Intersex people form a diverse population with many different kinds of bodies, sex characteristics, sex assignments, genders, identities, life experiences, and terminology and word preferencess. What we share in common is an experience of having innate sex characteristics (such as chromosomes, gonads or hormones) that differ from medical norms for female or male bodies. We risk violence, stigmatisation and harmful practices because our bodies are seen as different.
Intersex is a matter of bodily diversity. Underlying intersex traits can become evident prenatally, at birth, during puberty or at other times. Intersex is not about sexual orientation; people with intersex variations have as diverse a range of sexual orientations as non-intersex (“endosex”) people. Intersex is not about an experience of transition or gender identity; we have as diverse a range of gender identities as non-intersex people. Intersex is primarily about the body, although intersex people may have an identity that is contingent on our embodiment and natural sex characteristics. The term intersex was first used by science in the early 20th century; historically, the term “hermaphrodite” was used. The term is not applicable to situations where individuals deliberately alter their own anatomical characteristics.
Although figures vary, intersex people represent a significant percentage of the population.
Intersex people, especially those of us who are diagnosed at birth, in infancy or during puberty, are often the subject of surgical or hormonal interventions to “fix” our sex characteristics and make our bodies appear more typically female or male. Where these interventions take place without personal, fully informed consent they are “harmful practices”; they are still considered “therapeutic” in Australia, and they often take place for “psychosocial” rationales, based on clinician “belief” and “opinion”. We vigorously oppose these human rights violations. In doing so, we are supported by a diverse range of human rights institutions and other allies.
- Read a longer introduction to intersex in intersex for allies.
- Find introductory information for prospective parents and parents of newborns, children and adolescents.
- Read about bodily integrity, and eliminating harmful practices
- Read about eugenics, prenatal screening and elimination
- Read about discrimination, combatting discrimination and stigma
- Read about identification documents, sex and gender
- Read demographic data from a major 2015 study of people born with atypical sex characteristics.
- Read our style guide on terminology for journalists and writers.
- Read some definitions of intersex.
- Read the Darlington Statement, a 2017 Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand community consensus statement on intersex human rights and health issues.
- Read about all our briefing papers and other resources.
Intersex Human Rights Australia
Intersex Human Rights Australia Ltd (formerly Organisation Intersex International Australia or OII Australia) is a national body by and for people with intersex variations. We promote the human rights, self-determination and bodily autonomy of intersex people in Australia. We engage in systemic advocacy, policy development and community development, and provide information and education. We also run an online support group. Our goals are to help create a society where our bodies are not stigmatised, and where our rights as people are recognised.
Cumulatively, we have many decades of experience in human rights advocacy. We bring together qualifications and expertise in law, bioethics, healthcare, youth work and public administration. We have made significant contributions to human rights policy and practice in Australia and internationally, resulting in:
- Senate Committee recommendations for major changes to clinical and legal practice, with the development of national policy guidelines within in a human rights framework – see our article about the report Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia (October 2013) and cross-party Senate speeches on the issue (March 2014).
- the inclusion of “intersex status” as a biological attribute in federal anti-discrimination legislation, with the intention of no religious exemptions (June 2013).
- changes to Medicare to remove gender from item numbers for medical procedures (July 2013).
- the introduction in 2017 by the National Health and Medical Research Council of a quality of life test, when IVF businesses consider genetic selection to eliminate embryos with “serious genetic conditions”, as proposed by us in 2015. Some intersex variations may – inappropriately – be described as serious genetic conditions, and anecdotal evidence has suggested that family members of intersex people may be pressured to use IVF to avoid passing on relevant genes.
- participation in the first UN expert meeting on ending human rights violations against intersex people and ongoing work to reform medical protocols.
- improving understanding of intersex human rights issues by international human rights institutions, and securing statements recognising the need for human rights protections in Australia.
- In 2017, one of our co-executive directors, Morgan Carpenter, was a signatory and member of the drafting committee for the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10 on the application of international human rights law in relation to sex characteristics, gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation.
- We engage in debate with bioethicists and surgeons including in this highly commended event for University of Melbourne medical students in June 2020.
Intersex Human Rights Australia is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. We are recognised by the Australian Taxation Office as a charitable Public Benevolent Institution. We are registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. IHRA is primarily resourced out of philanthropic and voluntary contributions, along with occasional project contracts.
We currently employ two part-time contract staff with philanthropic funding. We seek additional resourcing to fund employment of a lawyer, a social worker, communications person, and an admin person.
In March 2017, we joined with other Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex organisations, and independent advocates to publish a consensus statement on our human rights and health issues. Read our joint Darlington Statement.
- Contact us
- Join our friends and members support group on Facebook. People with intersex variations, parents and allies are warmly welcome.
- Governance of IHRA
- Join the institution
- Donate to support our work
- Subscribe to receive notifications of new articles via email
- Enquire about our services, including talks, presentations, policy development and advice
Intersex Human Rights Australia works closely alongside the other major Australian intersex-led organisation, the Intersex Peer Support Australia (AIS Support Group Australia).
We are a member of the Australian Child Rights Taskforce, the National LGBTI Health Alliance and ILGA. We are the Australian affiliate of Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII), a decentralised global network of intersex organisations.
We acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia, their diversity, histories and knowledge and their continuing connections to land and community. We pay our respects to all Australian Indigenous peoples and their cultures, and to elders of past, present and future generations.
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