2016 will be a defining year for Australia’s LGBTI communities. We can expect a vote — whether parliamentary or public — on marriage equality and potential progress on a number of important trans and intersex reforms. There are opportunities for other reforms with many states reviewing anti-discrimination laws.
A plebiscite on marriage equality will be expensive, risks being divisive, and is pointless. We have the numbers for reform in Federal Parliament and a plebiscite is not even legally binding. It will be a test for Prime Minister Turnbull on whether he listens to the majority of Australians who just want this done or takes the side of those far right senators who want a $160 million plebiscite they will ignore.
There is also an urgent need for trans and intersex reforms. A growing body of evidence shows significantly higher rates of mental health problems among trans people, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and self-harm. While there are fewer studies into mental health that identify intersex status, international studies and anecdotal evidence point to similar poor mental health outcomes. Stigma, discrimination, isolation and exclusion all contribute to poorer mental health in these communities.
The Human Rights Commission report on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex rights (SOGII) identified extensive reforms needed to remove state-sanctioned discrimination of trans and intersex communities. The report recommended removing barriers to trans people to updating their sex or gender marker on state documentation. This is a serious problem because having incorrect and inconsistent documentation forces trans people to repeatedly explain the deeply personal situation of their transition, subjecting them to judgement, discrimination and stigma.
But a trans person cannot update the sex on their birth certificate if they are married, which forces many to choose between divorcing a loving and supportive spouse and having the correct sex on their birth certificate. That choice is untenable and unfair. The support and stability of a loving spouse during a transition is vital and many couples do not want to divorce.
Trans people also cannot update the sex on their birth certificate without undergoing expensive and often unnecessary surgery. Surgery is not always appropriate and is not the most common form of sex affirmation treatment — many prefer hormonal treatment. Federal agencies do not have this requirement. Instead, they allow a person to change their sex on their passport with a statutory declaration from a medical practitioner. I will be prioritising this reform in NSW Parliament in 2016.
The SOGII report recommends an end to cosmetic surgery to normalise genitals of infants born with atypical sex characteristics such as part or both male and female genitals. The surgery is not life-saving but can have lifelong impacts such as pain, scarring, lost sexual sensation and sterilisation, as well as problems if the child’s later identity differs from their surgically assigned. I am calling on the Health Minister to introduce a model where surgery is delayed until informed consent is possible.
The NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages only recognises male and female despite a number of trans and intersex people who have part or both male and female sex characteristics and do not identify with either. Recently, the High Court ruled in favour of a Redfern person named Norrie, stating that the law should recognise that sex is not binary. I note that the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages is working with trans and intersex communities to ensure that people who do not identify as wholly male or female have a valid option to register their sex.
Many states are reviewing their anti-discrimination laws for consistency with the federal sex discrimination act and in response to the SOGII report’s recommendations. I hope this encourages governments to remove the ridiculous provisions that allow private educational bodies to discriminate against LGBTI students.
This year poses many opportunities and challenges. We must ensure we support, encourage, and care for all LGBTI communities throughout 2016 and to win we must keep our focus on progressing our rights and not be distracted by our opponents’ nonsense.
Alex Greenwich is the independent state MP for Sydney. He is also the Chair of Australian Marriage Equality.
Editor’s note: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, also Wentworth federal Liberal MP, was invited to write a piece for Star Observer’s March edition. At the time of print it had not yet been provided.
**This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.
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