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Govt's "transphobic attitudes" condemned

Thu 1 Mar 2012 In: New Zealand Daily News View at NDHA

Cherise Witehira A national transgender advocacy agency has slammed the “pure ignorance and transphobic attitudes” of the Government and called for change in the prison system. Agender NZ National President Cherise Witehira has written to Minister of Corrections Anne Tolley and her Associate Minister with specific recommendations for altering Corrections Department policy, to improve the treatment of transgender prisoners. It comes after Tolley was yesterday challenged in Parliament by lesbian MPs Jan Logie and Maryan Street over the Corrections policy to house trans inmates based on their sex at birth, unless they have had full gender reassignment surgery. The Corrections Minister said she would not consider changing the policy, denied trans prisoners are vulnerable to sexual assault and failed to give a straight answer to Logie’s questioning about what level of sexual assaults on trans people need to occur before she acts to ensure their safety in prison. Tolley made a comment that has exasperated many in the trans community, that “a man who is transgender, but pre-surgery, is still a man”. Witehira says the Corrections Minister’s comments display “the pure ignorance and transphobic attitudes that the Government has in regards to the issues faced by trans people in general”. The Agender President says this must change. “Ultimately, gender identity must be specifically included in the Human Rights Act to show the Department of Corrections that trans prisoners are fully protected from discrimination.” Tolley also said she had been advised only five out of the nation’s 8,500 prisoners identify as transgender, something Witehira says is simply not true. “I know of at least eight prisoners in the South Island and 11 in the North Island all whom identify as trans. You must understand that the prisoners I have mentioned are ones I know of personally and does not include trans prisoners who are not out as trans and due to the fear of physical and sexual assault, which are the most common forms of assault against trans prisoners.” Witehira has put forward a list of suggestions for change, to ensure transgender prisoners are treated fairly and humanely, and reduce the likelihood they will reoffend. “Trans people should have the same right to dignity and respect as others, but given the difficulties of having a body that is different from their gender identity, there needs to be recognition that this will require more effort on the part of the prison service for trans people than for others,” she writes. You can read Cherise Witehira’s full letter here, which includes all her recommendations for improving prison life for transgender inmates and help ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Thursday, 1st March 2012 - 5:41pm

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