Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. S.L. Game:
That this council—
1. Accepts that there are biologically two sexes and, in turn, a reflection of two genders;
2. Acknowledges that two genders have been accepted common knowledge for most of history;
3. Recognises that the idea of binary genders not being accepted language is denigrating to both males and females and harmful to our traditions; and
4. Acknowledges the importance of gendered language in society, specifically for explicit language and communication.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise somewhat briefly to affirm that the Greens will be opposing this motion. Why? Because we must respect the science on sex and gender, and variations in sex beyond the binary have been acknowledged globally for many years. Indeed, as the Hon. Ben Hood just touched upon, they cover approximately 1.7 per cent of our population.
However, simplistic approaches to sex and gender start even before we are born. Are they a girl or a boy? That question is often asked of expecting parents, almost out of habit. Some seem to think that the answer is easy, but biology is far more complicated and far more interesting. Some of us, some 1.7 per cent of us, are born with variations in sexual development—also known as intersex conditions or variations.
It is estimated that up to 1.7 per cent of the population has an intersex trait and approximately 0.5 per cent, or one-half of a per cent—have clinically identifiable sexual reproductive variations. Yet people often assume that the world is divided neatly into two groups of people—male and female—and that everyone's biological and genetic characteristics fit into one of those two categories. This, of course, is not always the case.
There are millions of people around the world who have sexual characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. Many, though not all, of these people identify as intersex. Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural variations that affect genitals, gonads, hormones, chromosomes, and reproductive organs. Sometimes these characteristics are visible at birth, sometimes they appear at puberty, and sometimes they are not physically apparent at all.
According to experts, about 1.7 per cent of the population is born with these intersex traits. It sounds small—in fact, it was just dismissed—but to assist MLCs with understanding what 1.7 per cent is, it is comparable to the number of people born with red hair. There is at least one in this parliament, there is at least one in the Senate, and I am sure we have all met somebody with red hair. Ask yourself: have you ever met somebody with red hair? It is that common, so it is not that rare at all really.
Despite this, the term intersex is still widely misunderstood, and intersex people are massively under-represented. Many intersex children undergo surgery in an effort to supposedly normalise them, even where those interventions are often invasive, irreversible and not performed for emergency reasons. Although doctors and parents may be well-meaning, the reality is that the procedures performed on intersex children can cause major problems, including infertility, pain, incontinence and lifelong psychological suffering. All this, just to make children conform to society's idea of what a girl or a boy should look like.
I refer members to research by Amnesty International that has highlighted how this constitutes a human rights violation. These interventions are often performed on children who are too young to meaningfully participate in decisions about their own bodies and parents who are not often properly informed about the potential risks.
States like ours have a duty to combat harmful stereotypes about gender and diversity. Instead, many choose to subject children to needless operations just to make them fit. Being intersex has nothing to do with being transgender. Our physical sexual characteristics have nothing to do with how we consider our gender identity or who we are attracted to. The word 'transgender' or 'trans' is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. The word 'intersex' relates to physical sexual characteristics and not to an internal sense of identity. An intersex person may also identify as trans, but they are separate things because gender and sex are separate. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual and may identify as female, male, both or neither.
Both intersex and trans people have the right to choose their own gender identity and should never be forced to live with their bodies or identities that they do not feel comfortable with. Society must become more open to all the diversity that being a person means. Trans and gender-diverse people should have the right to be free from discrimination and have autonomy over their bodies. Despite the societal progress made, it is clear that there are still multiple barriers preventing transgender and gender-diverse people from affirming their identities.
The Greens understand the importance of funding for trans and gender-diverse needs to be driven by principles of self-determination, bodily autonomy and co-design. No-one's body should be stigmatised, and intersex people have the right to bodily integrity, including personal consent to medical or surgical interventions. Acceptance of a person's gender identity requires at least some acknowledgment that they are natural and real—natural and real—and that is the problem with this motion: a fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of sex, gender and sexuality, opening the door for attacks on transgender, non-binary and gender-nonconforming individuals and groups.
Using gender-neutral language does not, in fact, denigrate or deny the validity of the identification of cisgendered people. We use collective nouns daily that are not gendered. Some examples are people, citizens, residents, voters, employees, students, children and adults. None of these stop individuals using gendered pronouns or titles for themselves. Gender-neutral language is inclusive of all genders and recognises that all humans are innately worthy regardless of how they identify.
As representatives of our community, we cannot let this chamber be used to justify discrimination. The simple male/female binary does not effectively express the normal range of being human. Understanding this and incorporating it into our legislation and policies offers better possibilities, greater equity and more joy for our state. Our children should be allowed to grow up the way they are. All people deserve to live free of shame, stigma and pain, especially if they are neither a boy nor a girl.