Skip to main content


Complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act: Intersex Status

Complaint Information Service
Monday 29 July, 2013

Complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act: Intersex Status

What is the Sex Discrimination Act?

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (the SDA) makes it against the law to treat you unfairly because of your: sex; marital status; family responsibilities; because you are pregnant or might become pregnant or because you are breastfeeding.

The SDA also makes sexual harassment against the law.

As of 1 August 2013 the SDA also makes it against the law to treat you unfairly because of your intersex status; gender identity; sexual orientation and marital or relationship status (including same-sex de facto relationships).

The Australian Human Rights Commission will be able to accept complaints of discrimination on the ground of intersex status about things that have happened on or after the commencement date.

What is intersex status?

Intersex status means the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

  • neither wholly female nor wholly male; or
  • a combination of female and male; or
  • neither female nor male.

Being intersex is about biological variations, not about gender identity. An intersex person may have the biological attributes of both sexes, or lack some of the biological attributes considered necessary to be defined as one or other sex.

What is intersex status discrimination?

Direct intersex status discrimination happens when a person is treated less favourably than a person who is not intersex would be treated in the same or similar circumstances. For example, it may be direct discrimination for a physiotherapist to refuse to treat an intersex person because the person’s biological characteristics make the physiotherapist uncomfortable

Indirect intersex status discrimination occurs when there is a requirement or practice that is the same for everyone but has an unfair effect on people who are intersex. For example, a policy that says certain medical treatments, such as treatment for preventing ovarian cancer, is only appropriate for women may disadvantage an intersex man who has male and female sex characteristics.

When can this law be used?

You can use the SDA to get fair treatment in:

  • Employment – getting a job, terms and conditions of a job, training, promotion, being dismissed.
  • Education – enrolling or studying in a course at a private or public school, college or university.
  • Accommodation – renting or buying a house or unit.
  • Getting or using services – such as services provided by restaurants, shops or entertainment venues, banking and insurance services, services provided by government departments, transport services, professional services like those provided by lawyers, doctors or tradespeople.

What can I do if I experience discrimination?

You may want to deal with the situation yourself by raising it directly with the person or people involved.

If this does not resolve the situation, or you do not feel comfortable doing this, you can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.  You can also have someone such as a solicitor, advocate or trade union make a complaint on your behalf.

It does not cost anything to make a complaint to the Commission.

Your complaint needs to be put in writing.  The Commission has a complaint form that you can fill in and post or fax to us or you can lodge a complaint online at our website.  If you are not able to put your complaint in writing, we can help you with this.

For your complaint to be valid it must be reasonably arguable that the events you want to complain about are unlawful discrimination and you must provide sufficient details about your allegations including what happened, when and where it happened and who was involved.

A complaint can be made in any language.  If you need a translator or interpreter, the Commission can arrange this for you.

What will happen with my complaint?

When the Commission receives a complaint about something that is covered by the SDA, the President of the Commission can investigate the complaint and try to resolve it by conciliation.  The Commission is not a court and cannot determine that discrimination has happened.  The Commission’s role is to get both sides of the story and help those involved resolve the complaint.

Commission staff may contact you to get further information about your complaint.

Generally, the Commission will tell the person or organisation the complaint is against (the respondent) about your complaint and give them a copy of the complaint.  The Commission may ask the respondent for specific information or a detailed response to your complaint.

When appropriate, the Commission will invite you to participate in conciliation.  Conciliation is an informal process that allows you and the respondent to talk about the issues and try to find a way to resolve the complaint.

If your complaint is not resolved or it is discontinued for another reason, you can take your complaint to the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Where can I get more information?

Call us

Complaint Info Line: 1300 656 419 or (02) 9284 9888
TTY: 1800 620 241

If you need an interpreter you can call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 131 450 and ask to be connected to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

If you are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment you can contact the National Relay Service (NRS) on 133 677 (TTY/Voice) or 1300 555 727 (Speak & Listen) and ask to be connected to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Write to us

Postal Address: GPO Box 5218, Sydney NSW 2001
Fax: (02) 9284 9611

Go online

Make a complaint:

The Australian Human Rights Commission can make reasonable adjustments for people with disability to aid participation in the complaint process.

You do not need a lawyer or advocate to make a complaint about discrimination. If you are seeking advice or advocacy you can contact your trade union, an advocacy organisation or a community legal centre. Contact details for your closest community legal centre can be found at

Disclaimer: The information on this fact sheet is only intended as a guide. It is not a substitute for legal advice.