Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2019 Second Reading

15 Aug 2019

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I rise on behalf of the Greens on the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2019, which will provide for the self-determination of sex marker on a person’s birth certificate and remove the requirements for surgery. This bill is such an important step forward for Victoria to become a much more inclusive society for our trans and gender-diverse communities. You just had to be on the steps of Parliament yesterday at lunchtime to see what a big difference it will make, how important this is to the trans community and just how many people this will affect. This will have a positive impact on their lives.

Allowing Victorians to self-determine the sex recorded on their birth certificates will ensure that the law is in line with how people actually live their lives, and this will affirm and support our gender-diverse communities. It will also have a positive impact on our intersex Victorians. The current law as it stands is a barrier. It is a barrier for trans and gender-diverse Victorians to fully participate in our society. It creates a situation for gender-diverse people where they are required to provide their birth certificates—it could be for work, for school or for myriad other reasons—that do not actually reflect their gender identity. This can create all sorts of issues but it is mainly a barrier to participation in society. And so it is so important—so important—to have this document.

Other agencies have various different administrative practices regarding these matters, but it is so important to have the birth certificate, that important document that is so crucial to a person’s sense of identity and their recognition and their participation in society. It is something that many of us take for granted—to have our gender identity on our official documents—but the current law, as it stands for someone who wants to change the sex marker on their birth certificate, is unjust and is impractical. We saw changes last year that got rid of forced divorce and removed the need to be unmarried, and that flowed on from marriage equality legislation passing at the federal level. So now it is incredibly important that we have a process where someone can alter their birth certificate to reflect their identity.

The requirement to have surgery is unnecessary. A person’s gender identity is not necessarily defined by their physical body. That is something that de-legitimises the experiences of people who cannot or choose not to have surgery as part of their gender affirmation. It is something that people either do not want or cannot do, and it is not something that people should use to determine a person’s identity. There have been some concerns within the trans and gender-diverse community that the bill does not go far enough. Young people under the age of 18 need their parents’ approval to change their birth certificate, which can be problematic in some instances where often it is parents who do not accept or who reject the person’s need to transition gender. There are provisions in the bill to allow for where there is a difference of opinion between parents; there could be, I think, a referral to a magistrate to make that decision.

But of course if these sorts of matters are ending up in the courts, I think that is highly problematic and that would be a highly distressing circumstance for the young person involved. Just as we saw previously when it was required for young people to go to court to get stage 2 hormones, that could be an incredibly distressing process. I think if we see matters ending up in courts, we will certainly need to revisit this aspect of the legislation. There are concerns about the ability not to see descriptors where that could not be approved, where that could actually be someone’s legitimate gender identity and it could be rejected. So again we may have to look at this, and there are concerns that, in terms of people in prison, they need the approval of the secretary, and if they are on parole, the parole board. Again there are concerns that that could represent an unjust barrier.

So our commitment is to just look at the implementation of this bill should it pass, and I hope it does pass, and look down the track to see how it may need to be strengthened. With a similar bill having been defeated in the previous Parliament, Victoria is now playing catch-up with other states that have passed similar bills—Tasmania, the ACT, Western Australia and South Australia. We have seen changes in other countries that provide for self-determination and removal of the need for surgery. And the sorts of suggestions that are going around, that people are variously changing gender to access women-only spaces, are simply not occurring. It is just not occurring.

These sorts of criticisms of this bill are deeply rooted in transphobia. They are delegitimising the experiences and lives of trans and gender-diverse people and it is really disappointing. It is one thing not to be comfortable or not to understand, but it is another thing entirely to run a hate campaign, and that is what we are seeing from the Australian newspaper, which is running this so-called gender campaign. It is a hate campaign. We saw it with the Safe Schools program, which was also run by the opposition. We saw it during the marriage equality debate. You have got people out there who are obsessed with people in the bathroom. It is appalling and it is so damaging to the trans and gender-diverse community, particularly young people.

The debate in the previous Parliament was particularly hateful, and it was particularly hurtful. I would urge the opposition, if they are not going to support this bill—and I do actually urge you to reconsider that position when it goes into the other place—that they do not engage in the sorts of appalling debate we heard last time, because as the minister said, this has a profound effect on the health and wellbeing of so many people in the trans and gender-diverse community. This bill has been a long time coming. It is near identical to what was introduced last time. You know, you cannot come here and not understand what this is actually about, so I would urge all members to engage in a respectful debate, acknowledging the impact that it has on the trans and gender-diverse community, and I would urge them to reconsider their opposition to this bill. The Greens support this bill. I urge all members to support this bill.

It is certainly consistent with our commitment to ensure that intersex and transgender people are able to easily alter their sex on official documents so it is consistent with how people live. I want to acknowledge all those in the trans and gender-diverse community who have fought so hard for this bill and have had to endure this bill being defeated and the appalling debate last time, but I certainly want to acknowledge them for all the hard work they have done to bring this bill back into this Parliament. But I also want to acknowledge that there is a lot more to do. Hopefully when this bill passes this Parliament, hopefully when it passes this chamber, we have also got to acknowledge that there is a lot more to do for trans and gender-diverse Victorians.

Last year there was seen to be a national consensus when people were outraged when they realised that we had the laws in this country, including in Victoria through the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, that allowed faith-based schools to kick out kids or sack teachers or staff because they were transgender and because of their gender identity, and certainly it is time now to act on that. These are insidious laws that create a power imbalance. They create an unspoken risk, and it means that a difficult time in a person’s life can be absolutely untenable, and this goes further—from schools to other services, to housing services.

I do also want to touch on homelessness, as it was Homelessness Week last week. We have got trans and gender-diverse young people being overrepresented in homelessness, and these exemptions that exist in the law—just having these exemptions regardless of how an agency or a service may actually act—themselves represent a barrier to trans and gender-diverse people from accessing housing services. So these laws need to be changed. There is a lot more to do. I would urge all members in this Parliament to support this bill. This is a step in the right direction for a more inclusive Victoria. Trans rights are human rights, and this is a step in the right direction, and there is much more to do. I would urge all members to support this bill.

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