Human Rights Day 2021

A heart and two hands
Today is Human Rights Day, marking the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark this day, at the end of a big year, we want to thank the people who are working with us to ensure that the human rights of people with innate variations of sex characteristics are respected, protected and fulfilled.

We want to thank our partners in Intersex Peer Support Australia and Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand, and colleagues in A Gender Agenda, Queensland Council for LGBTI Health, Working it Out, and other organisations. Together we promote the health and wellbeing of people with innate variations of sex characteristics. Many of us collaborated in the development of the Darlington Statement, which sets out our demands and needs in our region. Thanks to LGBTIQA+ Health Australia for supporting that work.

We want to thank Chris Sidoti, former Human Rights Commissioner, the International Service for Human Rights, ARC International, and many other individuals and institutions for their collaboration with Morgan Carpenter and other signatories and drafting team members on the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10. These Principles, including on the Right to Bodily and Mental Integrity, and the Right to Truth, address the most fundamental human rights violations faced by people with intersex variations.

We want to thank Dr Ruth McNair AM and General Practice Supervisors Australia for a collaboration on LGBTIQA+ health and wellbeing, published in October this year.

We want to thank the Australian Medical Association for their engagement with us in drafting a new Position Statement on LGBTIQA+ health that endorses the Yogyakarta Principle on the right to bodily and mental integrity. The Public Health Association of Australia has also published a welcome position statement, and it follows important submissions by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Australian Psychological Society. We need other clinical institutions to do the same – especially those working in the fields of paediatric surgery and endocrinology.

We want to thank the Australian Bureau of Statistics for their engagement with us, to ensure that intersex people are no longer othered as a third sex in Australian data collection. These standards create the opportunity to improve forms and research surveys across Australia using the 2020 Standard for Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables. We thank the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners for engaging with us and introducing this as a standard for general practices.

We want to thank Equality Australia and the pro bono team at Gilbert + Tobin for their collaborations with us on law reform proposals in Victoria, the ACT, and more. We are excited for current and future work plans with you!

We want to thank the Commissioners and staff of the Australian Human Rights Commission for their work on a major national project on protecting the human rights of people born with variations of sex characteristics in the context of medical interventions, especially Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow who began this project and President Ros Croucher who concluded it. Morgan Carpenter, Tony Briffa and Aileen Kennedy were glad to participate in the expert reference group. The recommendations for legislative and regulatory reform of medicine, and for community-based research, need to be implemented by States, Territories and the Commonwealth.

We want to thank the ACT and Victorian governments for their engagement with us over many years to meaningfully reform legislation, in order to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of people with innate variations of sex characteristics. We particularly want to thank ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Victorian Minister for Health and Equality Martin Foley, VEOHRC Commissioner Ro Allen, Victorian Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities Todd Fernando and their staff and colleagues. The protection and fulfilment of these rights remains a work in progress and we hope to see legislation put to Parliament in Victoria as well as the ACT in 2022. While at different stages of development, we also value our engagement with New South Wales, Queensland, and Northern Territory governments, and we hope for productive engagement with other Australian governments.

Internationally, we thank our partners in ILGA World, GATE, WHO, the University of Southern California, and the global intersex movement, for work to progress reforms to protect, respect and fulfil the rights of people with intersex variations.

Our work seeks to build community, evidence, and capacity. This necessarily involves work with community and academic partners at home and overseas. This year we also became an information partner of HealthDirect Australia, a provider of trusted health information.

We have such a long way to go to fulfil the human rights of people with innate variations of sex characteristics. Practices that violate human rights remain clinical norms. Infants and children remain at risk of human rights abuses across Australia. Legislation, policy and regulation are often absent, or fail to comprehend and respect the population. Too much policy constructs intersex as some kind of mythologised ‘other’.

This month, IHRA hit a landmark: we have now had paid staff for five years. Since December 2016, we have had two part-time staff positions funded by foreign philanthropy. These positions are funded to engage in systemic advocacy. For less than two years, we have funded an administration position by delivering services to the Victorian government.

From December 2016 to May 2021, Morgan Carpenter and Tony Briffa were employed as our joint executive directors. Tony stepped down from this staff role at the end of May this year and we appointed Cody Smith to a senior projects officer position in August. We’ve also been fortunate to have Florin Douglas (2019-2020) and later Clare MacDonald (from September 2021) as part-time administrators. Our volunteer directors give of themselves to provide direction and oversee our work, and contribute to the development of policy and resources. They bring skills in health law, human rights, medicine, bioethics, education and public administration. All of them including Tony Briffa play roles in many different local, national and international spaces.

Despite only being able to fund part-time positions, we have been able to achieve an incredible amount. The importance of intersex-led organisations cannot be overstated, but so much of our work is a product of our partnerships and collaborations! It takes a village, and it takes many years of work.

Thank you to all our partners, staff, directors, and donors!