In early March, more than 20 intersex advocates from Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand came together for a groundbreaking retreat in Darlington, Sydney. The gathering, a first of its kind, produced a declaration of the policy goals for intersex people in the two countries, one which queer people and allies alike must take listen to.
The Darlington Statement’ presents policy demands across a range of key areas, including health, sex classification, marriage, and anti-discrimination legislation.
At its core is a focus on the continued practice of normalisation surgeries facing intersex people. The statement contains an unambiguous demand for the “immediate prohibition as a criminal act of deferrable medical interventions, including surgical and hormonal interventions, that alter the sex characteristics of infants and children without personal consent.” This demand follows the ‘Carla case’ in Australia last year, in which the Family Court of Australia stated that parents could authorise the sterilisation of a 5-year-old child, despite medical evidence that did not support the decision.
The other key focus of the document is the continued practice of official gender and sex classification, which the document argues are “upheld by structural violence”. Contrary to a lot of current policies, the Darlington Statement argues that “attempts to classify intersex people as a third sex/gender do not respect our diversity or right to self-determination.” Instead, the Statement proposes a range of potentially radical measures, with a final goal of the elimination of sex and gender on birth certificates and other identification documents. While current classifications exist, the statement argues that sex/gender assignments must be regarded as ‘provisional’, with the ability of people to be able to change their classification “through a simple administrative procedure”.
Beyond these two big ticket items, the Darlington Statement also discusses a number of other key issues, including legislative protection from discrimination and harmful practices on grounds of sex characteristics, an end to genetic discriminations such as higher life insurance premiums for intersex people, the right for all people to marry and form a family regardless of sex characteristics, and for an official apology and reparations from state and federal governments for the treatment of people born with variations of sex characteristics.
The Darlington Statement presents the first comprehensive policy platform for intersex people in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. In doing so, it is an essential document for a community whose continued discrimination and oppression is finally starting to receive some international recognition and action.
For the rest of us, however, the question is whether we will listen. While intersex people long ago entered the ‘LGBTIQ acronym’, discussions around intersex issues have remained largely non-existent, with young intersex children continuing to face intrusive and unnecessary medical interventions. Simultaneously, debates on sex and gender classifications have often ignored the voices of intersex people, particularly concerning the challenges behind legislation that provides for third sex classifications on birth certificates and other official documents.
This reality was noted in the Darlington Statement itself. The document said:
“Intersex is distinct from other issues. We call on allies to actively acknowledge our distinctiveness and the diversity within our community, to support our human rights claims and respect the intersex human rights movement, without tokenism, or instrumentalising, or co-opting intersex issues as a means for ends. ‘Nothing about us without us.’”
This is the challenge that we as a broader queer community must now finally face. The Darlington Statement is not just a policy platform, but also a call that if we are to include intersex people into broader queer politics, we must be serious about fighting with, and for, intersex people.
The Darlington Statement gives us a clear outline of what needs to be done. It is up to us a community to take it seriously.