Overnight, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a new report, “Discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity”, A/HRC/29/23, which includes detailed reference to intersex and other LGBTI persons. OII Australia warmly welcomes this report, which for the first time calls for an end to forced medical treatment on people born with intersex variations in all UN member states.
As well as a wide range of well-reported actions and recommendations affecting people who are same sex attracted and transgender, it contains the following statement on the medical treatment (not just surgeries) of intersex children:
53. Many intersex children, born with atypical sex characteristics, are subjected to medically unnecessary surgery and treatment in an attempt to force their physical appearance to align with binary sex stereotypes. Such procedures are typically irreversible and can cause severe, long-term physical and psychological suffering.
Similar statements, and a call to end forced treatments, have been made by the cross-party 2013 Senate committee report, “Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia” and the 2015 Council of Europe Issue Paper, as well as longstanding calls by OII Australia and other intersex-led organisations. Recognition of lifelong impact is significant.
Australia and Malta are mentioned in connection with discrimination protection, implemented in 2013 with cross-party support:
72. … Anti-discrimination laws have also been strengthened in several States, including Chile, Cuba, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, as well as in Australia and Malta, which became the first countries to expressly prohibit discrimination against intersex persons.
It also mentions Malta, the first country to prohibit unnecessary treatments on intersex people, and Argentina, which has world-leading laws on the recognition of transgender people, including access to free gender-affirming treatment:
73. Legal recognition of same-sex relationships was introduced in at least 12 additional States, either in the form of civil marriage (Brazil, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Uruguay) or civil unions (Chile, Croatia, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malta). Argentina, Denmark and Malta established new laws that allow transgender persons to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity on the basis of self-determination, while Australia (Australian Capital Territory), the Netherlands and Sweden removed abusive sterilization, forced treatment and divorce requirements. Argentina furthermore established access to free gender-affirming treatment for those who wish to receive such treatment. Nepal and Bangladesh created a legal “third gender” category, and new passport policies in Australia and New Zealand allow individuals to choose male, female or indeterminate gender markers. The Supreme Court of India affirmed the right of transgender persons to determine their own gender, and called upon the Government to ensure equal rights for transgender persons, including in access to health care, employment and education. Malta became the first State to prohibit sex-assignment surgery or treatment on intersex minors without their informed consent.
While intersex organisations call for an end to forced medical interventions, access to gender-affirming treatment on request, with fully informed consent, is also of clear benefit to many intersex people.
The conclusions also make several recommendations on ending unnecessary procedures on intersex children and other matters:
78. The High Commissioner recommends that States address violence by:
(g) Banning “conversion” therapy, involuntary treatment, forced sterilization and forced genital and anal examinations;
(h) Prohibiting medically unnecessary procedures on intersex children;
79. States should address discrimination by:
(c) Ensuring that anti-discrimination legislation includes sexual orientation and gender identity among prohibited grounds, and also protects intersex persons from discrimination;
(i) Issuing legal identity documents, upon request, that reflect preferred gender, eliminating abusive preconditions, such as sterilization, forced treatment and divorce;
(k) Ensuring that LGBT and intersex persons and organizations are consulted with regard to legislation and policies that have an impact on their rights
Morgan Carpenter, president of OII Australia, said:
We warmly welcome these recommendations, particularly the call to end forced medical treatment and other forms of violence.
There is much more that has to be done to provide better legal protection. Protection from unnecessary medical treatment is urgently needed, building on the recommendations of a 2013 cross-party Senate committee report, as is access to appropriate healthcare.
Australia is ahead of most countries in providing federal protection from discrimination, but State/Territory laws lag behind, along with many improvements necessary: to recognise the diversity of gender identities held by intersex people, and properly resource peer and family support.
Issues that also need international attention include social stigma, prenatal selection on grounds of intersex, and infanticide.
Organisation Intersex International Australia (OII Australia) is an intersex-led Public Benevolent Institution that promotes the human rights and bodily autonomy of people born with intersex variations, and provides information, education and peer/family support services. OII Australia is not funded and is volunteer-run.
- Download the new OHCHR report
- Statement on the cross-party 2013 Senate committee report, “Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia”.
- Statement on the 2015 Council of Europe Issue Paper.
- Statement on the Maltese law.