The countless years of advocacy by intersex people is finally starting to produce results as the Victorian government has pledged to introduce legislation that will protect the rights of intersex people in healthcare. 

Releasing The (i) Am Equal: Future Directions for Victoria’s Intersex Community, the Victorian Government has made a commitment to protect intersex children from non-consensual and intrusive surgeries and make healthcare more accessible for intersex people. 

In a media release published by Equality Australia, Co-chair of the Victorian Intersex Expert Advisory Group, and board member of Intersex Human Rights Australia, Tony Briffa said the changes proposed by the Victorian government are world leading. 

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“Addressing the human rights and treatment of Victorian children born with variations of sex characteristics has been a long time in the making, and it’s important we get it right,” said Briffa. 

Intrusive Surgeries Are Common

tony briffa intersex

Tony Briffa. Image: Supplied.

In order to properly protect intersex people (i) Am Equal proposes that a human rights evidenced based framework is enacted prior to determining what medical interventions should be taken, especially for children.

Intersex Human Rights Australia executive director Morgan Carpenter said it is still common for intersex children to undergo intrusive surgeries to make them appear more male or female.

“A lot of ideas about how bodies should look and should function are really heteronormative,” Carpenter said “Typically, these surgeries are elective and are not necessary. They take place for social and cultural reasons.”

In 2016, the Family Court published a decision on the sterilisation of a five-year old child who had intersex characteristics and had undergone genital surgery.

“These reasons are very reductive and gender stereotypical and based on ideas that children will not grow up normally unless their bodies appear and look a particular way,” Carpenter said.

“Most of these theories have been debunked over decades…but these practices continue because of a lack of transparency and accountability.”

ACT Commits To Protect Rights Of Intersex People

The ACT Government also announced a similar commitment to protect the rights of intersex people and plans to release an options paper for public comment by August 9, 2021.

According to Carpenter, gaving two governments work to protect intersex people in medical settings will have many benefits.

“It has taken so long to get these issues onto the agenda of any Australian jurisdiction so I am so glad we are finally here,” Carpenter said. 

“Having two jurisdictions doing work on this at the same time is really good because it promotes cross learning. (However) the work is not over. This is just an announcement of a commitment to action, a lot of work going on in both jurisdictions right now to try and identify how to do this effectively.”

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More funding for peer support for intersex people is something else Carpenter said he would like to see, as it plays a vital role in helping intersex people and their family members overcome stigma they may have with their bodies.

Significance Of Peer Support Services

Bonnie Hart

Long term member of Intersex Peer Support, Bonnie Hart said that peer support services have played an important role in promoting necessary change.

“Providing people with support often leads to systemic advocacy to try and ensure that the systems that have harmed them in the past are developed so they don’t continue harming people in the future,” Hart said.

“It has been a part of our advocacy for many years now to ensure the rights of Intersex people are protected through the legislative process and better standards of care in clinical environments.”

“If this legislation is passed (by the Victorian government) and implemented it would create a working framework where there is a greater level of transparency and safety for intersex people.”

Greater legislative protections and oversight of complex clinical decision will also give parents of intersex children more assurance that any issues relating to their child’s variation in their sex characteristics will have the best possible support, Hart said.

The Victorian Government is currently working with Equality Australia and Intersex Human Rights Australia, on a proposal to establish an oversight panel that would prevent deferrable medical interventions on intersex people without their personal consent.

Consultations with people with intersex variations, their parents and guardians and clinicians on a draft proposal will commence this month.

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