UN criticises Australia for “marginalizing and stigmatizing” postal survey and calls for better human rights protections for LGBTI Australians

UN criticises Australia for “marginalizing and stigmatizing” postal survey and calls for better human rights protections for LGBTI Australians

Overnight the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on the Australian Government to improve its track record on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) rights across the country.

Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said Australia has taken huge strides addressing discrimination and harm faced by LGBTI communities but more work was needed.

"In many ways Australia is ahead of the pack when it comes to LGBTI rights but there are serious injustices that require urgent attention. Australia must do the right thing when it comes to marriage equality, protecting intersex people from harmful medical procedures and ensuring transgender people can access medical treatment and birth certificates to allow them to live as who they are," said Ms Brown.

Marriage equality

The Committee has called on Australia to revise the Marriage Act, to ensure LGBTI people, couples and families are afforded equal protection under laws and policies - irrespective of the result of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey next Wednesday.

The Committee criticised the Australian Government for the current “voluntary, non-binding postal survey”, stating that “resort to public opinion polls to facilitate upholding rights … [to] equality and non-discrimination of minority groups in particular, is not an acceptable decision-making method and that such an approach risks further marginalizing and stigmatizing members of minority groups”.

“Australia is drawing international attention for all the wrong reasons. The Committee has rightly criticised the Australian Government for putting LGBTI Australians through an unnecessary and divisive public opinion poll. The UN has tonight confirmed what Australian politicians should already know - human rights should not be put to a majority vote. Australia needs to do its job and vote on a bill to deliver equality and dignity for LGBTI couples across the country” said Ms Brown.

The Committee also urged Australia to address the discrimination same-sex couples who marry overseas face in Australia raised in C v Australia. (Paragraphs 25-30)

Prohibiting medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children

Following concern raised by Australian advocates about controversial medical interventions performed on children with intersex variations in Australian hospitals, the Committee has called on Australia to end irreversible medical treatment and surgery on intersex infants and children who are not yet able to provide fully informed and free consent, except in cases of “absolute medical necessity”.

The Committee expressed concern about irreversible and invasive medical interventions for purposes of gender assignment based on “stereotyped gender roles” and performed before children are able to provide fully informed and free consent.

Morgan Carpenter from Organisation Intersex International Australia welcomed the recommendations of the Committee.  

“Most people are able to take for granted their right to bodily integrity, but this is not true of intersex people. Medically unnecessary surgeries on children with intersex variations that take place without their consent are human rights violations,” said Mr Carpenter.

“Conducting such surgeries deliberately before children are able to understand the nature of the procedure is a human rights violation. There is no clinical consensus on the conduct, nature, timing or outcome of such practices. Australian governments need to act to protect our right to make decisions about interventions on our own bodies, and ensure that all deferrable interventions are deferred until we can personally consent,” said Mr Carpenter.

"This is the first time the UN Human Rights Committee has called on Australia to put an end to the human rights abuses intersex people face. This is an urgent human rights issue which is often overlooked, but has a lifelong impact on intersex people who can be subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries without their knowledge or consent," added Ms Brown

Access to medical treatment for transgender young people

The Committee raised concerns about the psychological harm caused by mandatory court authorisation for hormone treatment for young people diagnosed with gender dysphoria in Australia. The Committee welcomed the Australian Government’s willingness to reconsider the role of the Family Court, but urged Australia to consider removing the court authorisation requirement where there is uncontested agreement between parents or guardians, the young person and the medical team, provided that the treatment is in line with medical guidelines and standards of care.

“Currently Australia appears to be the only jurisdiction in the world that requires young trans people to go to Court before they be prescribed testosterone or estrogen by their doctor, even when parents and doctors all agree the treatment is in the young person’s best interests,” said Ms Brown. 

The Attorney-General intervened in support of transgender teenagers in a recent test case of Re Kelvin in September 2017, which will decide whether to limit the role of the Family Court to cases involving controversy.

"The Attorney-General’s support for preventing harm caused by unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to transgender teenagers accessing essential medical treatment is a great example of how the Australian Government can take a stand to protect the rights of LGBTI people,”  said Ms Brown.

Access to accurate identification for transgender Australians

The UN Committee also expressed concerned that most states and territories require transgender people to undergo surgical or medical treatment and to be unmarried to change the sex marker on their identification documents. The Committee called on Australia to remove surgery and marital status requirements for changing the sex marker on births, deaths and marriage certificates.

Transgender Victoria’s Chair Brenda Appleton has been advocating for these reforms.

“This is a profoundly important reform for our community, as many of us are currently prevented from changing the most basic form of documentation to reflect our true identity,” said Ms Appleton.

“Gender diverse people face problems every day accessing services and facilities most Australians use without thinking twice, because their identity documents do not match the gender they live as,” said Ms Brown.

The Committee also reminded Australia to address the views in G v Australia, in which a married transgender woman’s right to privacy and family and her right to be free from discrimination was found to be violated in New South Wales by not allowing her to obtain a birth certificate consistent with her gender identity unless she divorced her spouse.

Download report here: Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Australia (paragraphs 25-30).

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519