Australia’s new Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow has said he wants to end the unnecessary sterilisation of intersex people in the country.

During the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby’s (VGLRL) annual general meeting this week, Santow gave his first keynote to the LGBTI community.

As part of his address Santow highlighted the ‘normalising’ medical interventions performed on intersex infants, children, and adolescents in Australia, saying the country needs a consistent approach.

In Australia, irreversible medical interventions are performed on intersex people with insufficient medical evidence, which can create lifelong patients and inflict trauma.

By ‘normalising’ an intersex person’s physical appearance or sex it can also stigmatise difference.

“Over the coming year the Commission intends to work on promoting the rights of intersex people… around involuntary or coerced sterilisation,” he said.

“The Commission will evaluate the current approach to medical interventions in Australia and develop a nationally consistent human rights based approach to decision making around medical interventions.

“The aim of this will be to end medically unnecessary, ‘normalising’ interventions.”

Santow also addressed the potential marriage equality plebiscite, saying he opposes a plebiscite on marriage equality and doesn’t want people confusing the same-sex marriage debate with other LGBTI issues.

However, he believes advocates on both sides should remain respectful of each other.

“Whether this should be resolved by a plebiscite is ultimately a decision for parliament, but from a human rights perspective, we oppose plebiscites as a way of resolving issues of fundamental rights,” he said.

“But we see a role for the Commission in promoting respectful discussions that accommodate the rights and freedoms of all Australian people.”

Santow added that people on both sides of the debate have raised concerns around ugly or damaging rhetoric.

“Advocates of marriage equality have been telling me they don’t want the debate to be portrayed as something it’s not,” he said.

“It’s not about rainbow families having children, or the Safe Schools program, it’s about a change to the definition of marriage and that’s it.

“On the other hand, opponents of marriage equality object to labels like ‘homophobe’ or ‘bigot’ being deployed too readily.”

Co-convenor of the VGLRL Sean Mulcahy said the lobby was grateful to Santow for giving an address only a few weeks into his role.

“We look forward to working with him and the Commission to advance LGBTI rights including marriage equality and beyond,” he told the Star Observer.

“It’s important to remember that marriage equality is simply about changing the legal definition of marriage to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples and gender diverse couples.

“It’s also important to maintain a respectful debate on both sides that focuses on the issues at hand.”


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