Statute Law Bill - Gender & Sex Recognition

(Debate on Bill, 24 October 2019, Legislative Assembly)

I want to make a very brief contribution on the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (No 2) 2019, which follows the statute law tradition to make a number of small policy and drafting tidy-up changes to various acts and regulations.

My contribution will focus on amendments to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act which will update the definition of doctor to ensure that overseas qualified doctors can verify that a person has undergone a sex affirmation procedure for the purposes of updating their sex on their birth certificate. While it will provide for people who get surgery in countries like Thailand and India, the vast majority of transgender people don’t have surgery and the reforms in this bill highlight the excessive, unnecessary and intrusive steps we impose on transgender people just to allow them to have their correct sex or gender recorded on official state documentation.

Surgery is expensive, irreversible and often unnecessary to transition and it can result in unwanted outcomes like sterility. Surgery is not the most common form of sex affirmation treatment with hormonal treatment more widespread and many transgender people express their gender without any treatment at all. In addition, some people have medical conditions that cause their bodies to naturally feminise or masculinise for whom treatment would be inappropriate.    

Our current requirements fail to recognise the variability in transgender communities and the result of these archaic laws is to force people to live with incorrect and inconsistent official documentation.

The Births, Deaths and Marriages register should accurately reflect people’s lives and all citizens should be able to access accurate documentation.

Documents like birth certificates are used by employers including for police checks; they are used to access services and benefits. There are negative consequences of having a birth certificate that does not correctly reflect your sex.

An incorrect birth certificate means transgender people have to disclose their former gender when applying for a job and it can create difficulties accessing medical services. Transgender people often experience discrimination and stigma and it should be their choice who they inform about the deeply personal matter of their transition. The transgender community is a minority group with alarmingly high attempted suicide rates and an incorrect birth certificate will only contribute to feelings of isolation and social rejection.

A growing body of evidence shows significantly higher rates of mental health problems among transgender people, including for anxiety, depression, substance abuse and self-harm. The Curtain University ‘First Australian National Trans Mental Health Study’ found that 57 per cent of participants had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives –four times that of the general population. One in five participants reported suicidal ideation or self-harm on at least one day in the two weeks prior.

Stigma, discrimination, isolation and exclusion all contribute to poorer mental health outcomes in these communities.

The Human Rights Commission report on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex rights recommended removing barriers to transgender people updating the sex or gender marker on State documentation.

Victoria and Tasmania recently removed their surgical requirements and moved to world’s best practice models of self-determination. Surgical requirements have been removed in South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. The Commonwealth removed it for passports over five years ago.

New South Wales needs to catch up and I look forward to this Parliament working towards reforms that treat transgender people with dignity, privacy and respect.