On Thursday 30th April a panel of scholars, community leaders and lawyers gathered at the Innovations Lecture Theatre for the LSS’ inaugural Forum on Gender Minorities in the Law. The event that aimed to shed light on the struggles transgender and intersex individuals face in seeking legal recognition within Australia and abroad.

Statistics reveal that transgender and intersex individuals are marginalised in our community, with 90% of trans people experiencing discrimination, of which 80% experience it in all aspects of daily life.

Discrimination within the legal system forms part of the problem activists face in achieving equality for gender minorities.

The panel discussed the issues that arise when a society and its laws maintain outdated conceptions of gender binaries, questioning whether traditional gender constructs are helpful for creating a fairer society.

Panelist Heidi Yates, Chair of the ACT LGBTQI Ministerial Advisory Council, explained that feminists like her often feel conflicted when collecting data on women’s participation in civic life, with surveys often asking the binary question of “indicate your sex; male or female”.

Attendee Eun Ju Kim-Baker questioned the panel on the best way to involve straight white men in conversations of gender minority rights. “It’s crucial not to sit comfortably in an echo-chamber of your own ideas, even for marginalised groups. We’ll never blow up the binary without cissexual white straight men contributing their views and passion.”

The panel highlighted that efforts to legally recognise transgender and intersex people have started to see success in the ACT, with the creation of a third “X” box on birth certificates alongside the pre-existing “M” or “F” boxes.
Previously, to switch between the male or female boxes on one’s birth certificate it was necessary to undergo surgery, which requires sterilisation. Thanks to the recent creation of the “X” category, ACT born citizens can change their gender to “X” if they have undergone some form of medical treatment (which may include counselling or surgery).

Chair of the recent inquiry into gender diversity in the ACT, Simon Rice OAM feels that this change is a step in a positive direction for gender minority legal recognition. However sub-dean of the ANU Law School, Wayne Morgan, believes it will take much more campaigning for reform to extend beyond the socially progressive ACT.

“Through lobbying it became apparent that a top down approach wasn’t enough. In the ACT a community based approach was required to encourage officials to make legislative change,” explained panelist and leading community activist, Peter Hyndal.

The forum also addressed the continued use and additions to the acronym LGBTQI in campaigning for minority gender and sexuality rights. Ms Yates argued that it is time to move away from the acronym, as often conversations about the LGBTQI movement concentrate on LGB issues and conflate the differing experiences of the people that come under that umbrella.

Attendee Isabel Meredith Mudford echoed the sentiments of Mr Hyndal on this issue: “the distinct separation of the LGB and TI groups makes sense in confronting Australian issues of discrimination, however internationally (in less progressive societies) the experience of being ‘othered’ for one’s sexuality or gender-identity can be quite similar.”

LSS Social Justice Vice President, Karina Curry-Hyde and Equity Officer, Jessica Elliott, felt the event “was a great success with lots of insightful questions asked… We ran the event to highlight the important interplay between law and gender diversity at the ANU”.