Intersex advocates speak out against Senator’s discriminatory sports bill

Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) have shared their perspective on Senator Claire Chandler’s private member’s bill, which seeks to restrict access to sport based on binary biological definitions of sex, effectively erasing Australians with intersex variations.

IHRA join a number of organisations speaking out against the bill, including Equality Tasmania, Equality Australia and TransFolk of WA, which has been dragged into the spotlight since Prime Minister Scott Morrison voiced his support for the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act while campaigning in Tasmania this week.

IHRA’s Executive Director Morgan Carpenter says the bill and the PM’s support have a pervasive and profoundly harmful impact on most people with intersex variations.

“The bill proposes to insert a hard biological definition of sex, and of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, into the national legislation that has offered protections from discrimination on grounds of sex, intersex status, sexual orientation and gender identity since 2013. It proposes that ‘sex’ means ‘the chromosomal, gonadal and anatomical characteristics associated with biological sex’, where everyone’s characteristics line up neatly as man or woman,” Carpenter explains.

Carpenter draws attention to the 2016 Family Court case Re: Carla (Medical procedure)where the presiding judge supported the sterilisation of a pre-school child, described as having a ‘sexual development disorder’; ‘genetically male’ with ‘male’ gonads.

“The judge also stated that the child had already had ‘surgery that enhanced the appearance of her female genitalia’. The case was taken to sterilise the child, which occurred on the basis of misrepresented facts and gender stereotypes that included an appeal to the child wearing ‘Minnie Mouse underwear’ and having ‘her long blond hair tied in braids’. The pre-school child had little agency about any of these decisions.”

“The case is profoundly disturbing, and has contributed to analysis and recommendations for legislative reform, including by the Australian Human Rights Commission. We hope this will lead to reform to protect children with intersex variations from these so-called ‘normalising’ procedures in future. The ACT and Victoria have made tangible commitments to reform,” Carpenter continues.

“In the context of the proposals by Sen. Claire Chandler, supported by Scott Morrison, the case begs a question: is Carla a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’? Who decides?”

“Is Carla a ‘man’ within the terms of the bill? Should medicine and society treat her as a man? If so, then why did the Family Court refer to surgery as having ‘enhanced the appearance of her female genitalia’? Why was this considered even remotely acceptable, let alone characterised as an ‘enhancement’? Surgeries like this should wait until people can make their own informed decisions.”

“Is Carla a ‘woman’, within the terms of the bill? Should medicine and society treat her as a woman? Is this why gender stereotypes like having ‘long blond hair tied in braids’ were called upon to justify the removal of her testes? Why is this considered even remotely acceptable, as a justification for surgery? Unless there’s an urgent need to protect physical health, surgeries like this should wait until people can make their own decisions.”

“Is Carla to be considered not a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ within the terms of this bill, because her body doesn’t fit the ideas about what it means to be a member of those categories? Why is it considered even remotely acceptable to exclude her from her lifelong legal and social category? Decisions about changing someone’s social and legal status should be made by individuals themselves, with their informed consent.”

“Intersex variations are variously termed ‘disorders of sex development’, innate variations of sex characteristics, or using a range of individual diagnostic names. Some of this language reinforces the idea that our bodies should be ‘fixed’ to fit ideas about how they should function or appear. By their very nature, people with intersex variations have sex characteristics that differ from normative ideas about what it means to be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ within the narrow terms proposed in this bill.”

“This does not mean that people with intersex variations should be treated as a third category, outside narrow stereotypes of what it means to be a man or woman. Like ‘Carla’, people with intersex variations are invariably observed or assigned female or male at birth.”

“In situations of doubt, New South Wales doctors state that ‘surgical options’ are an acceptable factor in classifying sex. The information we have available to us from a paediatric gynaecology service in Queensland, the state where the Family Court case on ‘Carla’ was adjudicated, show that all but one of a cohort of children with intersex variations seen by the service have experienced unnecessary medical interventions to make their bodies fit normative ideas about appearance and function.”

“It should be up to individuals to make their own decisions about their bodies and who they are.”

“The bill proposes to deny the biological realities that people with intersex variations live with, and exacerbate social exclusion and incomprehension. It is profoundly regressive and doesn’t deserve support.”

Local advocate and Intersex Peer Support Australia (IPSA) committee member Michelle McGrath also shared her thoughts on the legislation.

“As a director of IPSA I’m constantly see the struggles that people with innate variations of sex characteristics are forced to deal with on a daily basis,” McGrath said.

“The harm done to folks with these variations due to forced medically harmful practices causes life long pain and suffering, physically and mentally. To include this bill in legislation will tip many of our community over the edge, causing a greater number of suicides with children.”

Speaking directly to Senator Chandler in a statement, McGrath says the bill is both evil and hypocritical to the Christian faith.

“If you spent more time concentrating on things that matter, like protecting children with variations from medical harm without their consent then maybe I could respect you and your party.”

“Your bill is a disgrace to Australia.”

OIP Staff

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