We celebrate Maltese protections for intersex people

GIGESCOII Australia joins with our European intersex and trans partner organisations in celebrating the passage of the Gender Identity Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act. The Act passed with cross party support, without a vote, in the small hours of this morning.

This is an historic moment. The Act contains key improvements from all existing Australian legislation that seeks to address intersex issues. This includes recognition of a right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy that protects infants and children from non-necessary medical interventions, of types that still take place in Australia and around the world for “psychosocial” rationales such as parental distress and improving marriage prospects.

These provisions meet several key demands of the intersex movement, and the 2013 recommendations of an Australian Senate committee report.

The relevant part of the Act reads:

Right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy.

14. (1) It shall be unlawful for medical practitioners or other professionals to conduct any sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of a minor which treatment and/or intervention can be deferred until the person to be treated can provide informed consent: Provided that such sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of the minor shall be conducted if the minor gives informed consent through the person exercising parental authority or the tutor of the minor.
(2) In exceptional circumstances treatment may be effected once agreement is reached between the Interdisciplinary Team and the persons exercising parental authority or tutor of the minor who is still unable to provide consent: Provided that medical intervention which is driven by social factors without the consent of the minor, will be in violation of this Act.

The Interdisciplinary Team is to be appointed by the government, alongside a larger working group to establish improved treatment protocols, “in line with current medical best practices and human rights standards”. The Working Group will include human rights experts, and we hope to keep a close watch on implementation issues.

The Act also provides for a simple, administrative mechanism for the recognition of gender identity, and protection from discrimination for intersex, trans and genderqueer populations. It follows the third international intersex forum in Malta in 2013, and lengthy engagement between intersex and trans activists and the Maltese government.

Morgan Carpenter, president of OII Australia, commented:

We warmly congratulate the Maltese government and parliament, and commend this Act to Australian governments. This is legislation that Australian governments should be enacting, to implement the recommendations of the 2013 Senate committee report on “Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia”.

Non-necessary medical interventions still take place on infants and children with intersex variations, across Australia, for rationales that include managing parental distress, social stigma and even ‘improving marriage prospects’. These violate international human rights standards and Australian governments must act.

Organisation Intersex International Australia (OII Australia) is an intersex-led Public Benevolent Institution that promotes the human rights and bodily autonomy of people with intersex variations, and provides information, education and peer/family support services. OII Australia is not funded and is volunteer-run.

Intersex people are born with bodies that don’t meet stereotypical expectations for male and female, including a range of different genetic, hormonal and anatomical sex characteristics. People with intersex variations have as diverse a range of gender identities as non-intersex people.

More information

Image: Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties, Malta.