Frequently Asked Questions

What does transgender mean?

“Transgender” is a general term used to describe someone whose gender identity is different from their physical sex. People who made submissions used a wide range of terms to describe themselves including transgender, transsexual, takaatapui, whakawahine, fa’afafine, and many others.

Gender identity and its expression vary greatly and not all people fit neatly into one of the terms above. Where the Commission has needed to use a generic term it has adopted the more neutral terms “trans” or “trans people/person” to include all the people listed above and others who may face discrimination because of their gender identity.

Why did we have an inquiry?

Trans people face discrimination as much, or more, than any other group of people in New Zealand. The Commission increasingly heard from trans people about their experiences of discrimination. Complaints to the Commission dealt with issues that many people take for granted. These included being able to walk down the street without fear, enjoy a drink without being threatened, or travel on a passport with your correct sex. Although the trans community is small, the discrimination faced by trans people is serious and affects their families, partners and children.

What happened?

The Commission’s Inquiry looked at three key areas:

  • trans people’s personal experiences of discrimination
  • their difficulties accessing health services and
  • the barriers that trans people face when trying to have their gender identity legally recognised (for example on birth certificates and passports).

Between mid October and early December 2006 the Inquiry heard oral submissions in Wellington, Central and South Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.

The Inquiry received a total of 128 submissions, from all parts of the country. Submissions came from a wide diversity of trans people (whakawahine, fa’afafine, MtFs, FtMs, fakaleiti, cross dressers, androgynous and genderqueer people etc and some intersex people). People ranged in age from teenagers through to trans people in their 70s. The Inquiry team also heard from health professionals, community organisations, trans people’s partners and friends, and people who just wanted to support the human rights of people they had seen hassled at work or on the street.

The Commission’s Report of the Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People, To Be Who I Am, was published in January 2008.

What did we hope to achieve?

The Commission’s Inquiry offered the first in-depth information about the experiences of trans people in New Zealand. It worked to improve the understanding of the issues faced by trans people and came up with strategies to reduce experiences of discrimination and improve trans people’s access to the same human rights as other people.

How much did it cost to run the inquiry?

Approximately $55,000 was budgeted over two years.

How many complaints has the Commission received from trans people?

From 1 January 2002 until 26 March 2007 the Commission received 153 complaints and enquiries from trans people.

During the Inquiry process, there was an increase in the number of trans people making enquiries to the Commission.

What type of issues do the complaints raise?

Complaints to the Commission deal with issues that many people take for granted. These include being able to walk down the street without fear of being harassed, enjoy a drink without being threatened, or travel on a passport with the correct sex. Complainants have said they have been denied goods and services, and jobs they are qualified for because they identify as trans. Although the trans community is small, the discrimination faced by trans people is serious and affects their families, partners and children.

Who made submissions?

Submissions came from trans people, health professionals, unions, community organisations and the friends and family of trans people.

Also making submissions were people with intersex conditions. These submitters expressed concern about the effect of medical intervention and the long term consequences of inadequate or inappropriate surgical procedures.

What kinds of issues were raised in submissions to the Inquiry?

Trans people submitted that they:

  • faced discrimination in relation to employment, education, housing, access to goods and services, participation in sports, access to public places and when interacting with the justice system;
  • experienced difficulties with public health services (including primary and secondary health services). These difficulties include the quality of general health services and the availability of specific health services related to gender reassignment services; and
  • found it difficult to legally change their sex on a birth certificate and therefore have their gender identity recognised. In addition, they faced inappropriate, unnecessary or unauthorised disclosure of information about their gender identity or sex.

Are trans people covered by the Human Rights Act?

The Human Rights Act applies to all New Zealanders. In August 2006, the Crown Law Office released an opinion stating that trans people can make complaints about the discrimination they face as it is covered under the ground of ‘sex’ in the Human Rights Act. This opinion accords with the approach taken by the Commission since February 2005 and is in line with United Kingdom, European and Canadian case law that trans people are covered by human rights law regardless of whether or not they have had sex reassignment surgery.

To Be Who I Am, Report of the Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People was published in January, 2008.

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