We’ve long thought of people as being women and men, girls and boys; that there are only two sexes - female and male. But sex is not just two types. Sex is actually a spectrum made up of ‘female’ and ‘male’ and in between are a range of natural, biological traits and variations - this in between is called ‘intersex’. Intersex people are born with chromosomes, genitals and/or reproductive organs which are not 100% biologically male or female, or are a mixture of both.
Sex as a spectrum was finally recognised recently under anti-discrimination law for the first time in Australia - and anywhere in the world. In a global first, intersex people, at least in Australia, are now protected against discrimination in accessing education, employment, health and other services.
No one is certain exactly how many people are intersex. Medical research estimates vary from 0.05% (1 in 2,000 births) to 1% or almost 2%. In Australia, 1% would equate to about 230,000 people.
A big win for intersex rights
Many organisations - including Amnesty - expressed concern to the Australian Government that under Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act (passed in 1984) people of intersex status were excluded from accessing some social services and superannuation rights -- and may have been unable to join female or male sports and social associations.
Until a fortnight ago, the absence of ‘intersex’ from government terminology made it very unclear what rights, entitlements and essential services could be accessed by intersex persons. People of intersex status have long been forced to choose between the binary of ‘man’ or ‘woman’ to access or otherwise be excluded from marriage rights and other sex dependant entitlements.
With the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill approved by Federal Parliament on 25 June this year, intersex people in Australia can finally be legally recognised as equal. This historic achievement is already creating a ripple effect worldwide and is a fantastic legal precedent.
Additionally, this new bill will stop government-funded religious organisations providing aged-care from discriminating against seniors on grounds of sexuality, sex or gender identity.
Celebrating all people!
Being intersex is a natural, biological reality. Huge congratulations to all the community groups and organisations that have tirelessly campaigned for many years towards equality for intersex people. Thumbs up to the Australian Government for listening to everyday Australians who do not fit neatly into the boxes of female and male. In diversity, we celebrate!!