Monday, 25 May 2020

Transgender community welcomes change to Victorian birth certificates

Transgender community welcomes change to Victorian birth certificates

"Either you stop the hormones or get out of my house."

That was the grim ultimatum facing Brooke after she began taking the female sex hormone oestrogen at the age of 20.

She was born biologically as a male and had already endured the painful struggle of not fitting in at high school.

"Name called, spat on, hit, glared at, groped, a whole range of things," she said.

The choice was clear.

Abandoning the medication promising to change her life for the better was never going to be an option.

Soon after, Brooke packed up her car, left behind her family home in country Victoria and headed to Melbourne.

The sudden change left her homeless, couch surfing and struggling to get work because of her distinctive appearance.

"No one wants a trans person front of house," she said.

"They won't say it, but they don't"

Just two years on, with the help of family and new friends in the city, Brooke is living the life she dreamt of and is studying law and science at university.

Two women sit on a park bench smiling at one another.
Brooke and her friend Jacinta are part of Victoria's growing trans and gender diverse community.(ABC News: James Hancock)

But while her life has changed immeasurably, her birth certificate, for now at least, is stuck in the past.

"My birth certificate has my current name on there, but it still says male," she said.

Brooke, along with many other Victorians, has submitted an application to change the sex on her birth certificate.

"It was honestly a massive relief when I got everything sent away," she said.

Law reforms came into effect this month doing away with the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to first have "sex affirmation" or gender reassignment surgery before they could legally change their sex.

In the first fortnight, Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria received 50 applications to "change record of sex".

Twenty-seven of the applications are for changing from male to female, 14 from female to male and nine to change to another sex descriptor.

That compares to 40 applications in 2019 and 24 in 2015.

Removing the 'double take' when identity clashes with appearance

Sam Elkin says people can do a "double take" if a trans person's identification documents clash with their appearance.

Mr Elkin is from the LGBTIQ Legal Service and is not surprised by the surge in applications from the trans and gender diverse community.

"For months, we've been fielding calls and emails from people anxiously anticipating the changes," he said.

"So I know that hundreds and hundreds of people will be utilising the new change in legislation."

Sam Elkin stands in a park wearing glasses, a red shirt and grey blazer.
Sam Elkin from the LGBTIQ Legal Service says people can do a "double take" if a trans person’s identification documents clash with their appearance.(ABC News: James Hancock)

The laws also provide unprecedented choice in how individuals can express their gender identity.

While male or female are still expected to be the most common options, applicants can also pick whatever gender term they like, within reason.

The sex descriptors cannot be "obscene or offensive", "impractical" (for example it cannot be too long) or "restricted for other reasons".

Something like "Gender f*****" is obviously out, says Sally Goldner from Transgender Victoria, but "gender diverse", "non-binary", "gender queer" or "agender" are valid options.

Sally Golder smiles while standing in a park wearing a pink t-shirt.
Sally Goldner has also applied to amend her birth certificate since the changes came into effect.(ABC News: James Hancock)

Reforms allow birth certificate gender change without surgery

The change also clears a massive cost barrier for trans and gender diverse people being able to realise their "authentic sense of self", Ms Goldner said.

She said those born male would be looking at about $16,000 to have transgender surgery performed in Australia because it is not covered by Medicare or private health insurance.

It would be even more expensive for those born female, she said.

Ms Goldner said the changes would also help to remove "anxiety and ridicule" from everyday situations, like her friends getting "laughed at outright" after showing unaltered identification documents at the post office.

She said the changes would be particularly helpful for younger people.

"They don't have to out themselves if they're getting, say, a school holiday job," she said.

Mr Elkin said uncomfortable conversations and intrusive questions were a part of life for transgender people.

However, he said the changes would make some everyday tasks far easier.

"It's not necessarily intentional discrimination on the part of a medical service or something like that," he said.

"It's just that sometimes people do a doubletake when they see that somebody's identification is clearly in a different gender to the one that they are presenting in."

A man smiles and hugs another person while holding a bunch of papers and a pen.
The LGBTIQ Legal Service is holding its second Change Your ID Day on Monday.(Supplied)

The LGBTIQ Legal Service is holding its second Change Your ID Day on Monday to assist trans and gender diverse people to change their name and gender on identification documents.

The event will be held online because of coronavirus restrictions, however, Mr Elkin said many people were expected to participate.

But he is worried this could be the last time the event is held, with the legal service's two-year Victorian Law Foundation funding grant due to run out this Friday.

He said discussions with the Victorian Government had been "really productive and encouraging", although no funding has been forthcoming.

It is vital the service continues, he said.

"We have expertise in discrimination law against the LGBTIQ community," he said.

"We do a lot of work around health and privacy complaints, so we've developed a real speciality around that area of law."