The Foreign Minister of Australia has reversed a policy whereby trans people could obtain a passport stating their “intended sex.”
The new arrangements were introduced without any consultation and only came to light when a pre-operative trans woman was turned away from the Passport Office in Sydney two weeks ago.
SX magazine reports that Stefanie Imbruglia, a cousin of singer Natalie, attempted to obtain a temporary passport so she could travel to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery.
Passport Office staff treated her disrespectfully, she told the magazine.
“I handed my documentation across to him [and] almost immediately, he referred to me as ‘Sir’, but the first two times, I thought I was just hearing things,” Ms Imbruglia told SX.
“He then told me that I could not get a passport with the letter ‘F’ – I asked to see where I couldn’t in writing and he went away for about five minutes or so.”
The official then showed her a copy of an internal staff newspaper, which carried a story stating that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had signed an amendment to passport legislation in May.
Trans groups in Australia expressed disgust and dismay at the behaviour of the government.
Sex and gender psychotherapist Dr Tracie O’Keefe tried unsuccessfully for a week to get Mr Downer’s office to supply full documentation on the new amendment.
“This will put members of the trans community in danger when they are travelling because they will not have a passport that matches their gender presentation,” O’Keefe told SX.
“The psychological damage as well as the security risk to these already vulnerable people will be enormous.”
From now on, trans people will be issued with a Document of Identity (DOI) confirming they are an Australian citizen and stating their new name but not their sex.
Campaign group Sex and Gender Education (SAGE) spokesperson Norrie May-Welby said they are planning a campaign against the new arrangements.
“You can’t travel with breasts and ‘male’ on your passport and this is what Downer is making trannies do,” she told SX.
“A DOI creates fuss and bother and someone travelling overseas doesn’t need that. They could be travelling through fundamentalist countries or just going through high-security post-9/11, where if there’s something out of the ordinary, they can target someone. It’s most unfair to single trans people out to travel with dodgy paperwork.”
The Australian Foreign Ministry claim they changed the rules to “strengthen the integrity and security of Australian passports.”
However, gay rights activists point to a case before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) involving a post-operative trans woman who is suing the government for refusing to issue her with a new passport on the grounds that she is still married to another woman.
The Australian government’s efforts to block same-sex marriage could be undermined if the tribunal rules in favour of the trans woman.
In 2004 Prime Minister John Howard introduced legislation banning same-sex marriage.
Ms Imbruglia says she is now unsure if she will be able to travel abroad for gender reassignment surgery.
“I have two options: go with M on my passport which I don’t want or travel with a DOI with no sex written on it. So basically I’m forced not to have a passport, so my peace of mind has been shattered and I shouldn’t be in that position.”