Australia embraces new gender guidelines

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Australia has embraced a growing global trend towards acknowledging greater gender diversity with individuals now able to be referred to as "indeterminate, intersex or unspecified" on official documents rather than male or female.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said new national guidelines, which come into force on July 1, will make it simpler for people to establish or change their sex or gender in personal records held by government departments and agencies.

"We recognise individuals may identify, and be recognised within the community, as a gender other than the gender they were assigned at birth or during infancy, or as an indeterminate gender," he said in a statement late Thursday.

"This should be recognised and reflected in their personal records held by departments and agencies."

The move comes after the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2009 recommended the government consider developing national guidelines concerning the collection of sex and gender information.

The new guidelines state that "where sex and/or gender information is collected and recorded in a personal record, individuals should be given the option to select M (male), F (female) or X (Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified)".

They state that sex reassignment surgery and/or hormone therapy are not pre-requisites for the recognition of a change of gender in Australian government records.

When someone requests the sex on their personal record be changed, Dreyfus said the government would accept a statement from their doctor or psychologist, a valid Australian passport (which have allowed X under sex for several years), or a state or territory birth certificate or other document which shows their preferred gender status.

"Transgender and intersex people in Australia face many issues trying to ensure the gender status on their personal records matches the gender they live and how they are recognised by the community," Dreyfus said.

"These guidelines will bring about a practical improvement in the everyday lives of transgender, intersex and gender diverse people."

The move comes just weeks after a New South Wales ruled that sex does not just mean male or female, which suggests terms like "sex not specified" could become more prevalent.

Organisation Intersex International Australia welcomed the new guidelines.

But it noted that many people who were intersex, either because they have the biological attributes of both sexes or lack some of the biological attributes considered necessary to be defined as one or the other, may still identify as male or female.

"What happened yesterday was a major leap forward because it helps to ensure there is consistency in how people are treated at the federal level," Morgan, a spokesperson for the organisation who did not want to use his surname, told AFP.

"We would rather not have to participate in these binary boxes if we don't want to. People should be able to choose something if they really want."

Australia's move is seen as part of a global trend towards greater acceptance of sex and gender diversity.

In 2011, UN High Commission for Human Rights Navi Pillay described Australia as "in the vanguard of change" when it enabled its citizens to have their sex and gender identity properly recognised on their passports.

"Increasingly, states around the world are starting to recognise the need to reflect sex and gender diversity," Pillay said at the time, saying pioneering steps had been taken in recent years in Nepal, Portugal, Britain and Uruguay."

Earlier this week Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government to alter passports so that transgenders no longer have to describe themselves as male or female.

The move comes more than six years after the court ordered the government to enact laws to guarantee the rights of transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

- AFP

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