Major reform to Australian passport law

A great deal of behind-the-scenes lobbying for a very long time by intersex and other LGBTQI organizations has finally borne fruit in a significant reform to Australian passports law. Intersex and gender diverse Australians can now easily apply for passports containing F, M or X in the sex field of their passports.

We wish to thank Minister for Foreign Affairs The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Attorney-General The Hon Robert McClelland MP and all our friends and allies within the LGBTI human rights movement, within the Australian Federal Parliament and within Australian Federal Government departments.

This is a very significant reform indeed. Previously, applicants were required to have a birth certificate showing “indeterminate” sex, and only the State of Victoria issues those to some intersex people who seek it.

We hope that all people, intersex, gender indeterminate, or otherwise, who wish to apply for an X in the sex field on their passport will be able to do so under these new arrangements.

X marker on an Australian passport

The history of the X sex marker

The only allowable designators under ICAO rules are M, F or X where X signifies “sex unknown”. X has been available since 1945 when the United Nations (UN) vested control of passports in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

We have been advised that the X arose out of the huge refugee migration following World War II. Several international organizations such as the Red Cross were responsible for resettling refugees and displaced persons following that conflict. Emergency passports were generated in large numbers to allow the quick resettlement of individuals without any identifying documentation and from places where that documentation had been destroyed during the war. When making up the passports the agencies could not, from the names alone, decipher the sex of the individuals due to foreign names often being too complicated for the ears of French, English and American aid workers.

X was made an allowable designator in view of the difficulties resettlement aid workers had with unfamiliar names and the sex usually associated with them. The rules do not require that the X must eventually be resolved into an F or M designation, though that was likely the intention when the policy was drafted. We are legally able to take advantage of this facility despite differences between the original objective and the current policy.

'X marks the spot' in the Western Australian newspaper, Perth 11 January 2003. Read at Bodies Like Ours

‘X marks the spot’ in the Western Australian newspaper, Perth 11 January 2003.

Australian policy from 2003 to 2011

Australia has issued X on passports at least since 2003 when a Victorian-born Western Australian-resident intersex person, Alex MacFarlane, fought for that designator through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and was reported to receive a passport.

Five or six Australians were granted the right to an X designator under this subsequent policy, where it was necessary to have “not specified” stated on one’s birth certificate to qualify for an X designation. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Sex files documented this policy in section 8.2 (a).

The state of Victoria maintained the only birth registry that was willing to have that appellation on a birth certificate and would only do so for people known to be intersex and where that was evident from the original notification of birth paperwork – the birth certificate. Consequently X was rarely put on passports.

The new regulations

As of 2011, the qualification to receive an ‘X’ sex designation on a passport is based simply on a medical doctor’s letter stating that you live as a person of indeterminate, unknown or non-specified gender*.

The 2011 policy eases the burden of proof so that a letter from a medical practitioner is all that is required to qualify, making it much easier for intersex people and anyone else to opt for it.

The X is available because of an insistence from OII Australia, and especially by our president Gina Wilson who advised the Ministerial Panel, that an X must continue to be available for people who desire it.

As the Australian Passport Office’s Sex and Gender Diverse Passport Applicants web page states:

A passport may be issued to sex and gender diverse applicants in M (male), F (female) or X (indeterminate/unspecified/intersex).

The qualifying requirement is that:

A letter from a medical practitioner certifying that the person has had, or is receiving, appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition to a new gender, or that they are intersex and do not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth, is acceptable.

More information

One Comment

Cam Langdon

Great idea, but not sure “X” is the right designation. Is it because it is linked to “sex”, and sex is considered X-rated???

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