A bill to allow transgender and gender diverse people to change the sex listed on their birth certificate without surgery has cleared its first hurdle, passing the Victorian legislative assembly on Thursday.
The equality minister, Martin Foley, said the legislation was an opportunity for trans and gender diverse people to have “their true self reflected” on their birth certificate.
It would make life “less humiliating, difficult, and impractical for people”, he said.
“This bill will make a contribution to saving lives. Do not underestimate the power of reform this parliament is considering,” he said.
The bill requires the person making the application to make a statutory declaration when nominating the sex to be recorded, and must include a statement from an adult who has known them for 12 months or more who believes the application is being made in good faith and supports the change. The legislation passed 56 to 27.
Under current legislation, transgender people have to undergo surgery to affirm their sex, which is often complicated, not conducted in Australia, and not covered by Medicare.
In parliament on Thursday, Labor and Greens MPs in favour of the bill spoke of the embarrassment and shame trans and gender diverse people experience for the document not to reflect their identified sex.
Often it was personal stories on how the change would directly affect the lives of transgender people, including Isabelle Langley, a student who had sent the parliamentarians a video on the law change.
Greens MP Sam Hibbins said that the existing law was unjust and impractical, and accused the Australian newspaper of campaigning against the law change with its recent focus on trans issues.
“It’s one thing to not be uncomfortable to or to not understand. It’s another thing to run a hate campaign,” he said.
Liberals and Nationals are voting against the legislation, as they did in 2016, but MPs from both parties who spoke against the legislation all said they were not doing so out of “bigotry” or hatred of transgender people, but because the legislation is not confined to them.
Nationals MP Danny O’Brien said that transgender people “go through hell” throughout their lives, but his opposition was about what others who were not transgender might do.
“The concern [is] that someone can simply change their sex does have wide-ranging ramifications,” he said.
“I can absolutely see a circumstance where an offender … sees this as an opportunity. ‘I’m going to change my sex and then I’m going to get transferred to a women’s prison’. Under this legislation that can be allowed.”
Under the legislation, there is an approval process in place similar for offenders changing their name whereby a supervising authority needs to consider the reasonableness of the application, and security and welfare issues associated with it.
Liberal MP Louise Staley said the legislation could have been restricted to just male, female, and ‘x’ sex descriptors, similar to what is available on passports. She also said that an affirmation requirement was not enough for someone wanting to change their certificate.
Staley claimed the change would allow men to change their sex on the certificate and then “harass and harm women in women-only spaces.”
“It is dangerous and wrong headed to create law based on self-affirmation,” she said.
Liberal MP Cindy McLeish, a former CEO of Women’s Golf Victoria, said a burden would be placed on under-funded sporting organisations to deal with people who have changed their sex descriptor seeking to play in a single-sex sport.
“Sports organisations aren’t always adequately resourced to work out the best way forward.”
But Victorian minister for women Gabrielle Williams said these claims were a distraction. She said no one was standing at the door of single-sex gyms, or bathrooms to check birth certificates.
For organisations that have single-sex services, she said they already had policies and practices in place for dealing with the issue, and in the case of women’s facilities, already have trans women using those services.
Labor MP Michaela Settle said she met a 10-year-old girl who visited parliament to support the legislation this week. Settle said girl was “beaming with excitement about her future.”
“I think for me this bill is about giving that girl the opportunity to achieve that future.”
The bill will need to pass the legislative council, where it failed last time. But with the support of the Greens, Animal Justice Party, and Reason Party, it is expected to pass.