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News > World

Male or Female? Austria May Recognize Intersex Identity

  • The decision would allow Austrians to identify as intersex on official documents as opposed to either male or female.

    The decision would allow Austrians to identify as intersex on official documents as opposed to either male or female. | Photo: Creative Commons

Published 23 June 2016

A complaint filed by an intersex person may prompt Austrian authorities to allow "X" or "Inter" to be listed on official documents.

Austrian people who are intersex may soon have the right to identify themselves outside the male-female binary with a third category on official government documents including passports, as a local court moves to rule on a potentially precedent-setting case, local media reported Wednesday.

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The issue was brought to light by Alex Jurgen, an openly intersex Austrian citizen from the city of Steyr who made a request to list their sex as “X” or “Inter” on their passport since their body has not conformed with the medical definition of either sex since birth. The request was rejected on legal grounds.

But Jurgen has challenged the decision, filing a complaint that has pushed authorities to now reconsider the legal document identification issue, The Local Austria reported.

The Austrian LGBTI rights organization Rechtskomitees Lambda has called the case “historic” and “groundbreaking.”

“There is no single paragraph in the Austrian legal system that stipulates that there are only two genders,” said Rechtskomitees Lambda President Helmut Graupner, a lawyer who has taken on the case, according to The Local Austria.

The case moves Austria in the direction of fulfilling a call last year from the Council of Europe human rights commissioner for countries to respect the rights and self-identification needs of intersex people.

Other countries that have moved toward recognizing intersex as an additional category or offer neutral wording outside the male-female sex binary include Australia, Germany, South Africa and India.

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According to the advocacy group Verein Intersexueller Menschen Osterreich, up to 1.7 percent of the population is intersex, meaning they are born with anatomy, hormones, or other sexual characteristics that do not fit with expectations of what defines male or female.

As is the case with non-intersex people, gender identities of people who are born intersex may vary.

It remains unclear whether the case would have any impact on the ability of transgender people in Austria who do not identify within the gender binary, sometimes referred to as genderqueer, to identify accordingly on their official documents.

According to Amnesty International, Austria already allows trans people to self-identify their gender in official documents without requiring reassignment surgery, but gender nonconforming identities are not recognized.

Sex and gender are often conflated, but LGBTI and feminist activists are quick to debunk the false synonyms. While sex refers to the biological and anatomical characteristics of male, female, and variations of intersex, gender refers to the cultural and societal roles and identities defined as masculine and feminine.

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