This month, Wellington City Council celebrated the opening of a new rainbow pedestrian crossing in the city’s Cuba Street hub. The launch was timed to coincide with the birthday of the late Trevor “Carmen” Rupe, who inspired new pedestrian signals, installed at various Wellington intersections in 2016, featuring a “transwoman” rather than a green man silhouette prompting people to cross the road. The brand new rainbow crossing follows recent announcements made by the government regarding plans to adopt one-step sex self-identification into law and to “dramatically increase” the amount of gender reassignment surgeries undertaken.
One-step sex self-identification will allow any man to change the sex marker on his birth certificate to “F,” simply by filling out a form. The government also plans to replace the cap on publicly funded gender reassignment surgeries (which is currently set at four per year) with a minimum number instead, in order to reduce the “fifty year” waiting list (there are, apparently, 105 people awaiting surgery in New Zealand).
New Zealand’s media has yet to critically investigate these policy changes and their underlying assumptions: that some people are born in the wrong body, and that one’s personal feelings about “gender” should correspond with their legal sex. Yet the concept of “gender identity” and the implementation of sex self-identification policies are already having major impacts on education, health, sports, and women’s safety in New Zealand that need to be examined.
RainbowYOUTH and InsideOut — two major, government funded “queer” organizations in New Zealand — work with schools and young people to promote concepts like “gender diversity,” which, according to RainbowYouth, refers to those who “don’t feel their gender fits into the binary of male and female.” These organizations offer classroom resources and manuals for school staff, like InsideOut’s “Making Schools Safer for Trans and Gender Diverse Students,” and RainbowYouth has used its drop-in centre to dispense breast binders (tight corsets that stunt breast development) to girls. The Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) — the union for secondary school teachers and principals — has also taken up the task of pushing gender identity ideology in schools. Their guidelines advise principals, boards of trustees, and teachers to “affirm gender identities.” The guide explains:
“Every board and staff must ensure that their school not only recognizes… diversity but affirms it…
… Diverse identities may include, but are not limited to, takatāpui, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender fluid (non-binary), agender, intersex. There are a number of legal and ethical reasons why these forms of diversity must be affirmed and not ignored.”
Within its professional teaching standards, New Zealand’s Education Council obligates teachers to cater classroom practice not only to students’ “different abilities and needs, backgrounds… languages and cultures,” but also their different “genders.”
These measures pressure teachers to accept and promote the notion of gender identity. Last year, the principal and head of counselling at Epsom Girls Grammar School set up an ostensible “support group” for “transgender students” called Trans Tea Time. In November, the group had seven members between 13 and 18-years-old undergoing gender “transition.” Head of counselling, Jeannie Grant, said she hoped Trans Tea Time would make “coming out as transgender…that much easier” for students. At Kāpiti College, an 18-year-old male student named Te Awarangi (“Awa”) “transitioned from male to female,” and began using the girls’ bathrooms. In the documentary, Born This Way: Awa’s Story, the Kāpiti College principal expressed relief at not having to make an official decision about which bathrooms Awa should use, saying, “It was the girls who invited Awa in. It all sort of disappeared as an issue, nicely, without it being an issue.” That same year, a young woman named Laura spoke out about bathroom and enrollment policy changes at Marlborough Girls’ College, saying, “As a girl, I feel uncomfortable with a guy being in the same toilets.” Liberal news site, The Spinoff, labelled Laura’s concerns “vitriolic barf” in an interview with trans activist Lexie Matheson.
And it’s not just schools that are changing their policies to accommodate the transgender trend, but the health sector as well. The Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) developed a guide called, “Pathways to Transgender Care,” which directs health practitioners to affirm gender identity through puberty blockers and sex hormones, rather than treating gender dysphoria itself, through less invasive means. This is despite Jeannie Oliphant, ADHB’s Clinical Lead for transgender health services, conceding that she does not know what it means to be “transgender.” “What makes people transgender?” she asked herself, during an interview in Awa’s Story. “I don’t think we know any more than we know why I was born left-handed and my sister was born right-handed.” Presumably, Oliphant does not encourage high-risk operations to change hand dominance. This is, apparently, what New Zealand has to offer in terms of “expertise” on transgenderism.
