A bill to enable trans and gender diverse adults and children to obtain birth certificates that record their self-identified sex — male, female or a descriptor of their choice — looks set to pass the Victorian parliament, despite opposition from conservatives and trans-exclusionary radical feminists.
A similar bill was narrowly voted down by the Victorian Coalition in 2016, but was reintroduced by the Daniel Andrews Labor government this April following a popular campaign by LGBTI activists and families of gender diverse children.
Community support for the bill has grown in the intervening years — bolstered by the national marriage equality victory in late 2017 — while opposition has weakened.
The necessary amendments to Victoria’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act passed the Legislative Assembly on August 13 and all indications are they will pass in the Legislative Council in coming days.
This is a simple, practical reform that removes the requirement for sex reassignment surgery before a person can be officially recognised as their self-identified sex. Similar reforms have passed in South Australia, the ACT and Tasmania in recent years.
Conservative opponents have been eager to stress that their objection to the measure has nothing to do with “bigotry”, but stems from concern for women’s safety. Liberal MLA Louise Staley said she is concerned the reform would allow men to change their sex on the certificate and then “harass and harm women in women-only spaces”.
The newly-formed Victorian Women’s Guild (VWG) agrees. It says the bill threatens the safety of women and girls by removing the legal right to exclude trans women and non-binary people “born male” from women-only spaces.
VWG spokesperson Nina Vallins told the media: “Places where women are particularly vulnerable and where we normally have protections in place so that women who may be victims of male violence have extra safeguards there…
“At the moment you can exclude male persons from those spaces, but if a male person has changed their recorded sex to F, or to something else, then you no longer have the legal grounds from which to exclude them from those spaces.”
The VWG identifies as a feminist organisation, but its belief in an immutable, biological sex binary accords with anti-feminist projects from Mark Latham’s Binary Australia and The Australian’s latest campaign against transgender rights, to United States President Donald Trump’s attempts to legislate a sex binary.
But sex-essentialist feminism, which identifies immutable “male biology” as the primary cause of women’s oppression, is on the wane.
About 100 LGBTIQ and feminist protesters held a peaceful protest outside a VWG lecture at Melbourne University on August 8 and more than 1500 students and staff signed a petition against the event.
Contemporary “intersectional” feminism views the rights of all oppressed people, and their struggles for liberation, as connected.
VWG has been actively lobbying the crossbenches in Victoria’s Legislative Council to vote down the birth certificate reforms.
Although Vallins is an executive member of the Victorian Greens, that party has supported the amendments and voted in favour in the Legislative Assembly.
Reason Party MLC Fiona Patten has also indicated support for the bill, despite pressure from VWG.
[Equality Australia is circulating a petition that feminists who support the Victorian birth certificate reforms can sign at equalityaustralia.org.au.]