Transgender rights – sorting out the myths (but not getting things quite right)

An article posted on the Stuff website is headed Transgender rights debate: Separating the facts from the fiction

The writer, one Cecile Meier, might usefully have consulted a recent Point of Order report before deciding she had put the misunderstandings to rights – at least on the political process.

Her article rightly says transgender people have to go through a long and costly process to change the sex on their birth certificate.  This involves an application to the Family Court providing proof they’ve had medical treatment to transition.

The process for changing a New Zealand licence or passport is much simpler: people need only make a statutory declaration, which involves an authorised witness or justice of the peace.

At issue is whether birth certificates should be changed as easily a driving licence or passport. Meier writes:

 Following a petition, Parliament last year recommended amending Minister of Internal Affairs Tracey Martin’s Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill so that a person can change the sex on their birth certificate to male, female, intersex or X (unspecified) by statutory declaration.

No, Parliament did not do this.  A parliamentary committee – the Governance and Administration Select Committee – made the recommendation in its report back to Parliament after hearing submissions on the bill.

Meier goes on to note that Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, the minister in charge of the bill, deferred it last month, citing legal concerns with the select committee process.

That’s because the clauses allowing for self-identification were added to the bill at the select committee stage “after public submissions had closed”.

The time line is worth revisiting.

The Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill was referred to the committee on December 5 2017. The closing date for submissions was March 2 2018.

The committee received and considered 67 submissions from interested groups and individuals and heard oral evidence from 26 submitters

It published its report on August 10 2018

It’s this report which records the  select committee’ changes to the bill, including the introduction of clauses allowing people to change the sex on their birth certificate via an administrative process based on self-identification.

Martin halted the bill’s progress in February this year.

Her explanation:  the bill

” … began as a simple measure to update the previous legislation and develop new digital and online channels to access births, deaths and marriages information.  

“However, significant changes were made to the Bill by the select committee around gender self-identification and this occurred without adequate public consultation. This has created a fundamental legal issue.”

As Martin pointed out, because self-identification clauses were added to the Bill after the select committee considered submissions, “stakeholders” may have missed an opportunity to have their say on the matter.

She announced a deferral of the bill to allow for public consultation on those self-identification clauses.

Without mentioning the groups which welcomed Martin’s decision, Meier’s article goes on to say:

Trans advocates have expressed shock at the delay, saying it could impact on transgender people’s wellbeing.

She quotes a Waikato University psychology lecturer, Jaimie Veale, who is transgender and said she hasn’t changed her birth certificate because of the “indignity of having to prove to a judge or a medical professional that we are transgender”.

Other groups (a few of them,anyway) are mentioned when Meir’s article tackles the question: who is opposing the bill and why.

A small number of self-described “gender critical feminists” created the Speak Up For Women group to oppose the bill. Another small group called the Lesbian Rights Alliance Aotearoa (LRAA) has said the proposed changes will endanger women, but queer advocates have said the LRAA does not speak for them.

On the Speak Up For Women’s website, an open letter to members of Parliament says self-ID “has significant potential and unintended consequences for women and girls” and lists concerns including trans women’s access to single sex spaces such as toilets, changing rooms, girls’ schools, women’s shelters, girl guiding, sports teams and women’s prisons. It has been signed by more than 500 people.

Charlie Montague of the Lesbian Rights Alliance Aotearoa, is one of the people opposing the law change, citing concerns it would erode women’s rights.

But groups other than those representing warring feminists and lesbians have expressed strong views, too, since the select committee came back with its contentious addition to the original bill.

Family First NZ, a Conservative lobby group, has said the proposed change to birth certificates prioritises “ideology” over biology, calling the change “disturbing“.

Bob McCoskrie, national director of Family First, said:

“By choosing your own gender in your birth certificate, the certificates will become an object of unscientific gender ideology and effectively tell medical professionals that they got it wrong at time of birth. Circumstances may change but a historical document should not be able to be changed.”

This brings the science into considerations.

Meier addresses the science under various sub-headings.


Stuff’s myth-busting on that question is reliant on the expertise of an Auckland University of Technology psychology senior lecturer, Pani Farvid.  She is researching and writing a book on gender and sexuality and says genitals don’t define someone’s gender, and are not always a clear indicator of someone’s biological sex.

Further on, Meier addresses other questions and reports what other experts say.

For example, she talked with  Simon Denny, an Auckland University associate professor and a paediatrician working at the Centre for Youth Health in South Auckland.

He discusses the treatment of transgender people and says there are a lot of myths floating around in the transgender rights debate.

No doubt this is true.

Whether Meier thoroughly examines the science and satisfactory explains the critical difference between sex and gender is a moot point.


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