Passports Denied to Trans Community by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs
In May 2007 Alexander Downer the Australian Minister for Foreign affairs signed an order that changed the policies of the Australian passport office concerning the issuing of passports to members of the trans community. The paper was signed in secret without consultation with the sex and gender diverse community, health service providers and nor was it debated in open parliament.
Quote from Passport news July 2007"On the 31st. May 2007 the Foreign Minister signed Australian Passports Amendment Determination(2007 (No. 1), which spells out that a person's identity for passport issuing purposes comprises four pieces of information; That is name, gender place and date of birth, as recorded on the applicant's cardinal document. This amendment particularly affects the issue of travel documents to transgender people and new policy instructions are being drafted and will be released shortly via the content Management System (CMS)
Transgender people travelling overseas for gender reassignment surgery will no longer be able to obtain a limited validity passport reflecting their intended sex. Instead, they may be issued a limited validity passport showing the gender recorded on their cardinal document, which may be replaced gratis after the gender reassignment is completed (i.e. produces a cardinal document in their assigned gender). Alternatively a limited validity Document of Identity (DOI), which does no include a gender field, may be issued, letter 10 must be given to the client explaining the limitations of the document and Letter 11, acknowledgment of receipt of the advice must be completed by the client.
Transgender clients are often supported by active advocacy groups and passport applications should be handled sensitively. Any client issues should be documented carefully. Only cases that meet the new policy may be issued a passport in the assigned gender."
People in Australia who have undergone sex and gender realignment and have had surgery to remove their reproductive organs have been able to change their passport to their new sex and gender, for many years. Until May of this year natal birth males who were transitioning to female could get a one-year passport to go abroad for genital realignment surgery; and on proof of that surgery, then acquire a long-term female passport. For natal born females who transition to male that construction of male anatomy is surgically much harder to do so the burden of proof of genital surgery has always been a grey area, which the Australian government has never delved too deep into.
Unlike in the UK, people who are medically unable to undergo such big operations, as genital reconstruction, have been unable to get a passport that reflects the gender that they may have transitioned to because they have not had that surgery. Also people who are transgender in Australia, and live as one sex but have genitals of another sex, are also unable to have a passport that matches their social presentation whereas in the UK they would. This has always left this sector of the Australian population in the very difficult position of not being unable to travel abroad or having to travel abroad on a passport that was a different sex to the gender they were presenting. This means they are immediately identified as trans and susceptible to abuse, unnecessary interrogation and embarrassment by passport officials in other countries, hotel staff and in any situation where they would have to prove their identity.
From a human rights perspective this has always been a breach of international law by Australia as those countries, who are members of the United Nations Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (Freedom of Movement Article 12), should not deny their citizens a passport and the rights of free and safe passage. A passport that does not reflect the gender in which a person lives in society leaves that person open to danger during travel.
The effect of this order
This was an unnecessary policy change by the Australian Passport Office that sought to victimise one of the most vulnerable minorities, who the government believed could not fight back. It was plainly a move by the Howard government to please the right-wing arch conservative voters, who the government are relying upon for votes during the up and coming election. It is further a move on behalf of the Howard government to shut down any possibility of gay marriage so that a person with a passport in one sex and birth certificate in another could not marry, thereby creating a gay marriage; an extension of the present government's extreme homophobia translated into transphobia out of desperation.
These polices are in line with the kind of religious extremism that seeks to terrorise minority group in countries like Australia, America and Saudi Arabia and Iran etc, who do not fit into the mainstream religious concepts prominent in those countries. They are the opposite to countries like the United Kingdom which have embraced trans people travelling on passports of their choice or Spain which has embraced gay marriage.
This change in passport policies will affect very few Australians but it will affect one of the most vulnerable trans groups in our society: pre-operative and non-operative trans people, leaving them open to danger, intimidation, and security issues during travel abroad. A Document of Identity, which they may be issued with, does not carry the same status as a passport to restrict the travel of its owner and does not state the person's sex or gender identity. Health organisations who cater for the trans and intersex community in Australian were never consulted on this change in policy.
What the Australian Government needs to do
The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, needs to review the policies of the passport office, bringing them in line with humane principles for treating all Australian citizens with equal validity. Some people identify as male and some as female but there are many people who are neither physically or socially part of the polarity separatism. Many trans people are part of the intersex spectrum but also many transgender people live as one gender but have genitals that may be different from how they present.
The passport office needs to:
1. Give passports to pre-operative or non-operative transsexuals or transsexed people, who have not had genital surgery, in the gender in which they live, for unrestricted travel.
2. Allow people who were married before transition to remain married and get a passport in their new gender presentation.
3. Give passports to transgender people in the gender in which they live for unrestricted travel.
4 Allow an individual who requires it to have no sex or gender stated on their passport.
SIGN SAGE'S PETITION TO THE AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS:
See also the article in SXNews.
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 blogged about this previously.
"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.My Department of Immigration records state that I'm female. I have been refused a passport anyway. This goes beyond mistakes, glitches, or misdirection. It's Lying.
"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."
Please forward this information and petition link to your family, friends, colleagues, networks, groups etc.
Please do that. Please at least look at the petition yourself too.
There have already been cases of women travelling on male passports being refused entry into the US, and missing out on necessary surgery there as the result. None have as yet been put in male immigration holding areas, with the guarantee of rape there, but this possibility cannot be excluded. They know that. That's why the limited-validity passports are in the legislation.