Shock at Minister decision to defer birth certificate change
Trans community organisations are shocked by Minister Martin’s decision to defer proposals to introduce an administrative process for amending gender markers on birth certificates, that would have brought it in line with New Zealand’s passports policy introduced in 2012.
“This issue is not a new one. It is over 11 years since the Human Rights Commission’s Transgender Inquiry called for a simpler process,” said Ahi Wi-Hongi, National Coordinator of the transgender organisation Gender Minorities Aotearoa.
“The effects of not being able to amend a birth certificate are very deeply felt. They are enormous for a child and their family trying to enrol at the start of the school year. If the birth certificate hasn’t been changed, they may be forced to wear the wrong uniform, called the wrong gender,’ said Wi-Hongi, ‘that’s institutional bullying. They’re also much more likely to be outed and bullied by fellow students, to have a higher risk of self harm, depression, and attempted suicide. We know that these kids often leave school early with no formal qualifications, and go on to struggle with employment, finances, stable housing.’’ These were also areas where a trans person may need to show a birth certificate, Wi-
hongi said. ‘As a society, we can’t keep setting trans people up for a lifetime of heartbreak. All human beings deserve dignity and a fair chance at life. But at the moment, trans people can’t even get identification documents.’
Passport and driver licence changes can be made with a self ID administrative process, which meant that they were often ‘at odds’ with a person’s birth certificate, according to Wi-Hongi. ‘which also creates problems. It doesn’t make sense to have trans women, who are legally recognised as women, forced to use a birth certificate that says they’re male.’
Accessing the Family Court system could be both difficult and expensive, and the possibility that a judge would require evidence of medical changes meant that updating the gender on a birth certificate was simply impossible for many. This means transgender people are much more likely to have changed their passport than their birth certificate. Around 20-25 people per year change the gender marker on their birth certificate, in contrast with over 100 people a year changing the gender marker on their passport. Passports also include a third gender option (X) which the Bill would finally introduce to birth certificates so identity documents were able to align. At March 2018, there were 552 current passports with an ‘x’ gender marker.Under the current law it is impossible to have a birth certificate that matches an X passport.
The Select Committee received submissions both for and against the bill, after releasing its report on Allyson Hamblett’s petition and unanimously recommending a self-declaration model. A Green Party campaign encouraging submissions was widely publicised and critiqued by those opposing the Bill. 22 submissions against the self ID claused had been received “So it’s misleading to say that people were not aware of the proposed move towards an approach based on NZ’s current 2012 passports policy”.
Wi-Hongi said the Bill had been subjected to standard consultation process and rigorous scrutiny, and that they had confidence that the Select Committee could do it’s job well, however it seemed that sadly Minister Martin had been convinced otherwise.
Transgender organisations and community groups were aware of an orchestrated campaign of misinformation against the Bill, involving an NZ based sister-group of the United Kingdom lobby against transgender human rights. Gender Minorities Aotearoa had developed information to counter myths, Wi-Hongi said, including explaining how the legal and social context in New Zealand is different from the UK.
‘’They seem to be attempting to influence policy in NZ to strengthen their position in the UK – but we don’t need imported policies here.’ Many New Zealand women’s organisations, including those working on gender-based violence, have spoken in support of the Bill. Gender Minorities Aotearoa is asking people to share their stories of why the Bill’s proposals would make a difference, and why further restrictions are not needed. ‘We ask you to let the Minister know that trans people are already welcome in your schools, women’s refuges, marae, rape crisis centres, Maori Women’s Welfare Leagues, kapa haka, waka ama and sports clubs, and we do not need imported policies and legal changes restricting those rights”.
Passports in NZ could already be used as legal proof of identity in most circumstances, which was very different to the United Kingdom. Te Tiriti o Waitangi also protected the right of whakawahine, tangata ira tane, taahine, and other takataapui to self identify, Wi-Hongi said. ‘We have a current case at the Waitangi Tribunal in the Mana Wahine claim, that the NZ government has failed to uphold our mana. Research very clearly shows that being transgender is a taonga, it’s part of our culture, it’s in our creation stories and we have atua who are transgender. Who is Minister Martin to take away First Nations rights protected by international treaty law?.’’
The short term concessions Minister Martin was considering would fail to address the barriers faced by those who cannot afford a lawyer, have not taken medical transition steps (for financial or other reasons), or cannot professional to provide supporting medical evidence for their application, Wi-Hongi said. Such proposals ‘would not cut it’. Making it easier for people who have updated their birth certificate to amend other documents was a slap in the face for people whose ability to amend their birth certificate relies on the Bill passing as recommended by the Select Committee.
‘The Minister must take counsel from the experts – the Human Rights Commission, National Council for Women, Women’s Refuges, Rape Crisis centres, transgender and rainbow organisations and advocates’, all of which support the Bill.