High Court case highlights gender-definition issues


A fight for gender rights is taking place in an Australian court, not for males or females, but for those who fall in between.

The High Court of Australia has determined that a person in NSW can identify as a gender that is neither male or female on a registry document.

The hearing was spearheaded by a Sydney resident named Norrie.

In 2010, Norrie applied for a name change, also requesting to have the gender removed from the identity certificate, to be replaced with “not specified”.

Norrie was identified as biologically male at birth but, after a sex change operation, felt it did not make sense to be categorised by a specific gender.

Last year, the case was taken to a NSW court which ruled that Norrie and other NSW residents can legally identify as neither male nor female.

Now, the NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages is challenging the decision in the High Court.

The outcome of this the current case will have implications in NSW if the judge rules in Norrie’s favour with the potential for nation-wide change.

Organisation Intersex International Australia president, Morgan Carpenter, says Norrie's case may prove to be problematic for the intersex community. "There is a risk that the case will assign us all to a third gender", Mr Carpenter says.

Intersex people are born with atypical sex characteristics that could be both male and female.

Mr Carpenter says most intersex people identify with being male or female and would not want to be categorised as an alternative gender.

Norrie's case may bring forth legislation that would allow parents to choose a gender option apart from male or female for their child's birth certificate.

He says it's in the best interest of a child to have either "male" or "female" on their birth certificate, giving them the right to choose their gender later on, including the option of using an "unspecified"category.

But Mr Carpenter questions the need for gender assignment at birth.

"Why does sex have to be on the birth certificate in the first place?"

Gender identity in Australia

In 2003, Australian Alex MacFarlane was granted the right to replace the gender on his passport with “X”.

In Victoria, people are allowed to identify their gender as "indeterminate" or leave the field blank on their birth certificates if they are intersex.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a similar policy, allowing Australians to identify as “X” on their passport with a letter from a physician or psychologist. In 2013, it revised the policy to broaden gender definitions.

According to the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, published in 2013, government departments that collect personal records must allow for a person to change their gender to “X” if they provide certain documentation such as a medical statement and a travel document with the preferred gender.

Global recognition of alternative genders

As of November 2013, Germany was the first European country to allow babies who have both male and female characteristics to be registered as neither sex.

Parents are able to leave the gender blank in an effort to alleviate pressure on the parents when it comes to making decisions about sex reassignment surgery for their child.

Several south-east Asian countries also recognise alternative genders.

In India and Bangladesh, transgender communities, called Hijras, are given a third gender option on passports.

Pakistani transgendered people can choose from a number of genders to be included on their identity card and Nepal also allows for an alternative gender on identity cards.

New Zealand allows applicants to use “X” to represent an indeterminate gender on a passport.

Gender online

This year, Facebook began to allow its American users to select their gender from 56 different options and the preferred pronoun (i.e. he, she, they). 


Watch Luke Waters' story via YouTube:

Source SBS

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch