person over the age of 18 years should be able to choose to have an unspecified sex noted on documents and records.

2. The process for amending documents and records to legally recognise sex
identity should be streamlined and user-friendly. Specifically,

  • information on the process and criteria for the legal recognition of sex should be easily accessible and user-friendly
  • documents of identity and processes required for the legal recognition of sex should not reveal personal information about a person’s past identity in relation to sex
  • laws and processes for the legal recognition of sex should use empowering terminology
  • where possible, sex or gender should be removed from government forms and documents
  • the federal government should consider the development of national guidelines concerning the collection of sex and gender information from individuals.

The report correctly notes that eliminating the surgical and marital-status restrictions would simply reflect the reality of people's daily lives. Notably, the Commission is agnostic on whether this would conflict with the current ban on same-sex marriage in Australia, but points out that it would only affect a small number of people who regardless are already legally married and living as same-sex couples as far as they and the general public are concerned.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the reccomendation that individuals be able to have their sex listed as unspecified. Australia is already the first nation to permit an X in lieu of an M or F on passports, but currently this is only for intersex individuals. Under the Commission's proposal, this would be a matter of individual choice, without the need for medical or other evidence.

I have no sense of whether the current Labor government in Australia is likely to implement any of these recommendations, but the report itself is a remarkable accomplishment.

H/t Questioning Transphobia

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