30 October, 2009: For immediate release.
Sent on behalf of Stefanie Imbruglia and Sex And Gender Education (SAGE).
AUSTRALIAN PASSPORT OFFICE ISSUES APOLOGY TO TRANSSEXUAL WOMAN
Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) agrees to issue appropriate passports to sex and gender diverse people and changeoffensive terminology in its training material to be more inclusive of diversity.
In July 2007, Stefanie Imbruglia, a 42-year-old transsexual woman (cousin of singer Natalie Imbruglia), applied to the Australian Passport Office to get a female passport so she could travel to Thailand for Sex Realignment Surgery. While she was registered as male at birth she had been living as a female for two years. To her amazement she was told by the passport officer at the counter that she would only be allowed to travel on a male passport even though she had lived as female for two years and had letters from her medical specialists confirming she had been undergoing treatment for sex and gender dysphoria.
Over the past 20 years the Australian government has issued a one-year limited passport for people registered male at birth, who lived as transsexual females who were going abroad for surgery. Under the Howard government the Minster of Trade and Foreign Affairs rescinded that right secretly in 2007 without any consultation with any specialists in the field, service providers or any members of the sex and gender diverse community. It is dangerous for transsexual women to have to travel abroad on male passports as they could be subjected to stop and searches, intimidation, arrest, violence and embarrassment.
Stefanie was subjected to ridicule by a passport officer, who insisted on calling “Sir” even though she had on a skirt and jacket and presented as female. When Stefanie arrived in Thailand for her surgery at the airport she was stopped by a passport control officer in front of all the other passengers on her plane and called to account for the discrepancy between her female appearance and male passport. The incident was highly embarrassing for her and forced her to have her medical history disclosed to the public against her will. Exactly what she warned the Australian DFAT would happen, did happen.
On returning to Australia, after surgery, Stefanie as a member of SAGE (Sex And Gender Education), a political lobbying group for sex and gender diverse people, decided to bring a case against DFAT with the Australian Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) now the Australian Human Rights Commission) AHRC). The case was that DFAT had knowingly placed Stefanie in danger by refusing to issue her with a passport that reflected her identity. It was in Breach of Article 12 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. The United Nation’s convention on human rights requires countries to issue citizens with documents of safe travel in and out of their countries.
Stefanie also filed a complaint that DFAT had been guilty of sex discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. Since it had issued her with a female passport on her return from Thailand but refused to issue her with one before she went, it had discriminated against her because she presented as the same person on both occasions. The complaint also encompassed the way she had been mistreated by the officer at the passport office.
Over the ensuing two years the AHRC sought conciliation between the two parties. In the interim the AHRC had published its project in 2008 that looked into the human rights difficulties faced by people who were sex and gender diverse and concluded that many government departments needed to adopt a more positive and accommodating attitude to all sex and gender diverse people. For far too long this group of people has been excluded from fully taking part in society as government bureaucracy has failed to keep up with scientific knowledge and human rights. Within the past few weeks the conciliation between both parties has drawn to a close to end the case.
What DFAT agreed to:
1. A complete unreserved written apology to Stefanie for the way she had been treated.
2. The restoration of the right for people going abroad for sex realignment surgery to be given a passport in their appropriate sex and/or gender.
3. The recognition that some people who are intersex, transexed, transsexual, transgendered or any of the other sex and gender diverse identities may not be suitable to have genital surgery. They may, however, live in their preferred sex and/or gender roles.
4. That such people upon presentation of a letter from a medical professional would be able to have a permanent passport in their needed sex and/gender. Not all people are able to change their birth certificates or cardinal documents to reflect their identity. Each case would be considered on case by case basis.
5. That the phrase ‘medical professional’ would be interpreted as meaning a doctor, gynaecologist, endocrinologist, urologist, psychiatrist, endocrinologist, psychologist, psychotherapist, counsellor, sexologist, and social worker; in accordance with international standards of care for helping sex and gender diverse people.
6. An alteration to DFAT’s training material for employees that lumped all sex and gender diverse people under the umbrella ‘transgender’, which is offensive to many sex and gender diverse people. They changed their terminology to address Sex and Gender Diverse people’s needs and allowing those people to identify as they needed under the Sex and Gender Diverse label without discrimination.
7. The removal of an offensive training handout to employees that gave wrong and misleading information about sex, gender and sexuality diverse people to its employees.
8. That people presenting with no sex or gender on their cardinal documents may be considered for a passport that does not state sex or gender. This clears the way for parents of intersex children who do not wish to be forced into registering their children as male or female when that child may be strictly neither or both. Some adults identify as neuter and wish their documents to reflect that status.
Stefanie wishes to thank AHRC for its part in brokering the conciliation, DFAT for readjusting its position to afford equal human rights and appropriate passports to all sex and gender diverse people, to SAGE for its assistance in bringing the case before AHRC, and Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, ND, for her assistance in helping Stefanie bring the case.
More information can be found on Stefanie’s website www.stefanie888.com
FOR MEDIA INTERVIEWS AND COMMENTS:
Stefanie Imbruglia: Ph 0414 835 352
Dr Tracie O’Keefe, DCH, ND (SAGE spokesperson): 02 9571 4333 or 0403
398 808. SAGE website www.sageaustralia.org
I'm more into education than activism. But sometimes the authorities won't let you not be an activist.
Here's what I wrote when I was in the midst of my own fight, but at last it looked like I was going to win after all, if it came to a full-blown court case:
It's important to step back, and think about what this whole situation is about.Steph's fight was over a different issue - things got worse before they got better, and her treatment appears to be in direct retaliation for us not lying down and surrendering. But yes, those who persecuted us are no longer in a position to do so, and DFAT has had a cultural change, even if it took years of legal "aversion therapy". They've genuinely reformed.
It's about simply getting a Passport, something that by the Australian Passport Act, every Australian has a right to. I'm no Criminal, nor someone with dodgy citizenship, nor a Passport Trafficker or Terrorist. I already had a UK passport with the same correct details in. I needed to go overseas for surgery, there was a growing risk of cancer. I have a congenital medical problem, nothing particularly unusual, and that's all.
At a time when I was under great stress, when I was most vulnerable, I was treated
worse than a Murderer - they can get passports. I was ordered to Divorce before a
passport would be granted, something that was a gross abuse of power, and blatantly
discriminatory. Had I not recorded it on my blog, as it happened, it would seem
inconceivable that anyone could be treated this way.
For many months I faced the possibility that I would not be allowed back in the country to see my little son. The sleepless nights, the vast amounts of time spent writing letters, or waiting (sometimes for hours) at the Passport Office, all that was totally un-necessary. Pain and Suffering is an exact description of what was inflicted on me. I think many in a similar situation would not have coped. I came very close to losing it, as was reflected in my writings.
Now that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel, I can let my outrage at
being treated like dirt show. I'm crying now, trying to get rid of the pain, the
anguish, the frustration at the unreasonable and unconscionable conduct of some of
those who had me at their mercy. HOW DARE THEY DO THIS TO ME? I'm Human.
I'm Human. I'm human. No human being should be treated like that.
I intend to make sure they don't ever do it again. That they never order anyone to
Divorce. Victimised, I refuse to be a Victim. They don't have my permission to
de-humanise me. Revenge is not in order, but Recompense, and Retribution, is. If I
can swing it.
A good Barrister has been recommended. Hopefully it won't come to Court. I have no
wish to see people suffer, but I do wish to give such aversion therapy that they
never, ever, do anything like this again.