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Australian Parliament committee releases intersex rights report

An Australian inquiry into the sterilization of intersex people in infancy to make them conform to the gender binary has recommended that such efforts be delayed until they are of an age to give informed consent
Australia's Parliament in the background
Photo by Timeshift9

An Australian Parliament committee has recommended that intersex people not be forced into being surgically assigned a gender and that they should be left to make any decision about that until they are old enough to give informed consent.

Intersex people are those who are born with variations in physical sex characteristics, such as anatomy or chromosomes and traditionally most were surgically assigned a gender in infancy before they could consent or express a sex preference.

Intersex status is not about gender identity or sexual orientation though intersex people face many of the same discrimination issues as LGBT people.

Some intersex people are also LGBT and see themselves as part of a wider LGBTI community while others are heterosexual.

The committee found that medical intervention should not have “normalization” as a goal and should have a clear ethical basis, supported by evidence of long term benefit.

The committee also recommended that data be recorded on intersex births, assignments of sex and of surgical interventions and that interventions should not be for reasons of psychosocial adjustment or genital appearance.

The committee recommended that medical intervention when necessary on minors should preserve the potential for different life paths and identities until the patient is old enough to consent to any further medical interventions.

The committee recommended that the framework around medical intervention on intersex infants must not failing to recognize they become adults, or that they have health needs as adults.

The committee recognized the framework for medical intervention must not pathologize intersex through the use of stigmatizing language and that decision makers must have continual dialogue with intersex organizations.

OII Australia president Morgan Carpenter wrote a submissions to the Senate Inquiry and spoke at a committee hearing on intersex issues on 28 March. He welcomed the committee’s findings.

‘This report represents the first opportunity, after many years of campaigning, to place our most serious human rights concerns before Parliament,’ Carpenter said.

‘Medical interventions on intersex infants, children and adolescents have been taking place in Australia with insufficient medical evidence, and insufficient emphasis placed on the human rights of the child and future adult. Genital surgeries and sterilizations create lifelong patients and there’s significant evidence of trauma.

‘Guidelines must ensure the best protection of the rights of the child and future adult. Guidelines and national standards need to be human rights based, not simply medical in character, and they must be shaped with involvement from the community.

Carpenter called for government funding for his organization so it could adequately perform its work.

‘The Committee was impressed with the professionalism of intersex community organizations, but we are still not equal partners - in the policy development process, the review and evaluation of guidance, or even in providing basic support to intersex people and our families,' Carpenter said.

OII Australia Vice President Tony Briffa, who also spoke at the hearing, also welcomed the report.

‘We welcome the recommendations around non-pathologizing terminology, including use of the word “intersex” by governments and other institutions, and “differences of sex development” in clinical settings,' Briffa said.

'We welcome the acknowledgement that genetic diversity is not intrinsically problematic. Intersex people make full, active contributions to society.

‘This has been a huge year for intersex people in Australia, with our inclusion in anti- discrimination legislation, changes to Medicare item numbers to make them gender-neutral, and federal sex and gender recognition guidelines. We thank all the major parties for their support.’

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