The Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People

The Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People (He Purongo mō te Uiuitanga mō Aukatitanga e Pāngia ana e ngā Tāngata Whakawhitiira) was carried out in 2006, and reported on in 2008.

To Be Who I Am/Kia noho au ki toku ano ao Report

In January 2008 the Human Rights Commission published To Be Who I Am/Kia noho au ki toku ano ao (PDF), the final report of its Transgender Inquiry. This report was a world first by a national human rights institution and focused on three areas: trans people’s experience with health care access, everyday interactions and community participation.

You can also view the report in HTML and Word.

Action on the Transgender Inquiry

Since publishing the Transgender Inquiry report the focus is now on implementing the Inquiry’s recommendations and other suggested actions. This requires work by the Human Rights Commission, government agencies, trans people and the wider community.

Click on the links below to read about the Inquiry’s five areas for immediate attention:

  • increasing participation of trans people in decisions that affect them
  • strengthening the legal protections making discrimination against trans people unlawful
  • improving access to health services, including gender reassignment services
  • simplifying requirements for change of sex details on a birth certificate, passport and other documents
  • giving urgent attention to the significant human rights issues experienced by intersex people.

Intersex roundtables

In February 2010 the Commission hosted its second roundtable in Auckland. on human rights issues for intersex people. This brought together intersex people, family members, health professionals, academics and government agencies. It followed on from an initial roundtable in Wellington in July 2009. A summary of key points raised at both meetings are available below and comments are very welcome.

Background information

The Transgender Inquiry did not set out to conduct an inquiry into the human rights experiences of intersex people, but intersex people did come to the Inquiry to raise their concerns. Intersex people are protected against discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993 and have the same rights as all other people to the full protection and promotion of their human rights. Significant human rights issues affecting intersex people merit urgent consideration to improve their dignity, equality and security.

There is a need for more education and dialogue about the human rights of intersex people, including information about historical and current medical practices. Questions remain about the adequacy of medical training, current standards of care, guidelines on medical interventions and access to medical records.

The Commission has an ongoing interest in hearing from intersex people and their families, health professionals, government agencies and others interested in human rights issues for intersex people.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has also considered the specific human rights issues concerning surgeries on intersex infants. Their July 2009 paper can be downloaded here.

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.

Further information