“Landmark moment” on intersex rights, as draft intersex protection law released in the ACT

27 May 2022 – Intersex advocates and LGBTIQ+ groups have today welcomed the ACT Government’s release of draft legislation that would prevent harmful medical interventions on intersex people without their personal consent.

Cody Smith, senior project officer of Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA), said: “As an odd kid that grew up in Canberra with unexplained surgical scars and a few too many doctor’s visits, it’s difficult to find the words that capture all the things I feel on a day like today. The first thing that comes to mind is a promise I made to myself that the next child born like me would have better opportunities. A chance to make decisions for themselves and not live with the burden of shame or secrecy. To finally realise this promise brings an overwhelming sense of relief.”

Morgan Carpenter, bioethicist and executive director of IHRA, said: “This is a historic moment. For more than twenty years, the intersex movement in Australia has sought legal reforms to protect people with innate variations of sex characteristics in medical settings. The persistence of so-called ‘normalising’ interventions, intending to make the bodies of children with intersex variations fit gender stereotypes, has been our most intractable issue.”

Gabriel Filpi, the intersex project coordinator at A Gender Agenda (AGA), said: “AGA would like to thank and congratulate the ACT Government for this groundbreaking commitment to the health, wellbeing, and safety of our intersex community. Legislation to protect the rights of intersex people in medical settings has always been at the core of intersex human rights advocacy. The draft legislation put forward by the ACT government today marks a historic step in enshrining these protections for our community.”

Ghassan Kassisieh, Legal Director of Equality Australia, said: “Today is a landmark moment for human rights in Australia, and we congratulate the ACT Government in leading the way towards Australia’s first laws protecting intersex people from unnecessary medical interventions without personal consent.

“Everyone should be able to decide what happens to their body. Yet, surgical and other medical procedures are being performed on young children without their consent, in order to “normalise” their bodies to gender stereotypes. These non-consensual procedures can cause lifelong mental and physical health consequences for intersex people.”

Public consultation on draft bill commences:

The ACT Government has today launched a public consultation on the draft legislation with the aim to refine and improve the draft bill.

The draft bill currently includes:  

  • Restrictions on medical treatment altering the sex characteristics of intersex people except with personal consent, in emergencies, or when approved by an independent expert panel
  • Consent safeguards that empower intersex people to make their own decisions about medical treatment, by ensuring consent to treatment is always obtained without pressure or coercion, and in an informed and supported way – including with referrals to peer support
  • The creation of an independent expert panel comprised of people with lived experience and experts in medicine, human rights, ethics and psychosocial support, who will oversee medical treatment plans for intersex children and others who do not have capacity to consent to necessary treatment
  • Offences and other regulatory provisions that enforce these principles.

“We congratulate the ACT Government on this significant milestone and look forward to participating in the consultation to ensure that the final legislation presented to the ACT parliament sets a new Australian and global standard in ensuring intersex people are able to decide what happens to bodies, on their own terms and in their own time,” said Mr Kassisieh.

“We warmly thank the Chief Minister and his staff for their work. We warmly thank the human rights institutions, allied community organisations and medical institutions who have joined our call for reform. We hope that the legislation will be strengthened by this process of public consultation, and we call on all Australian jurisdictions to take the same steps forward”, said Mr Carpenter.

Work leading up to this moment:

The draft bill comes after a multi-year consultation by the ACT Government with intersex people, parents, clinicians, legal experts and community stakeholders, in which Equality Australia was also commissioned to host a legal workshop on models for reform.

In 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission urged all Australian governments to implement measures that prevent harmful medical interventions on intersex people without personal consent.

The ACT is the first jurisdiction to release for a consultation a proposed law that would achieve this.

“Working with ourselves and other intersex advocates, the ACT government made a formal commitment to reform in 2019, and this thoughtful, carefully considered draft legislation is the product of years of productive engagement. To the maximum extent possible, it aims to ensure that all of us can make our own decisions about our own bodies. Alongside it, we anticipate increased resourcing for peer and family support,” said Mr Carpenter.

“Equality Australia is proud to have contributed its legal policy expertise to help translate the visionary Darlington Statement, made by the intersex community and its leaders, into a black-letter law that can now be considered by an Australian parliament,” added Mr Kassisieh.

“We now call on all governments across Australia to follow the leadership of the ACT Government in progressing protections for intersex people against these harmful and non-consensual medical procedures.”

Community briefing on the draft bill:

Equality Australia will host an online community briefing on the bill this Monday 6 June at 6:30 – 7:30pm.
Please register for the briefing via this Eventbrite link

About the makers of this statement:

  • Equality Australia is a national LGBTIQ+ organisation working to ensure equality for LGBTIQ+ people and their families.
  • Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) is a national organisation by and for people with innate variations of sex characteristics.
  • A Gender Agenda (AGA) is an ACT-based organisation supporting intersex, trans and gender diverse people.

Media Contact: Tara Ravens 0408 898 154, tara.ravens@equalityaustralia.org.au