The Department of Foreign Affairs late yesterday afternoon made it easier for gender and s-xually diverse Australians to get passports that reflect their true identities, with the release of a joint media statement on the issue by Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

Transs-xual and inters-x Australians will now only have to provide a medical certificate from their regular physician in order to change the s-x on their passport. This is in sharp contrast to DFAT’s previous policy, where s-x reassignment surgery was required for a person to receive a passport under their preferred gender.

“Most people take for granted the ability to travel freely and without fear of discrimination,”  McClelland said. “This measure will extend the same freedoms to s-x and gender diverse Australians.”

While this change will only affect about 1% of Australians, it is arguably an important step in stopping the discrimination that many same-s-x attracted and gender diverse Australians face on a daily basis.  Unlike their heteros-xual peers, many transs-xual and inters-x professionals have been afraid to travel overseas during their transitions, on the basis that they could be deported, jailed or assaulted due to the fact that their physical appearance doesn’t match their identification.

Rudd stated in the media release that “This amendment makes life easier and significantly reduces the administrative burden for s-x and gender diverse people who want a passport that reflects their gender and physical appearance.”

Crikey can also confirm that six months ago, Rudd asked his office to find any remaining instances of discrimination against LGBTI people within the Foreign Affairs portfolio, during which the issue of passports stood out.

In partnership with the president of the WA Gender Project, Aram Hosie, Rudd’s office  convened a group of Australia’s leading gender-identity activists in order to determine what would be the most suitable policy for the Department of Foreign Affairs to implement. This group consisted of representatives from the following gender identity support organisations:

In a statement to Crikey, Hosie, who is also the partner of West Australian Senator Louise Pratt, said that he was “truly amazed” by the response from the federal government.

“We talked through our ‘ideal’ passport policy, they listened carefully, asked lots of questions, and then went away to work on it,” Hosie said. “They then reconvened our little group a week ago and presented us with everything we’d asked for.”

The fact that this review was undertaken with complete secrecy also highlights the influence that consultative advocacy can have within the current political environment.  Unlike marriage equality and IVF treatment for same-s-x couples, this change in policy hasn’t had to face hostile opinion polls, conservative political commentators or protests within Parliament House. As a result, the groups supporting this review were able to offer accurate expert advice to the government, without the threat of the new passport guidelines becoming a political hot potato.

Given that Labor’s national conference is only a couple of months away, Rudd’s and McClelland’s announcement yesterday should also be viewed as an indicator as to which lobbying methods work for the LGBTIQ community and which ones don’t.  If advocacy groups with resources as meagre as those involved in this review can succeed, one must wonder why the lesbian and gay specific  groups promoting the supposedly easier goal of marriage equality haven’t succeeded as well.

*Kate Doak is a postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, gender once and now mostly focuses on modern history and international politics.

Peter Fray

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