Positive developments recognise diversity in sex and gender

It’s been a big couple of months for transgender, intersex and gender diverse people in Australia. On 13 June the Australian Government released Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender to develop a nationally consistent approach to recognising sex and gender in government records. These new national guidelines ensure that transgender, intersex and gender diverse people are treated respectfully and sensitively by federal government departments and agencies in the collection of records and information.

The release of the Guidelines follow reforms made to passports in 2011. These changes meant that sex reassignment surgery was no longer a prerequisite for a passport to be issued in a person’s affirmed gender and gave individuals greater access to the use of an ‘X’ marker rather than only ‘F’ or ‘M’. The new Guidelines extend the passports policy to all government documentation and records. The Guidelines ensure that where sex and/or gender information is collected and recorded in a personal record, individuals are given the option to select M (male), F (female) or X (Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified). Rather than requiring a birth certificate recording the individual’s sex, individuals can be recognised as their affirmed sex and/or gender on the basis of a statement from a registered medical practitioner or psychologist.

The Guidelines were developed in consultation with intersex, transgender and gender diverse people across Australia and have been welcomed by community groups and advocates such as Organisation Intersex International Australia, A Gender Agenda and Transgender Victoria.

The release of the proposed guidelines coincides with an important review by the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) of its “Sex Standard”, the framework through which the ABS collects statistical information on ‘sex’. The review sought submissions from the community focusing on whether the Sex Standard should acknowledge the distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ and on the inclusion of a third ‘sex/gender’ category of ‘intersex or indeterminate’. The ABS is expected to publish the results of the review later this year.

The release of the Guidelines has occurred alongside the passage of new federal laws that outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity and intersex status and also coincides with a decision of the NSW Court of Appeal (Norrie v NSW Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages) that found that ‘sex’ can mean something other than male or female. The landmark decision is currently the subject of an application for special leave to the High Court.  

Read more about the National Guidelines on Sex and Gender here.

Read more about the ABS review of the Sex Standard here.

Read more about Norrie’s Case in a case note prepared by HRLC secondee lawyer Emily Christie in the July 2013 edition of Rights Agenda.