Protecting our intersex community

Protecting our intersex community Main Image

By Andrew Barr

22 March 2023

An Australian first.

Today, the ACT Labor Government made history.

In an Australian first, I introduced legislation to stop deferrable medical treatments on the sex characteristics of intersex people until they are old enough to participate in that decision themselves.

Because everyone should have the right to make their own decisions about their own body.

This is an internationally significant reform to protect the rights and choices of people with variations in sex characteristics. It recognises that people with variations in sex characteristics should not be subject to harm through inappropriate medical interventions. It affirms that they are entitled to make their own decisions about medical treatments that affect their bodies.

Our society isn’t always accepting of diversity in people’s bodies. For people who are intersex, this can lead to medical interventions driven by the assumption that all bodies should appear the same, fitting binary norms of male and female. Sometimes, families are worried about their children growing up with bodies that are different to those around them. This can happen even when the differences in their bodies don’t cause health problems. This can result in proposals to undertake unnecessary medical interventions before the person can make a decision for themselves. It is these treatments that this reform seeks to regulate.

Evidence from intersex people who have received these kinds of treatments in childhood or adolescence, before they could decide for themselves, reveals the extent and long-term impact of these experiences.

For decades, intersex people have called for these treatments to be deferred until the person is old enough to be able to decide for themselves. National and international reviews have repeatedly recommended that changes be made to provide better care to intersex people, more support to families, and to stop practices that risk harm.

I am proud that the ACT is the first jurisdiction in Australia, and one of the first in the world, to make this a reality.

The Bill establishes new decision-making processes to be applied when irreversible medical treatments are being considered for people with variations in sex characteristics.

Central to the reform I introduced is the principle that people, including children, should always be involved in decisions about irreversible and non-urgent medical interventions made to their bodies. You can find detailed information on the Bill and its draft regulation here.

But it is important that we take a moment to acknowledge why reform is necessary. We are here today because of the long journey and the traumatic experiences of some members of our community.

To people with variations in sex characteristics and their families who have experienced these harms – we offer a new approach that seeks to prevent those experiences from being repeated.

This reform is a promise of change.

We will work with you, to ensure that each person is respected, celebrated, and given every opportunity to make their own decisions about their own body.