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2009 Media Release: Sex and gender: not always a simple key to identification

Commission Commission – General

17 March 2009

Sex and gender: not always a simple key to identification

Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, launched the Australian Human Rights Commission’s concluding paper for the sex and gender diversity project, Sex Files: The legal recognition of sex in documents and government records, containing 15 recommendations for improving the current system for legally recognising sex identity, at Parliament House in Canberra today.

“It is difficult for most of us to understand being born into a body that is the wrong sex, or into a body that is not exclusively male or female,” said Commissioner Innes, “but for some people this is an extremely frustrating reality that they have had to deal with in their lives.”

“While some people who are sex or gender diverse take steps to rectify or come to terms with this situation themselves, others have the decision made for them when they are young, but both potentially face the humiliation and added frustration of having to argue for their sex or gender at some stage in their lives when asked for identification by various official documents.”

Mr Innes said that the issue of sex and/or gender identity arose when the Commission was undertaking consultations and research for the Same-sex: same entitlements inquiry into discrimination against same sex couples and families regarding financial and work-related entitlements.

“The appalling thing about this situation over sex and gender identity in documentation and records is the disruption it causes in the life of the person concerned by putting a spotlight on what in many cases is a very private matter in an otherwise completely ordinary life and, in others, a life that is lived without usually having to make such frustrating and embarrassing justifications,” Commissioner Innes said.

The Sex and gender diversity project’s focus on documentation arose after a majority of responses to the project’s initial issues paper revealed that the recording and proof of sex and/or gender in official documents and government records was a major human rights issue to sex and gender diverse people. Subsequent investigation found that it was fraught with inconsistencies that inadvertently caused additional frustration and distress.

Part of the research and consultation process on the project was the use of a blog, where sex and gender diverse people could anonymously share their thoughts and experiences.

“One of the most articulate summations of the reason for the entire project was a blog comment that said, ‘Having documents that reflect one’s sense of identity is important for employment, access to healthcare and medicines and also for self affirmation and acceptance by the government that – yes – this is who you really are’,” said Commissioner Innes.

Commissioner Innes said that, after consulting with people in public meetings in Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, and hearing stories of terrible discrimination and immense bravery, he hoped the 15 recommendations in the paper would lead the Australian Government to create a fairer and less complicated identification system that recognises sex and gender diversity.

The paper and its 15 recommendations is available online at

Media contact: Brinsley Marlay 02 9284 9656 or 0430 366 529