Australian Trans people Denied Passports by Minister for Foreign Affairs
The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer in May 2007 signed an order to stop many of the Australia’s trans community from obtaining a passport in the gender in which they live, unless they have had genital surgery.
This means that transsexual people in transition would have to travel aboard with a passport of the opposite gender to which they are presenting or with a Document of Identity which states their name but does not disclose any sex or gender identity. This even applies to someone travelling overseas for the express purpose of completing their transsexual surgery (Breast surgery is common in Australiabut genital surgery is often carried out outside Australia). Some intersex, transsexual or transsexed people cannot have any surgery for medical reasons including heart condition, liver and kidney problems, cancer or AIDS or simply not being able to afford treatment.
Transgender people who do not want to have genital surgery will also now have to travel on a passport which will read the opposite sex and gender to which they present or with a DOI which will make them stand out ie by not having a passport. These people will now not be able to travel outside Australiasafely and anonymously, making them susceptible to abuse, violence, and discrimination abroad. This change in the law was brought about by the Howard government without any community, medical, healthcare or public consultation. It is an act of violence against the transgender community by the Howard government to please the arch conservative right-wing voters in the run up to election. It is a hate crime.
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Sex And Gender Education (SAGE)
Campaigning for the rights of all sex and gender diverse people in Australia
See related article:
SX News, 9 August 2007
An amendment to the passport legislation to plug a loophole allowing same-sex marriage compromises trans people's safety. Katrina Fox reports.
Two weeks ago, a pre-operative trans woman, Stefanie Imbruglia (singer Natalie's cousin), went to the Australian Passport Office in Sydney to obtain a temporary passport showing her sex as female, which would allow her to travel to Thailand for genital realignment surgery. She didn't anticipate any problems, since hundreds of trans people before her had successfully applied for and received such interim passports as a matter of course. However, in what she describes as a "twilight zone moment", things went awry: she was subjected to a passport officer insisting on calling her 'Sir' when she was presenting as obviously female, and denied a passport that reflects her gender identity.
"I handed my documentation across to him [and] almost immediately, he referred to me as 'Sir', but the first two times, I thought I was just hearing things," Imbruglia recalls. "He then told me that I could not get a passport with the letter 'F. I asked to see where I couldn't in writing and he went away for about five minutes or so."
Upon his return, the passport officer, still referring to Imbruglia as 'Sir', handed her a copy of the July 2007 issue of Passport News, an internal newsletter for staff, with a story titled 'Transgender Passport Applicants: New Policy'.
The story, seen by SX, states that the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, signed an amendment to the passport legislation in May this year that disallows trans people to obtain a passport in their "intended sex". Applicants may obtain a passport stating the sex on their birth certificate or be issued with a Document of Identity (DOI), which states their new name and the fact they are an Australian citizen, but does not disclose their sex.
This piece of legislation was slipped through without any consultation with the trans community and has caused an uproar with trans advocacy groups and professionals who work with trans people. Sex and gender specialist psychotherapist, Dr Tracie O'Keefe DCH, tried unsuccessfully for a week to get Downer's office to supply full documentation on the new amendment and lambasted him for putting trans people wishing to travel overseas in danger.
"This will put members of the trans community in danger when they are travelling because they will not have a passport that matches their gender presentation," O'Keefe told SX. "The psychological damage as well as the security risk to
these already vulnerable people will be enormous."
Information officer at the Gender Centre NSW, Katherine Cummings, agreed. "Our clientele are forced to carry documentation which doesn't include their innate gender, leaving them open to be harassed in customs areas."
Imbruglia's case has been taken on by lobby group Sex and Gender Education (SAGE) which is planning a campaign and online petition. Spokesperson Norrie May-Welby told SX: "You can't travel with breasts and 'male' on your passport and this is what Downer is making trannies do. A DOI creates fuss and bother and someone travelling overseas doesn't need that. They could be travelling through fundamentalist countries or just going through high-security post-9/11, where if there's something out of the ordinary, they can target someone. It's most unfair to single trans people out to travel with dodgy paperwork."
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the purpose of the amendment was to "strengthen the integrity and security of Australian passports", arguing that only the State and Territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship have the legislated power to amend records when people have satisfied their requirements to record a change of gender.
"It would be inconsistent ... for the Department to continue to issue passports, albeit limited in validity, to persons in a sex other than that shown in the records held by the State or Territory BDM Registrar or the Department of Immigration and Citizenship," a spokesperson told SX.
Trans activists, however, have suggested that that the move was precipitated by the government wanting to plug a loophole which could open the door to same-sex marriage.
A post-operative trans woman has a case pending in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in which she is suing the federal government for refusing to grant her a female passport because she is still legally married to a woman. The trans woman married her female partner using her male birth certificate. She is challenging the federal government on the grounds that it was out of its jurisdiction by taking any other information from the birth certificate apart from residency. If she wins the case, she and her partner will be the first legally recognised same-sex married couple in Australia. But this new amendment to the passport legislation now gives the government power to ask for more information for a passport, including sex and nationality.
As for Imbruglia, the change in law leaves her fearing for her safety. "I'm now unsure about my travel to Thailand," she told SX. "I have two options: go with M on my passport which I don't want or travel with a DOI with no sex written on it. So basically I'm forced not to have a passport, so my peace of mind has been shattered and I shouldn't be in that position."
To join SAGE's campaign and sign the online petition, visit www.sageaustralia.org