Australia’s Highest Court Rules Trans People Don’t Need Surgery for Documents

Australia’s highest court ruled today that transgender people can legally change their gender without undergoing surgery, at least in some Australian states.  The case was brought by two transgender men, both of whom have had undergone hormone therapy and top surgery.  Western Australia’s Gender Reassignment Board refused to issue them recognition certificates, which would allow them to obtain new birth certificates and change their gender marker in other government records, because both still had typically female reproductive organs.

Legislation in the state of Western Australia permits legal gender change where, among other requirements, an individual “has adopted the lifestyle and has the gender characteristics of a person of the gender to which the person has been reassigned.”  The High Court interpreted “gender characteristics” broadly to include a person’s appearance and behavior.  Legal recognition of the gender in which a person lives in society, the Court said, did not require “detailed knowledge of their bodily state,” or that a person take “all possible steps . . . to become as male or female as possible.”  The Court emphasized the purpose of the legislation, which was to “alleviate that suffering and the discrimination which [transgender] persons may face by providing legal recognition of the person’s perception of their gender.” While the state’s law did require some form of transition-related medical treatment, the Court concluded that such treatment did not have to be surgical and could include hormone therapy.

NCTE applauds the High Court’s decision and hopes it will pave the way for improvements to other Australian states’ policies, some of which still require surgery for legal recognition of gender reassignment.

In the United States, requirements for gender marker change vary depending on the document and the state or government agency that issues it.  NCTE continues its work to improve requirements across U.S. federal agencies for gender markers changes on federal documents.

Read the full court ruling here.

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