A Queensland parliamentary committee has been told of the unfair hurdles transgender people face to obtain legal recognition of their gender.
Brisbane trans woman Roz Dickson addressed the committee, which is examining a bill introduced by the Queensland government this month that would scrap a law requiring trans people to be unmarried before they can amend their sex marker on their birth certificate.
The law is a leftover from when same-sex marriages were illegal, and all states and territories except the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia require transgender people to divorce their partners before their birth certificate can be amended.
Roz (pictured, second from left) began her transition in 2011 with the support of her wife of 28 years. She said at the time they offered each other a divorce, but decided to stay married for their two children.
“Prejudices and fears exist in society. I’d seen the old videos of Carlotta getting arrested for wearing female clothes in her era. You grow up with memories from your childhood and fears of being bullied, and as a result you bury who you are,” she said.
“When I transitioned to live as a woman, I became happier in myself, a more fulfilled and content person to live with and a better parent to our children.”
But while the “unmarried” requirement is in place in Queensland law, Roz can’t amend her birth certificate and her transition won’t be legally complete.
“One of the difficult times for me was back in late 2012. I was living full-time as a woman and I wanted to change my identification to match,” she said.
“I’ve lived the last few years with a female drivers license, a female passport and a male birth certificate… I’d like to change my birth certificate to reflect who I am.”
Federal passport guidelines don’t have the same “unmarried” requirement as Queensland’s birth certificate laws, but Roz said that obtaining her female passport had been a painful experience for her and she faced anxiety while travelling overseas with inconsistent documents.
“The post office was quite understanding but to get a female passport you have to present your male birth certificate and a letter from medical professionals saying that you’re female,” she said.
“I still have concerns about visiting other places in the world. There are places that push ‘bathroom bills’, there are countries where your birth certificate is your primary reference of your sex or gender.
“To have consistent documents would be wonderful, it would take away those worries and fears.”
Roz told the committee she knew of several other Queensland couples affected by the law and said scrapping it would improve the mental health of the transgender community.
“Stigma hurts lives. In the early days of being transgender, people feared marriage annulment,” she said.
“For married people who are considering transition, to be able to have those discussions with their partner about their future and their relationship – without something as coercive as divorce – would remove stigma and help the mental health of trans people, myself included.
“I had a car accident in 2013 and I was knocked out briefly. Afterwards I thought, if I had passed away, how would I be remembered? Male or female?”
Pete Black, a Queensland advocate from the Equality Campaign, said the passage of marriage equality last year was “bittersweet” for many in the transgender community, and the state law change would extend the reform to them as well.
“Not only were they unfairly targeted by the ‘no’ campaign, the passage of the legislation still didn’t provide marriage equality for some within in the transgender community, as they were still forced to choose between changing their sex on official documents and their marriage,” he said.
Lee Carnie from the Human Rights Law Centre told the Queensland committee that Australian trans people could put themselves at risk of perjury if they tried to seek a divorce.
“We often present the option for transgender people as a choice between divorce or being legally recognised but when it comes to the Family Law Act, it isn’t properly a choice,” Carnie said.
“In order to apply for a divorce you have to swear that there have been irreconcilable differences between you and your spouse.
“If there aren’t and you still very much want to be married to your spouse, you’re not able to actually apply for a divorce unless you perjure yourself.”
The federal same-sex marriage bill, passed in December last year, made an important change to the federal Sex Discrimination Act that would make it unlawful for state governments to refuse to change the certificates of trans people who are married.
But the marriage bill gives a 12 month window, closing in December this year, “to provide states and territories with such laws with an opportunity to amend their legislation.”
On Tuesday, the Victorian government announced legislation that, if passed, would remove that state’s equivalent law.