Senate hearings on the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill

Yesterday, Gina Wilson and myself had the enormous privilege of speaking to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee regarding intersex provisions in the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill.

We made a range of statements in line with our submission to the Senate Inquiry on the bill, and also tabled a document, On the management of differences of sex development, Ethical issues relating to “intersexuality”, by the National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics, Switzerland.

I also made 4 references:

  1. To the Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS) submission, number 359 (direct link/via list of all submissions), which made the following statement:

    13.6 In relation to the issue of ‘gender identity’, AACS and its member schools have great empathy for those who face a daily conflict related to physical genital ambiguity or hormonal dysfunction. However, these issues are best handled with sensitivity and pastoral care rather than by the ‘heavy hand’ of the law.

  2. To this statement by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:

    A passport may be issued to sex and gender diverse applicants in M (male), F (female) or X (indeterminate/unspecified/intersex)… This initiative is in line with the Australian Government’s commitment to remove discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or sex and gender identity.

  3. A submission by the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia who wrote that she had decided:

    …applications by or in respect of young people born with an ambiguous or indeterminate sex to undertake medical treatment (surgical or otherwise) that would enable them to have the appearance of a particular sex.

  4. Reference to this 2009 paper by Professor Garry Warne and Dr Jacqueline Hewitt of the Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria:

    The main problem relates to feminising genitoplasty… [which] is much more of a problem in patients with a Y chromosome. For example, one study of 14 adult patients with genetically confirmed partial androgen insensitivity who were treated at Johns Hopkins University in the United States as children, 25% experienced gender dysphoria as adults

Senate Inquiry proceedings

An uncorrected proof of the proceedings is now available.

Note that OII Australia shared the first session of the day with the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, and senators’ questions to each organisation are interspersed throughout the first 8 pages of proceedings.

Note also that intersex issues are referenced not only by OII Australia, but also by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, and also, later in the day, by the National Association of Community Legal Centres, and the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

One excerpt of interest:

Senator PRATT: I will begin by asking Intersex Internationale if they have any particular perspective on religious exemptions for schools, noting that we are talking about biological characteristics. I think in particular the Christian Schools Association made reference to the manner in which they would deal with such issues.

Morgan Carpenter: The Australian Association of Christian Schools, who you heard from yesterday, did say in their written submission—I do not think it was raised during the verbal session—said that in relation to the issue of gender identity AACS and its member schools have great empathy for those who face daily conflict related to physical genital ambiguity or hormonal dysfunction but these issues are best handled with sensitivity and pastoral care rather than the heavy hand of the law. That gives an indication that they see intersex as being different to the rest of LGBT.

Our fear is that, as things currently stand in the proposals, putting intersex as a biological status in with gender identity, what you will see is the ability of religious schools to discriminate against people who have androgen insensitivity syndrome, an additional chromosome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia or a range of other intersex variations. So you could see situations where, because of our biological make-up, we are facing discrimination.

Senator PRATT: So you would like to see, if religious exemptions were to continue, intersex status specifically taken out of those exemptions?

Gina Wilson: Certainly. To allow anybody to discriminate against intersex people and to allow religious organisations to have an exemption from the law is no different to allowing a religious organisation to discriminate on the basis of colour of skin or a disability that you were born with.

Senator BRANDIS: No, it is not, because there is an ethical difference.

Gina Wilson: We are born differently.

Senator BRANDIS: The church says, rightly or wrongly, that in its view certain behaviours are sins. You might have said to that—

Gina Wilson: Senator Brandis, this is not about our behaviours.

Senator PRATT: Senator Brandis, I have the call.

CHAIR: We know that.

Gina Wilson: It is not a matter of our behaviour; it is a matter of how we are born. We are not behaving like anything. It is not a matter of sexual orientation. We have the same range of sexual orientations as the rest of the community. It is not about our gender identity. We have the same range of gender identities as the rest of the community. It is about how we are physically born. That is like if a person is physically born with black skin. If you give a religious organisation the right to discriminate on the basis that they were born with black skin, that is the same as giving them the right to discriminate about people who were born with anatomical differences of sex. Because my genitals are different or because my hormones are different, they have a right to exclude me from service, exclude me from a school or exclude me from employment, and that just seems bizarre—because of the way I was born, because I was born physically different. It is not a choice. It is not an orientation. It is not an identity. I was born physically different.

Senator PRATT: Do you have some examples of the kind of discrimination that we are referring to here that intersex people have experienced?

Gina Wilson: I will give you a personal example from me. I was in hospital for a hysterectomy. I was moved to a maternity ward because of available beds. I was attended to for some time in the maternity ward. The sound of my voice and my physical appearance upset some of the other women in the maternity ward. I was moved to a separate room. The separate room was in fact a large storage room that had been cleared out and had my bed and a heart monitor and all those things pushed into it, because of my physical differences. It was not because of my identity. They would not have a clue what my identity was, although they may have assumed things about me, but it was my physical differences that upset the other people in the hospital.

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