Moves are afoot to establish a nationwide policy for sex and gender diverse people, with the push for law reform being championed by the Department of the NSW Attorney-General.

Members of the transgender lobby group the Sex and Gender Education Foundation (SAGE) met with the NSW Attorney-General’s Department on Monday to discuss legislative reform in NSW with a view to improving the legal and human rights of the gender diverse community.

In a statement issued to the Star yesterday the Attorney-General Bob Debus emphasised that his government was committed to transgender law reform.

The NSW government recognises that transgender issues cross state and territory borders and we have taken steps to place the issue on a national basis. We also acknowledge that it is probably time to finetune our own legislation, he said

Members of SAGE who attended the meeting emphasised that it was essential to simplify the process whereby gender variant people were recognised.

At the meeting on Monday, we had three main issues to discuss, said Katherine Cummings, editor of the Gender Centre magazine Polare. Firstly, we want to move to achieve a uniformity of legislation Australia-wide. You can’t have people crossing borders and changing their [gender] status.

In January 2002, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board (ADB) distributed an Issues Paper to officers from the national Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) which addressed the issue of transgender recognition. The Issues Paper concluded that transgender people who have not had reassignment surgery should be able to change their birth certificates so that they can identify as the gender of their choice.

However, members of SAGE commented that there are problems with bringing in legislative changes because there are gaps in the understanding of gender identity issues. It will be a slow process, said SAGE member Dr Tracie O’Keefe, who also attended Monday’s meeting. We will have to guide the Attorney-General’s Department every step of the way.

The biggest problems were with the words in the Issues Paper, admitted Cummings. There’s a lot of confusion between sex and gender -“ we have to be very careful about the words that we use.

Cummings emphasised that gender diverse people included a range of identities apart from those commonly discussed such as transsexual, transgendered and intersex.

In fact, there are around 50 or more diverse identities that come under the general heading of sex and gender variance, Cummings explained, And we’ve provided a document to the A-G which has a complete listing of intersex conditions.

Obviously, with a number like that, it’s not simple; it’s a multitude of paths. The extensive range of identities within various societies do not conform to the male/female heterosexual models.

According to SAGE, while the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 covers transgender discrimination in NSW, additional legislation is needed which more comprehensively recognises the diversity of gender variance.

Under current NSW legislation, a new birth certificate with a person’s preferred gender can only be issued by the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages to people who are born in NSW, have had sex reassignment surgery and are unmarried.

There are some people who, for ideological, financial or other reasons, can’t have or don’t want to have surgery, and others who don’t want to get divorced, Cummings said.

Why is it necessary for marriages to be dissolved in order to get a new birth certificate? We believe this should not be a necessity. It’s no business of the state to discuss this issue.

Cummings said that she believed that resistance to the issue was coming from the Church who don’t want to have two women or two men married to each other.

It’s ridiculous that people who have joined their lives together cannot continue to do so and have all the advantages of a married couple as well as a recognition certificate, Cummings maintained.

Legislative mechanisms similar to those in NSW operate in all other states and territories apart from Queensland and Victoria. However some states issue recognition certificates rather than new birth certificates and the transferability of such documentation can be difficult.

The Star understands that the next meeting with the Attorney-General’s Department will be held in July where it is expected that Attorney-General Bob Debus will be in attendance.

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