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Tolley reveals ignorance about gender identity

Wed 29 Feb 2012 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback View at NDHA

Anne Tolley in the House today Corrections Minister Anne Tolley has told Parliament that “a man who is transgender, but pre-surgery, is still a man”. She was being grilled in Parliament today over a Corrections Department policy to house transgender prisoners based on their sex at birth, unless they have had full gender reassignment surgery. Tolley also denied transgender inmates are vulnerable to sexual abuse and sexual assault in prison, and stated she will not consider changing the Corrections’ housing policy. “All prisoners are assessed for safety and security on a case-by-case basis,” Tolley said, responding to a question from Green rainbow issues spokeswoman Jan Logie on the finding from the Ombudsman that ‘transgender prisoners are particularly vulnerable to abuse and/or sexual assault’. “I’m advised that only five out of our 8,500 prisoners identify as transgender,” Tolley continued. “The Department of Corrections believes that all prisoners should be treated with decency and humanity and safe and secure environments that acknowledge their gender identity.” Tolley did agree that trans prisoners are subject to verbal abuse, “as are many prisoners,” she said. Logie futher asked the Corrections Minister what actions she will take to ensure transgender prisoners’ safety, in light of the Ombudsman’s report that says ‘abuse of transgender prisoners goes unrecorded in male prisons’. “My understanding is that the Ombudsman spoke to one, only, transgender prisoner,” Tolley replied. “And I’m advised that there is no widespread evidence of sexual assault.” Lesbian Labour MP Maryan Street, a member of the Rainbow Labour caucus, then asked Tolley what assurances she can give that transgender inmates are protected from harm in prison, and that their mental and physical health needs are promptly and appropriately addressed. “I can assure that Member that Corrections is fully aware of the duty of care that it has to all prisoners and continues to make improvements. And the Department does deliver a pretty good health service to prisoners, which indeed the Ombudsman did acknowledge in his report,” Tolley said. Upon further questioning from Logie, Tolley made it clear she would not consider changing the policy for housing transgender inmates, even though, as the Green MP pointed out, only a small minority of trans people undergo full gender reassignment surgery. Tolley said the Corrections Department will continue to assess the needs of prisoners on a case-by-case basis. “And common sense is also important. A man who is transgender, but pre-surgery, is still a man. And to move him to a woman’s prison would raise a number of safety issues,” she stated. “And by the same token we can’t move a female prisoner into a male prison.” A shocked looking Logie then asked what level of sexual assaults on trans people need to occur before the Minister acts to ensure their safety in prison, to which Tolley repeated that there is no evidence there is widespread sexual assault. “So a little bit’s okay?” was then heard from across the House, presumably from Logie, as Speaker Lockwood Smith moved on with Question Time. Reaction has been swift from the transgender community, with Auckland transwoman Allyson Hamblett saying Tolley’s comments “show a complete lack of respect for trans people” and talk of a letter-writing campaign emerging from Auckland transgender support and advocacy organisation GenderBridge. Meanwhile Logie says she is going to write to Tolley to see if she’d like to meet with some trans advocates “to get the 101 on respect for trans people”. You can discuss this New Zealand gay community news story in the Forum.    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Wednesday, 29th February 2012 - 10:28pm

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