A new Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration bill to replace the 1995 act is currently making its way through Parliament. One of the new provisions will be to allow the self-declaration of gender identity. But I wonder, if the bill was already law, it would have helped Penelopy Mansel, a transgender woman, gain membership to a women’s gym.
As the law currently stands, a person can have their gender recorded on their birth certificate changed provided they can satisfy the Family Court that they identify as their nominated gender and have, or are undergoing appropriate medical treatment to make their appearance more in keeping with that gender. Surgery is not required. In fact in Aotearoa New Zealand, gender reassignment surgery is not an option. Funding for reassignment surgery is so minuscule, that one is likely to be on the waiting list for more than forty years before one can go under the knife. Few are likely to be able to afford to have it done privately in NZ, or overseas for that matter.
According to Penelopy’s birth certificate she is now female, but she has not had gender reassignment surgery. And this was enough for the gym to deny her membership. Our human rights legislation does not specifically ban discrimination against transgendered people or others who are not gender conforming. According the the Crown Law Office, and its advice to government, it’s unnecessary as the comprehensive coverage against sex discrimination effectively covers transgender rights as well. However, this has yet to be tested in court.
Court cases over discrimination are relatively rare in NZ as complaints regarding discrimination are referred to the Human Rights Commission. The Commission prefers education over prosecution, and so the testing of whether or not discrimination against transgendered or other gender nonconforming people is illegal may never reach the courts. The new Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration bill does nothing to clarify the matter.
In the video clip linked to below, Renee Gerlich argues that “The legislation undermines a lot of the work that suffragettes did, they fought for the women’s vote, they wanted to give women a way of making political demands that pertain to our sex when, we can’t do that once the definition of what a woman is has fundamentally changed”. It does appear that she is confusing sex and gender. The legislation will allow for self-identification of gender (a socially defined atribute) not sex (biologically defined).
The argument that the new legislation will distort statistics is, I believe, a red herring. As only 1.2% of the NZ population self identify as trans, and about the same number identify as gender nonconforming, their numbers are relatively small. Where it is important that statistics refer to sex and not gender, such as for funding of breast and cervical screening, then I’m sure appropriate adjustments can be made. In fact, it seems that our five yearly census will cover this well, as in future it will ask about both sex and gender.
Some speakers in the following clip refer to WINZ. This term is familiar to all Kiwis, but others may not know that it is an acronym for Work and Income New Zealand – the government department that oversees social welfare benefits and pensions, and supports the unemployed and those on a low income into work and to find housing.