“Experts” such as Oliphant and RainbowYouth continue to promote gender identity ideology, uncritically, in spite of the experiences of people like lesbian teenager Zahra Cooper, who spoke out last year about her detransition. After taking a course of testosterone, Cooper recognized that she is in fact female and ready to accept herself as such, but it was too late to reverse the effects of testosterone on her body, including on her lowered voice. Awa’s Story included coverage of “Lisa” Irwin’s botched genital reconstruction surgery in 2013, which left him with genitals so mutilated he was hardly able to walk or perform simple physical tasks. But shortly after the documentary aired in 2017, celebrity psychologist Nigel Latta sat next to Awa on TVNZ’s Breakfast, endorsing his desire to undergo the same procedure.
A New Zealand Medical Journal study reveals the dramatic increase in numbers of people being referred to endocrinologists for medical transition in Wellington. In the years 1990 to 1995, between two and seven adult men were referred annually, alongside one 29-year-old woman in that five year period. This compares to referrals for 51 males and 41 females in 2016 alone. The more recent spike in numbers is marked: from 2000 to 2007, between eight and 15 people were referred annually, compared to the 2016 total of 92. Efforts to support the trans trend are clearly superseding concern for people’s health and well-being.
In 2015, People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) lobbied to have Jade Follett, who had been sentenced to 21 months in prison for stabbing a man he met on a dating website, rehoused to a women’s prison after he was raped in a men’s facility. PAPA threatened a hunger strike if Corrections did not comply. PAPA spokesman Emilie Rākete said:
“This rape was the outcome of government policies which house trans woman prisoners alongside men. These policies put prisoners into double bunking without due consideration for their safety, and do not require justification for choices to segregate or desegregate trans prisoners.”
But what about women’s safety? Official Information Act requests have revealed that there are currently approximately 33 trans-identified males in New Zealand prisons, and that 18 are in for violent crimes, including sexual assault. Seven of these individuals are are currently housed in women’s prisons (though none have sexual assault convictions). Corrections has admitted that, since January 2017, at least six assaults have been perpetrated by trans-identified prisoners in women’s prisons. Sixty four per cent of women’s prison inmates are Maori, meaning Maori women are most at risk of assault.
It is reasonable to predict that male on female assaults in women’s prisons will increase if the government passes its proposed one-step self-identification law. Advocates of this proposal, including the Green Party MPs who initiated it, consistently ignore the male pattern violence exhibited by trans-identified males. Considering our small population, a significant number of these men have violent convictions.
This year, Malcolm “Morgana” Platt returned to prison after grooming a 10-year-old girl for prostitution. Platt had already been jailed in 2009 for raping a 16-year-old who later took her own life. Rory Francis, who identifies as a woman, is also currently incarcerated and has been sentenced three times for raping children. Pierre Parsons is under supervision, since he continues to harass young girls after kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old in 1995, and stealing her clothing to wear. In 2017, Cameron “Cinnamon” Hakeke and Alex Seu, who both identify as women, were sentenced for violent crimes: Hakeke kidnapped a 19-year-old woman before dragging her into a flat, cutting her hair and tasering her. Seu pleaded guilty on three charges of indecent assault and two of sexual violation, one of which involved Seu dragging a drunk man into an alleyway and pushing him into a brick wall. In 2014, “Shelley” Williams pleaded guilty to three charges of assault, following prior convictions for violent crimes in 2000, 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2010, Hendrix “Hina” Tutaki assaulted a pregnant woman and a “transwoman” named Glen Cooper pleaded guilty to wounding with intent to injure.
