Today, and with cross-party support, the ACT Assembly has passed legislation introduced by Andrew Barr in March to protect the human rights of people with innate variations of sex characteristics in medical settings. The legislation will implement mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making. As is the case in some other areas of medicine, the legislation will criminalise some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children. The legislation is accompanied by funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.
The legislation follows-through on a commitment to reform made to Intersex Human Rights Australia, Intersex Peer Support Australia, and A Gender Agenda in 2018, and implements recommendations of a 2021 Australian Human Rights Commission report. The outcome today builds on deep engagement with clinical, community and human rights stakeholders. The careful consideration of diverse perspectives is evident in the government’s listening reports on their consultations. We are profoundly grateful for this engagement and for this outcome today.
A more complete timeline of events can be found in our last media release about this legislation.
Morgan Carpenter is a bioethicist and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia. He says:
This is such a wonderful and transformative moment! The only way of maximally respecting the diverse values and preferences of children with intersex variations is to minimise early interventions. This legislation promises to ensure this, implementing effective oversight and apppropriate penalties. And it is accompanied by much needed investment in psychosocial support. Thank you so much for the leadership of the ACT Government and their engagement with all stakeholders. We look forward to deepening our collaboration with government and community organisations to ensure its success. This is a model for other jurisdictions, and we call on other states and territories to adopt similar reforms.
Morgan was thanked by Andrew Barr, the Chief Minister, for his work on this law reform project, during the speech introducing the legislation. Morgan was also contracted to provide analysis for the ACT government during the law reform project.
Bonnie Hart is a mental health worker, and deputy executive director of IHRA. She is qualified in psychology and leads work on InterLink, a national intersex psychosocial support program. She says:
The passing of the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023 in the ACT is cause for celebration for people with intersex variations of all ages and those that care for us. The Bill establishes a framework where parents of children with intersex variations in the ACT can trust that the healthcare decisions they make on behalf of their child are guided by the best available evidence, supported by access to an independent panel of experts and psychosocial and peer support. The bill and associated regulations create protective structures that ensure transparency across both public and private healthcare settings and create a model for best practice nationally. I’m grateful to the ACT government for the necessary funding to provide support systems to people with intersex variations of all ages and anticipate that these will create the conditions for an accepting and connected future, free of secrecy and shame for our intersex community members.
Gabriel Filpi is a Canberra resident, biological anthropologist, our health projects officer, and a member of the ACT LGBTIQA+ Ministerial Advisory Council. He says:
“It is with great anticipation, excitement, and hope that I wait on the outcome of the discussions had in the Legislative Assembly that will see to the culmination of a large piece of work fed by the voices, strength and commitment of the intersex community and their families, alongside our advocacy efforts, engagement from a range of stakeholders and action from the ACT government.
If passed this legislation will provide the support, safety, and security that people with variations in sex characteristics have gone without for far too long. This Bill has already started conversations in families, workplaces and in the community about the treatment of people with variations in sex characteristics, and in other Australian jurisdictions who are looking towards similar action. These protections are vital to the health and wellbeing of our community and we hope to see them passed in the assemble”
Cody Smith was born and raised in Canberra. Our training and communications officer, they say:
There’s a lot to celebrate today. There will never be another time where a jurisdiction is the first in Australia to pass laws that protect intersex children. It brings me immense joy and peace to know that happened in my home town. This is the moment where positive change has been demonstrated and our challenge to other states and territories is clear. This can be done, when will you step up in turn to protect children against harm and trauma?
It’s also difficult not to dwell on the injury that years of advocacy has inflicted on myself and those around me who have fought so hard for this. This year marks ten years after a senate inquiry first named the harm of medical violence on intersex children, and it cannot be allowed to take another ten years to stop that harm. We celebrate today and there’s more to be done tomorrow.
Above all else. What I want this next generation of intersex kids to know. You are irreplaceable, you are perfect as you are, you deserve celebration. We have fought for you because we love you. This is better than what has come before.
Cody and Steph Lum were named by the Chief Minister in his introductory speech as local champions for change in Canberra.
Mimi Hall, Intersex project coordinator at A Gender Agenda, resident of Canberra living and working on Ngunnawal land.
Today is a complicated day. How amazing it is to have legislation to protect the intersex children of the future. How sad it is that I did not have this legislation to protect me growing up. How grateful I am for the amazing intersex activists who have fought with resilience and relentless persistence, showing strength at each step. How regretful I am of the pain and tears this arduous process has caused. How lucky I am to be proudly and visibly intersex today. Today I stand with all my intersex siblings.
Read the statement by Equality Australia
Interviews and comment
For interviews and comment contact Morgan Carpenter.
Staff and community members are available for interview in Canberra.