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OPINION | Gender recognition reform delay gives government opportunity to listen

Alex Wallace (they/them) is a proud non-binary trans and gender diverse advocate, unionist and organiser for Queer Liberation Boorloo.

The Western Australian Parliament has now risen for its Winter recess.

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With that break comes at least seven weeks of further delays to our Gender Recognition Reforms, which despite being on the notice paper for six weeks, have yet to be debated in the WA Legislative Council.

Now, these reforms are urgent. Every day a trans or gender-diverse person has to face the evil that is the Gender Reassignment Board is cruel and unjust to our community. This needs to be the top priority for the Legislative Council when it sits again for the first of its final nine sitting weeks before the state election.

But the Government has a real opportunity here. I’ve read the legislation, and the Government can still get these reforms right with some minor amendments and do good by the transgender and gender-diverse community of Western Australia.

Some crossbench MPs have indicated they will be moving amendments to the bill, and the community and I urge the Government to support those that are in line with our expectations, amendments that match the recommendations of Rainbow Futures WA and TransFolk of WA who conducted extensive consultation with our community on this issue.

There are four key opportunities: Self-identification, access for 16 and 17-year-olds, diversity of descriptors and some anti-discrimination protections for transgender and gender-diverse people.

The community seeks genuine self-identification and removal of the final aspects of required medicalisation of our lives. This is best practice and is now in place in a number of jurisdictions in Australia, including Victoria and even Queensland as recently as last week.

Our lives are not based on medicalisation. I myself am not on hormone replacement therapy, seeking surgery or other professional medical assistance in living my true life as a queer non-binary person. Our legislation shouldn’t continue to fall behind.

The gender recognition process needs to be accessible to 16 and 17-year-olds. We know that parents who don’t approve of their children being transgender or gender-diverse, or are no longer in the family picture, place a huge unnecessary strain on transgender and gender-diverse teenagers, a strain that affects their mental health. Allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to access the autonomous process would do wonders for the wellbeing for those affected in our community.

Our gender-diverse community is just that, it is diverse. The descriptors available to us should not force us into male, female or non-binary. Some of our community are genderfluid, some are bigender or demiboy or genderqueer. It is harmless for these processes to be more robust and diverse so that our community may be affirmed to live their true lives.

Finally, the Equal Opportunity Act. This is an interesting one. Currently, to be able to be protected under our anti-discrimination framework in WA as a transgender or gender-diverse person, you are protected against discrimination due to having a “gender history.”

You have a gender history if you are a “gender reassigned person”. You are a gender reassigned person if you have a recognition certificate from the Gender Reassignment Board. The current legislation before the Parliament for gender recognition reforms will amend this definition to include a certificate under the old act, or a certificate issued under this new act.

The Government has the opportunity, right now before we get it right in the fulsome Equal Opportunity Act reform, to open up anti-discrimination protections to all transgender and gender-diverse people, not just those who have legally changed their gender.

They can do this by adopting a definition of “gender reassigned person” that includes anyone who identifies as a gender other than their assigned gender at birth. Is it perfect? No, we still need the full Equal Opportunity Act reform and the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission’s Project 111. But this little change would be a huge stop gap measure to bring greater protections to some of the most vulnerable in our community right now.

Any amendment to the legislation in the Legislative Council will mean the legislation has to be sent back to the Legislative Assembly to be reaffirmed by the Government. But that additional week or two will be well worth the delay, especially in comparison to the nearly eight years of waiting our community has endured since WA Labor came to power in 2017 promising to abolish the Gender Reassignment Board.

WA Labor, especially our LGBTQIA+ members of the Cabinet and Government, I ask you genuinely and seriously, please spend your Winter recess in conversation with the transgender and gender-diverse community of Western Australia who are seeking these reforms.

TransFolk of WA have the lived experience and Rainbow Future WA have the model and the data from our community. We’ve done the work; the Government need only listen to us.

Alex Wallace (they/them) is a proud non-binary trans and gender diverse advocate, unionist and organiser for Queer Liberation Boorloo.

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