Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


9 Comments

The right to speak versus the right to survive

Some of my readers are insistent that the right to free speech is absolute – that there must be no limits imposed by governments on what we, the public are allowed to say. But do those readers believe that absolutely? They might say any limit to free speech, even if it’s hate speech, is a start of a slippery slope to oppression and the curtailing of most or all freedoms. Yet if I point out that absolute freedom of speech would give me the freedom to yell “Fire!” in the confined space of a theatre or nightclub, or to encourage others to exclude or eliminate a minority from society, some will acknowledge that absolute freedom of speech would indeed be harmful.

Speech itself can be oppressive, perhaps not to alpha males who happen to be of the same ethnic/cultural background as the dominant ethnicity/culture in their society, but to almost everyone else, language is used, either consciously or unconsciously, to oppress minorities and those without power. If male, less so than female. If abled, less so than disabled. If a dominant ethnicity, less so than a less influential ethnicity. The same applies to skin colour, religion, neurodiversity – in fact just about any aspect of being human can, through the use of language, be used to oppress others who express that aspect differently.

Evelyn Hall paraphrases Voltaire’s ideology as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But what happens when what is said is rooted in the oppression and denial of the humanity and right to exist of another human being? At what point does the right to survive trump the right to speak?

In Canary in a Coal Mine: How Tech Provides Platforms for Hate, an article on A list Apart, Tatiana Mac discusses the responsibility of technology providers to perhaps practice “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist”. She is critical of the hypocrisy of some social media platforms for banning support for ISIS ideologies while permitting other ideologies, such as a belief in a necessity to fight back against a (non-existent) white genocide conspiracy.

While Tatiana’s article is specifically related to how the tech industry should respond to the conflict of the right to speak versus the right to survive, should that be where final authority should rest? What role should the state take in this very issue? In fact should legislation and the courts be the final arbiter on this dilemma, or is it better left in the hands of competing private enterprise tech platforms?

Advertisements


4 Comments

125 years

This month, Aotearoa New Zealand is celebrating 125 years of women’s suffrage. After the celebrations die down, we should consider and evaluate what progress has really been made in the last century and a quarter.

20180911_230411

The New Zealand $10 note, depicting Kate Shepard (1847 – 1934), a leading light in the Women’s suffrage movement in Aotearoa New Zealand.


2 Comments

Trans woman denied Gym membership

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.

Wellington transgender woman denied membership at female gym