Today marks the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) observes this day and reaffirms its commitment to challenging laws, social norms and attitudes that oppress sexual and gender minorities.
On this day we both celebrate the progress that has been achieved in advancing the rights of the LGBTIQ community while acknowledging the suffering and oppression that still endures.
We celebrate the fact that Aotearoa New Zealand has in recent years joined other nations in recognising marriage equality and maintains a wide range of legal protections for sexual and gender minorities.
Despite such gains, homophobia and transphobia remain an entrenched problem in societies across the world, including, we acknowledge, within the profession of social work itself. In many cases prejudice against the LGBTIQ community is backed by the state; scores of countries continue to criminalise same sex relationships and transpersons, while a shameful handful even retain the death penalty, or compulsory surgical gender transformation .
Within the Commonwealth, of which Aotearoa New Zealand remains a member, a majority of countries have laws criminalising same sex relations. ANZASW would like to call on the government of Aotearoa New Zealand to take an active role in calling for these antiquated laws to be changed.
We also call on Aotearoa New Zealand to utilise its influence over nations in the Pacific region to change laws which criminalise sexual and gender minorities. For example, in the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa male homosexuality is still illegal, while in Fiji, Vanuatu, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands marriage equality remains legally impossible. In Niue, Tokelau and the Cook Islands, where Aotearoa New Zealand has particular political influence, same sex civil unions, marriage and adoption are not legally protected. Many of these laws are doubly illegitimate in that they are not only discriminatory, but a legacy of outdated colonial-era impositions and do not reflect the attitudes and traditions of indigenous cultures.
Within Aotearoa New Zealand significant progress has been made over past decades, but issues remain. Among the foremost examples of this are the obstacles that LGBTIQ couples face in adopting children. An outdated law that is still in force unjustifiably determines that single gay people are eligible to adopt children but couples cannot. Changes to this are long overdue; it is outrageous that the issue has not yet been substantially addressed, to the detriment of both same sex couples and children looking for a loving home.
In addition to this, the transgender community in Aotearoa New Zealand still faces long waiting lists for gender confirmation surgery, leading to a large number having to travel overseas to receive a service that they are entitled to at home. ANZASW sees this as symptomatic of the wider problem of inadequate funding for medical services in general, albeit an example that highlights the impact on an already disadvantaged community.
We also call for more resources to be directed at providing support for members of the LGBTIQ community from an early age. The shockingly high suicide rates - up to five times higher than than the rest of society- are testament to a hidden crisis that demands concerted action that addresses homophobia and transphobia against these young people
ANZASW would like to see higher levels of education about sexual diversity incorporated into the curriculum in schools, in tandem with efforts to develop a culture of support including measures designed to tackle bullying, deliver comprehensive sexuality education as well as counselling services provided for children experiencing mistreatment or anxiety as result of their sexual or gender minority identification.
ANZASW firmly believes that anti-LGBTIQ discrimination should be confronted as part of social work practice. It is the responsibility of every social worker, regardless of their personal or religious beliefs, to address homophobia and transphobia in all areas of their practice, across all ages and in every setting.
Finally, ANZASW stands in solidarity with human rights defenders and campaigners all over the world who are fighting for the rights of the sexual and gender minorities, particularly in locations where they are at risk of physical harm, imprisonment, or death, for doing so.