Title: Obnoxious transphobia Credit: Politics and religion commentator Craig Young Comment Wednesday 18th July 2012 - 10:18am1342563480 Article: 12003 Rights
While we are preoccupied with marriage equality and adoption reform, the Auckland City Council is spearheading a sinister attack on the rights of vulnerable transgender street sex workers, due to the continued parliamentary debate over Manukau's proposed antisoliciting bill. The Auckland Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Public Places) Bill is the product of the former Manukau City Council, which has now been taken over by the consolidated supercity Auckland City Council. The crux of the issue centres on Papatoetoe's Hunters Corner, where street sex workers find themselves pitted against local business owners and residents. Reportedly, social conservative Justice Minister Judith Collins supports the bill, as does National List MP Cam Calder. Some context needs to urgently be provided here, and I intend to do it. Firstly, many street sex workers are transgender. Other than through an untested Crown Law Office opinion, gender identity is not one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination on the basis of accomodation, employment, goods and service provision in the Human Rights Act 1993. This means many transwomen may have little other choice than to engage in survival sex for their food, temporary shelter and income. Brothels are free to discriminate against them on the basis of gender identity. Secondly, the former Manukau and current Auckland City Council are being deeply dishonest about their role in the development of this problem. Manukau City Council prohibits escorts from working from home within rented council accomodation and also closes public lavatories after midnight. Therefore, they bear some share of responsibility for creating the alleged problem in the first place. If they abandoned the escort activity ban and added gender identity to council antidiscrimination policies, then some of the transgender workers might then relocate to such accomodation, rather than engage in street sex work. Thirdly, the Auckland City Council is also being dishonest about depicting residents groups as "innocent aggrieved parties" in this whole context. In April 2011, Joanna Wane was refreshingly honest about the vigilantism and standover tactics of some anti-sexworker residents groups members in Papatoetoe, indicating that the confrontation is not solely attributable to the Hunters Corner street sex workers. Her North and South article should be required reading and provides much-needed objectivity in this context. Fourthly, the Auckland City Council's own pro-bill booklet seems to indicate that it is local Papatoetoe area business owners who are the ringleaders of this misguided private member's bill, not local residents. When I perused an online copy of the Auckland City Council's The Street Prostitution Industry in Southern Auckland Communities (May 2012), I was immediately struck by the absence of local residents stories in the booklet, counter to the claims advanced by the Auckland City Council. It only seems to contain one statement from a local resident, whereas virtually all of the other accounts are from local business owners, representing the Otahuhu Mainstreet Association, the Manager of the Hunters Corner and Central Papatoetoe Business District, the Manurewa Business Association, an anonymous shopkeeper and an anonymous female accountant. I appreciate that small business owners are finding it tough during the current recession due to central government economic mismanagement, factory closures, emigration of skilled workers to Australia, reduced international trading partner consumption of our products, goods and services and resultant redundancies, which cascade into reduced small business turnover and difficulties that arise from that. However, Papatoetoe's small business problems are attributable to those primary causes and not transgender street sex workers driving off trade. Scapegoating vulnerable transgender street sex workers will do nothing to remedy those more basic difficulties. Fifthly, I am deeply uneasy about the role of Auckland's Christian Right in this whole affair. This bill appears to be based on New South Wales anti-soliciting legislation and closer investigation of Sydney 'resident group' opponents of street sex workers disclosed that many such organisations turned out to be unrepresentative fundamentalist Christian, and often front groups for Fred Niles' Christian Democratic Party or its counterparts. In its booklet, the Auckland City Council notes that it consulted with 'churches' in preparing its booklet. Which churches? Fundamentalist, transphobic, anti-sexworker churches? And why is Family First taking such a keen interest in the Manukau Antisoliciting Bill debate if militant fundamentalists aren't engaged in stealth tactics in this context? Why does it so prominently give coverage to media reports about the bill? Sixthly, the current proposed legislation is overkill. As the Prostitutes Collective has pointed out, if individual street sex workers are engaged in antisocial behaviour such as public defecation and urination (due to council toilet closure), aggressiveness and public nuisance, then the Summary Offences Act 1981 is the proper solution to these difficulties. "Disorderly behaviour", "offensive behaviour or language", fighting in public places, wilful damage of property, intimidation, obstruction of public thoroughfares, public drinking and indecent exposure are all offences under the Summary Offences Act 1981, and given the description of alleged individual sex worker misconduct in this context, the above cited clauses would seem to give councils, business owners, residents and police sufficient powers to arrest and detain any such habitual offender who does so. Why is there negligible mention of this legal option in the current context within the Auckland City Council booklet? This bill is unneccessary. Moreover, as Joanna Wane noted in her North and South article, some vigilante local residents also seem to have engaged in use of offensive behaviour and language, intimidation and obstruction of public thoroughfares in this context as well, so why are sex workers alone being singled out within this bill? Seventhly, there is an ugly undercurrent of undeniable transphobia in this whole debate. John McCracken of the Papatoetoe Local Board often refers to 'obnoxious transvestites' in this context. Allowing for ignorance of the circumstances of pre-operative transsexuals in this context, who wish to wear appropriately gendered clothes while transitioning, this is reprehensible, stigmatising, and transphobic. Are McCracken, Len Brown and the others who are calling for this legislation aware of the existence of widespread accomodation, employment and educational discrimination against transwomen, which requires survival sex as a solution? And are they also aware that trans-inclusive and trans-specific emergency accomodation and social services are rare within Auckland itself? Do they even care? Len Brown has said that his door is 'open' to LGBT community members on other occassions. If there are individual behavioural problems amongst street sex workers, then early intervention and professional assistance is the best solution, not driving already marginalised and stigmatised individuals further underground and into possibly unsafe working conditions. Finally, as the Auckland Council booklet itself notes, Hunters Corner has been a street sex work area since long before the passage of the Prostitution Law Reform Act in 2003, given that it cites Manukau Courier articles from 1991 and 1997, so how is the Prostitution Law Reform Act to 'blame' for any of this? The Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003 was enacted to provide occupational health and safety through decriminalisation of sex work, including street soliciting. This seriously flawed private member's bill is based on distortion of the lives of transgender street sex workers, scapegoats the entire group for the disruptive behaviour of particular individuals and will expose members of the transgender community to risk. It must be stopped. Recommended: Joanna Wane: "Not in Our Street" North and South: 301: April 2011: 64-71 Summary Offences Act 1981: Regulation of Prostitution in Public Places Bill 2006, Second Reading (Hansard): Marcia Neave: "Prostitution Laws In Australia: Past History and Current Trends" (p67-100) in Roberta Perkins, Garrett Prestage, Rachel Sharp and Frances Lovejoy (eds) Sex Workers and Sex Workers in Australia: Sydney: University of New South Wales Press: 1995. Not Recommended: "The Street Prostitution Industry in the Southern Auckland Communities" Auckland City Council (May 2012): Family First: Challenge Weekly: Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 18th July 2012    
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