New Zealand World

New Zealand’s worrying battle over transgender rights

4 July 2021

11:00 AM

4 July 2021

11:00 AM

Last year, the equalities minister Liz Truss set aside laws which would have allowed people to self-identity as the legal gender of their choice. For those worried about the effect self-ID could have on women-only spaces, Truss’ move was a welcome relief.

But campaigners for women’s rights should not be too complacent. As recent developments across the world in New Zealand show, it only takes a general election to trigger a massive move in policy in a matter of months.

Two years ago, the New Zealand campaign group Speak Up for Women thought that self-ID had been taken off the table when Tracey Martin, the New Zealand minister for internal affairs, announced that the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill was to be deferred. At the time, Martin said that:

‘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.’

That Bill had had started out life as a simple measure to ‘develop new digital and online channels to access births, deaths and marriages information.’ But those profound changes – to allow anyone to change their legal sex for whatever reason they might have – had been slipped in after public consultation had closed. Martin was alerted to the issue, took legal advice and deferred the Bill.

That was in 2019 when Martin’s party – New Zealand First – were junior coalition partners to Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party. At the 2020 General Election, Labour won a majority. It did not take Ardern long to dust off the Bill and begin the process again. Labour’s Jan Tinetti, the new internal affairs minister, said in March that she has made this legislation her priority this year.

Speak Up for Women had to step up their campaign. From her home near Auckland, co-founder Beth Johnson told me:

‘We are planning to run a public awareness campaign to ensure everyday Kiwis make their voices heard during the submissions process. Even if this government succeeds in ramming this Bill through – and the Labour party has the majority to do it – it is important for future reference that the objections of New Zealanders are on record.’

Johnson has reason to be dismissive of Labour’s concern for women’s rights. Ardern’s government only plans to consult the public after the Bill has had its second reading in Parliament, ensuring that MPs will debate the Bill before the public have their say.


Johnson fears that Labour have already made up their minds. She tells me, ‘Labour is captured by gender ideology. This was never in the manifesto and they never campaigned on it but they promised to the rainbow people that they would push this through.’

For New Zealand women who want to defend their boundaries, the future looks bleak. Gender ideology has already infested government thinking and public policy. Johnson remarked that,

‘The ministry for women redefined a woman to be “anyone who identifies as a woman” in 2019, without any notification or consultation. Stats New Zealand are proposing to record “gender by default” rather than sex as standard. The Human Rights Commission now defines homosexuality as attraction to the “same gender” rather than the same sex.’

While the New Zealand transgender lobby is well funded – both by the government and from overseas groups – Speak Up for Women relies on small donations from individual supporters. They have no staff and limited resources. They are a group of women trying to make their voices heard, a task made harder when local councils cancel their meetings.

Last week the group had to file proceedings against two councils after rooms they hired for public events were cancelled. In Auckland, Speak Up for Women was banned from the Pioneer Women’s Hall because the council thought the views they were likely to express ‘may cause harm to staff and other users of the facility – even if they are not physically present at the venue or event.’

At the eleventh hour, Justice Gerald Nation granted an interim relief, allowing the meetings to go ahead. But it is frightening how women standing up for their rights can be so easily smeared.

Their campaign is urgent. The consultation for the latest self-ID Bill is expected in August and it is likely to be short, possibly lasting for just two weeks. That will be the group’s only opportunity to put on record their objections to self-identification and warn about the consequences.

Government papers released under a Freedom of Information order indicate that Ardern’s government is dismissive of women’s concerns that self-identification undermines sex-based protections in society and creates opportunities for ‘predatory’ men to find ways to abuse such access to reach vulnerable women.

Instead, their risk assessment of the Bill starts with the worry that ‘transgender and intersex communities may be dissatisfied with the response.’

Like the UK, New Zealand has an established procedure for transsexual people to change their sex marker on birth certificates. Like ours, it relies on evidence of medical need. This Bill is about removing that safeguard against abuse. If the New Zealand government consulted transgender and intersex people instead of being enchanted by lobby groups, then they might realise that the credibility of the process relies on those safeguards.

These reckless moves made by governments captured by ideology risk not only women’s rights but the acceptance of transsexuals.

Speak Up for Women are clear: ‘we support the rights of transgender people to live their lives free from violence and discrimination.’ If Ardern had any sense she would be listening to New Zealand women rather than the agents of international lobby groups. Their message may be seductive, but it is also unscientific – men cannot become women – and it is harmful.

New Zealand may be a long way from the UK, but their politics are close enough to ours to be a warning about what could happen here. It’s not just Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government that we need to worry about. To celebrate Pride Month, Keir Starmer recommitted his Labour party to self-identification. Until that policy is changed then we cannot say we were not warned if a vote for Labour is a vote for gender ideology.
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