Article Title:Agender conference: Breaking the isolation, dealing with issues
Category:Events
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:19th June 2005 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
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Story ID:787
Text:Around 80 transgendered people from all over New Zealand flocked to Wellington the first weekend in June for the fourth annual Agender NZ conference, a growing event which is much about connecting with a community as talking about issues, says Agender spokeswoman Claudia McKay. McKay says the conference doesn't usually centre around major issues, but this year was something of an exception with the second reading of the Gender Identity Bill scheduled to come back to Parliament in August. An important step in human rights legislation for the trans-community, it will add "gender identity" to the Human Rights Act alongside race, religion and sexual orientation, all prohibited grounds for discrimiantion. "This is the biggest issue at the moment, and the general consensus was that there needs to be more understanding in the community about it," McKay says. "We had a speakers session on Saturday afternoon with Georgina Beyer, Tim Barnett, and Joy Liddicoat from the Human Rights Commission." Kathy Noble from Agender Australia, one of several international speakers, spoke about the progress for trans-rights across the Tasman. “They're primarily based in Queensland, and they are trying to spread their net further,” McKay explains. “They've only been going a couple of years, so it's only early days for them. They find that in New Zealand, there's one door to knock on to try and get something moving, whereas in Australia you have to go through several doors in several different states.” A major issue in Australia right now is access to the health system, and government funding of gender reassignment surgery, a controversy mirrored in New Zealand with beat-ups from NZ First, National and ACT politicians. “The consensus at the AGM was that we will continue to work with the Ministry of Health to try and improve the surgery situation in this country,” says McKay. “There's supposed to be a review of the process put in place last year, and we're letting them know we want to be part of that review process. There's a lot that can be done better, and we've got a lot of positive ideas about it. There's a lot of experience within the community about how better to provide those services.” One of the highlights of the conference this year was the attendance of an unprecedented numbers of transmen. Most conferences have seen an average of half a dozen, but McKay says there were over twenty this year. “That was a real watershed for the guys. From what I can understand, just being in a room with twenty plus other guys was the highlight of the whole weekend for them. For most transgendered people you live in isolation, the guys especially. We had a couple of guys there from Dunedin, and they're it as far as the known FTM population in Dunedin, and Dunedin's a reasonable sized town. If you're a community of two, that's pretty small, so to be able to touch base with a whole range of other people from teens through to their fifties, that's just mind blowing.” Making connections with a community and losing that sense of isolation has always been the primary focus of the Agender conferences. “It's the social stuff that cements the community together. It sounds like fluffy and feelgood stuff, but it's actually really important when you're in a minority grouping that you need to feel part of the whole.” And that includes partners of transpeople, who had their own two-day workshop at the conference. “The partners sometimes have more issues to deal with than we do. They're let into somebody's big secret and all of a sudden they're burdened with the issue as well, and they have nowhere to go to talk about it.” The workshops went so well, they ended up being extended from a couple of half-hour sessions to two three-hour blocks. “The feedback I've had is that it was incredibly positive. They sat and talked about how they felt about the issues and what they could do about it. They were just blown away, a whole bunch of partners who had never talked to anyone else before, suddenly with a whole bunch of people they could relate to. They're looking at setting up support groups now." The centrepiece of the weekend was a social occasion which for some was something they never thought they'd see – a roomful of transgendered people together for dinner in the Grand Hall at Parliament Buildings. "Most people never even dream of going to Parliament Buildings let along having dinner in the hall, it was just beyond so many people's comprehension," McKay says. "It was a fabulous evening. It just flowed, everything went so beautifully. That was something we've never done before, and I think we'll definitely be doing that again." After a weekend of get-togethers, discussions, laughs and entertainment – including an annual beauty pageant/fashion parade – there were good vibes a-plenty to go home with. "Everybody came away with such a positive feeling. It just keeps building every year and getting better. Because people are so isolated most of the time, to come together in what for our community is really large numbers is a positive experience. You spend the rest of your life mostly in isolation and to come together with people like yourself is just a really energising thing to do." Chris Banks - 19th June 2005    
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