Australia introduced new rules on September 15 allowing people to nominate their gender as male, female or indeterminate on their passport. Sex reassignment surgery is no longer a precondition for nominating a passport gender different from the one on your birth certificate.
Sex and/or gender diverse (SGD) people are made up from many differing groups. This includes people who are intersex, transexed, transsexual, transgendered, androgynous, without sex and gender identity, cross dressers and people with sex and gender culturally specific differences. Given this diversity, the changes to the passport rules are likely to have different implications across the community. Yet the new rules will have wide-ranging positive effects on many SGD people’s lives.
People will hopefully no longer be denied visas or detained at airports because the gender on their passport does not match their gender presentation. Activist Conor Montgomery told Green Left Weekly that the old passport rules resulted in people being deported, and refused accommodation and vehicle hire.
Activist Tracie O’Keefe of Sex and Gender Education (SAGE) told GLW: “For 10 years we have campaigned for this change at SAGE. We have brought case after case and slowly moved the passport office into the situation where we now have the most humane passport rules in the world, where people can choose male, female or X. It is a mega triumph.
“So many people and campaigners stood up for their rights. Now we have to focus on getting the other recommendations mentioned in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Sex Files Report implemented, including birth certificates amendments and anti-discrimination laws.”
On birth certificates, there is no “indeterminate” option. Surgery is still a prerequisite for changing the gender on your birth certificate.
“Everyone is different,” said O’Keefe. “People from all the different sex and/or gender diverse groups are different, therefore don’t have the same needs. What other identity or medical conditions in society require the person to have surgery? Seems all very silly now looking back, doesn’t it.
“Just let’s think about it for a moment — government officials pretending they understand biology and sociology. The power of the rubber stamp is so dangerous in the wrong hands when its owner refuses to listen to people’s needs.”
Until the law is also changed around birth certificates, mismatches between passports and birth certificates will remain a problem for many. This causes many difficulties, including the denial of the right to marry. Australian law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. If a person has “male” on one document and “female” on the other, any marriage could be construed as not between a man and a woman, and dissolved under Australian law.
“When a person’s documents do not match, for any reason, alarm bells go off when they present themselves in situations where they have to prove their identity,” said O’Keefe. “We should not persecute or hold people to ransom just because they have a different sex and/or gender to ourselves. It is apartheid. It is segregation of the heteronormative in society and those who are sex and/or gender different.”
In recent years, the sex and gender diverse community has become more politically organised. On May 11, Australia’s first national convergence for sex and gender diverse human rights was held in Canberra, organised by Still Fierce. The passport victory also follows a short-lived victory in last year, when the NSW state government briefly recognised activist norrie mAy welby as a “sex not specified” person, before reversing the decision.
The first Australasian sex and gender diverse conference will be held on December 2 at the Redfern Community Centre in Sydney.
Transgender activist Conor Montgomery on Channel 7's Sunrise program on September 26 speaking about the passport victory