The Australian government has changed its mind about awarding a gender activist a status of “gender not specified”.
Three weeks ago, Scottish-born Norrie mAy-welby achived a world first when zie was granted a Recognised Details Certificate giving hir gender as “not specified”.
Although recognised as male at birth, and later recognised, following gender reassignment, as a woman, Norrie did not feel comfortable living solely as a female.
Doctors declared zie could not be categorised as a male or female and the New South Wales registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages agreed in late February to grant the new certificate.
Neither Norrie nor the registrar were prepared for the worldwide interest which followed. On Tuesday, the registrar was back on the phone to Norrie to explain that they had made a mistake and that the certificate they had already issued was legally invalid.
This was confirmed in the NSW parliament yesterday, as NSW attorney-general John Hatzistergos announced that his office had made some inquiries about the certificate after the issue was “ventilated” in the media.
Mr Hatzistergos said: “The registrar may only issue a recognised detail certificate or a new birth certificate following a change of sex in either male or female gender”.
Confusion still surrounds this decision, as Green MP Lee Rhiannon told PinkNews.co.uk today that the attorney general’s position is that NSW laws require that a person in this situation must have their sex stated as either male or female.
If this is the case, the registrar’s new certificate, which describes Norrie’s gender as “sex not stated” would also be illegal.
Norrie told AAP yesterday: “When I got the call on Tuesday I was absolutely devastated. I felt like I had been killed.
“My identity has gone all over the world … [now the] attorney-general’s taking back what they sold to me.”
Legal misunderstanding – or political back-covering? The NSW registrar, Greg Curry claims that Births, Deaths and Marriages were not forced to revoke the certificate.
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In a statement issued this week, he said: “At no time did the registrar state or imply that the attorney-general or anyone else had ‘pressured’ him to cancel the certificate”.
There are in fact two key issues at stake here. The first is the right of an individual not to be defined in state or other documentation by a gender they do not identify with. The second, more radical step, is to recognise a third way – a gender that is neither male nor female.
Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk, Norrie was clear that zie was campaigning for the first of these rights. Zie said: “I am not seeking to be recognised as without gender. Rather, I am looking for the state to recognise that who I am cannot be contained within the simple gender labels of either male or female.
“Depending on how one looks at it, biologically or behaviourally, I am either neither gender or a bit of both.”
Essentially, this argument as about what should be entered on legal documents. The NSW government appears to believe that it is not permitted in law to state anything other than male or female.
Lee Rhiannon, a Green MP in the NSW Upper House said: “The NSW government should act to implement a key recommendation of a 2009 Human Rights Commission report that a person over 18 should be able to choose to have an unspecified sex noted on documents and records.”
This references a report – The Sex Files – issued last year by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which addressed the legal recognition of sex in documents and government records.
Ms Rhiannon continued: “If there is a problem with the law that stops the Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages from issuing such a certificate, the compassionate thing is for the NSW government to change the law to support Norrie and others in a similar situation.”
Jane Fae also writes at janefae.wordpress.com