Currently, Corrections guidelines allow inmates who want to be rehoused according to their gender identity, but don’t have the required birth certificate, to apply for a transfer. They are ineligible if they have committed a sexual offense, but inmates who already have revised birth certificates are entitled to be housed in accordance with those, regardless. While the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Act presently requires those who want to change their legal sex to show they have “taken decisive steps to live fully and permanently in the gender identity of the nominated sex” and get “expert medical evidence” in order to apply for a new birth certificate, all of which could take three to 18 months, one-step sex self-identification will remove these barriers. This will make it all too easy for men to be housed in women’s prisons once convicted, regardless of their crime.
Many women’s organizations support sex self-identification despite these concerns. Within its Gender Equal NZ campaign, The National Council of Women (NCW) states that “gender is diverse and expansive” and “genitals do not determine gender.” NCW programmes coordinator Sally Dickson has described women who are critical of gender identity ideology, believe that sex is biological, and argue that women’s oppression is sex-based as “transphobic feminists.” University queer and “feminist” groups are similarly captured, and the Auckland University Campus Feminist Collective elected “Ruby” Johnson — a man — “chairwoman” last year. This year, Otago University replaced “Women’s Week” with a “Period Week,” during which the student “feminist” group, Otago Women’s+ Club, plastered stickers around campus proclaiming, “BOYS BLEED TOO.”
While reassignment surgery is increasingly advocated as a vital step toward gender affirmation, sex self-identification simultaneously undermines the relationship between gender and sex characteristics. When “Penelopy” Mansell put Revive women’s gym in the hot seat in June for not allowing men to join unquestioned, trans activist Felix Desmarais said, “I’m sure they don’t check every other woman’s underpants situation.” The implication is that women in New Zealand have no right to ask any questions if a man declares his “female” identity. Under this ideology, women also lose the right to talk about our bodies as female, seeing as any body can be, apparently, “female,” regardless of sex. A 2018 Abortion Law Reform Association New Zealand submission includes the word “women” only twice, whereas “people” (“people who use abortion services,” “pregnant people,” and “people with a uterus,” for example) is used much more often.
This discourse has impacted women’s sports in New Zealand outside women’s gyms. Anton “Kate” Weatherly competed as a man in mountain biking competitions until he decided to compete as a “woman” in January, winning the elite women’s division at the national championships near Wanaka in February. Prior to his “transition” (which includes hormone therapy — testosterone levels are still acknowledged as indicative of sex in sport) he had competed in grades lower than elite, usually finishing mid-pack. Gavin “Laurel” Hubbard represented New Zealand in women’s weightlifting in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, having already taken gold in the Australian International women’s weightlifting championships in 2017, when he lifted 42 lbs more than Samoan silver medalist Iuniarra Sipaia.
The Human Rights Commission (HRC) supports these male competitors, despite the fact that New Zealand legislation explicitly protects sex-segregation in sport, in the interest of fairness. HRC advisor for sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics Taine Polkinghorne said:
“There is no valid reason to exclude trans women from competitive women’s sports. Laurel is a woman — not a man masquerading as a woman to gain medals or glory…
… Participation in sport and physical activity is a human right.”
New Zealand women have been betrayed by the HRC, the government, the media, universities, and our own women’s organizations. These organizations and institutions should be working to ensure that rigorous debate precedes any policy change affecting women, and that women are heard. Unquestioning support for sex self-identification has already caused significant damage in New Zealand, and considering what its further institutionalization will mean over time, particularly for women and children, is terrifying. We need to work harder to honestly examine the impacts of believing that anyone can be “born in the wrong body.” Ultimately, we need turn these misogynist, homophobic and medically reckless trends around.
Renee Gerlich is an independent writer and feminist activist based in Wellington, New Zealand. Follow her on Twitter @renee_jg.
For more information and resources for those interested in gender identity and women’s rights, visit Speak Up For Women and the Lesbian Rights Alliance Aotearoa. You can sign the Speak Up For Women letter to members of parliament here.