Tuesday’s historic vote to pass the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill 2013 has particular significance for Australia’s intersex community—it is the first time anywhere in the world intersex people have been specifically named under anti-discrimination law.
Intersex activists in Australia have been fighting for these protections for a long time. Gina Wilson from Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia said this important victory is the result of lobbying to move intersex activism out of the medical sphere.
“Intersex activists in Australia have rejected the medical model of intersex. We see our differences as natural, and the fight for intersex rights as a political fight—not a fight to be had with doctors but a fight for our human rights,” Wilson said.
She praised the Labor government’s commitment to human rights, and said intersex activism has gained momentum through its involvement with the broader LGBT movement.
“It’s happened for the first time in Australia because intersex organisations in Australia have made it their business to make sure people are really aware intersex people exist,” Wilson said.
“They are subjected to the same kinds of discrimination that other people who are LGBT are subjected to, particularly homophobic discrimination, and we have things in common and we should fight for them all together.”
Wilson said it is important the bill is so comprehensive, where previously LGBT people had been covered to varying degrees under a patchwork of state legislation, and intersex people not at all. Attempts in Australia and elsewhere to seek protection for intersex people under “gender identity” had failed, including in South Africa, where protection from discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity” appears in the constitution.
“This makes it very, very clear that intersex is not an issue of gender, it’s an issue of biological sex, and gives a really comprehensive and clear definition of that, so if we are subjected to discrimination we can successfully argue our case in a court,” explained Wilson.
Despite the victory, OII Australia is already focusing on the next battle, waiting for the findings from a Senate Inquiry into the forced sterilisation of intersex people and people with a disability, expected to come out mid-July.
“We are hoping that some positive recommendation that is acted on by this government or the next comes out of that to prevent the forced sterilisation of intersex people,” Wilson said, encouraging people to make urgent submissions to the inquiry.
The new laws from the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill 2013 are expected to come into effect by August 1 2013.