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After Marriage Equality: Changing times

Thu 25 Apr 2013 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

Barring any effective referendum campaign against marriage equality from its opponents, the marriage and adoption equality debates are now over. What now for our communities? Like the proverbial taxes and poverty, HIV-AIDS will always be with us. Gay, bisexual and MSM men need to solidly get in behind prevention campaigns and make serious, permanent inroads into preventing the spread of this epidemic. Apart from that substantial task ahead of us for the foreseeable future, there are two remaining primary issues of importance to LGBT communities. One is comprehensive anti-bullying legislation. This should be a practical, straightforward evidence-based reform which will attract broad-based parliamentary support. In this context, the objective is to insure that the government passes legislation to insure that all schools have clear, enforceable and inclusive antibullying policies. The goal is LGBT youth suicide prevention and reduction of early onset alcohol and drug abuse, depression and other mental health problems related to a context of physical bullying and intimidation, as well as verbal abuse. I commend the Key administration for its proposed cyberbullying legislation, but such initiatives need to go further than dealing with online abuse, serious as that is. It needs to be one element within a holistic antibullying programme. Nor are we the only constituency affected by bullying behaviour within schools- we also need to address any similar violent, antisocial and verbally abusive behaviour against other groups, such as students with disabilities. We should ask ourselves what are best practise policies overseas and accordingly draft remedial legislation in this context. Once again, Canada has shown the way on this, albeit not at the federal level. Instead, we might look at how individual provinces have dealt with this, particularly Manitoba, which has just passed an excellent provincial antibullying bill into law which requires exactly such a policy package. I wish we could be assured of straightforward, unobstructed and uncontested passage of such initiatives into law, but unfortunately, Canadian Christian Right groups have tried to distort that issue. While that will be one core issue for me in the intermediate and long-term future, there's also the outstanding issue of transgender rights. We might well have felt considerable sympathy for LGBT Australians last Wednesday, given that their obstinate Prime Minister Gillard and Leader of the Opposition Abbott both refuse to countenance marriage equality in that country, at a time when Uruguay and New Zealand have just legislated for it, and France and the United Kingdom are rapidly moving in the same direction, albeit with the added headache of further opposition in the House of Lords. However, when it comes to transgender rights and equality, the situation is clearly and starkly reversed. All federal, state and territory Australian jurisdictions have now directly included gender identity discrimination within their state and territory antidiscrimination laws, as well as the new federal Sex Discrimination Act (which also includes intersex people). The United Kingdom legislated for transgender equality back in 1999, while Canada has just passed Bill C-279, so why does New Zealand stand out amongst our fellow core Commonwealth nations as still dragging the chain on this issue? Granted, there is the Crown Law Office opinion, but we should reject this compromise, as Canadian transgender rights organisations did. One hopes that this will occur during a forthcoming term of government, although Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has stated that National does not intend to do so. In the interim period, however, there are still other residual transgender rights reforms that urgently need to be addressed, as well as destructive legislative initiatives that need to be fought. As Ngaro's courageous and harrowing account of her abuse in a male prison shows, transitioning transwomen are at risk of sexual violence within gender-inappropriate prisons and other correctional facilities. Either Prime Minister Key overrules Corrections Minister Anne Tolley on this issue, or sufficient lobbying leverage needs to be imposed against Tolley to make her see evidence-based good sense on this issue. As Tolley was one of the National MPs who voted against marriage equality, I am not hopeful of progress on this issue while she is still minister. Due credit must be paid to Greens corrections spokesperson Jan Logie on this issue and one hopes that she keeps raising it within Parliament. Perhaps we could also enlist the help of criminal justice law reform organisations such as the Howard League for Penal Reform and Rethinking Crime and Justice from this perspective? The other is the threat of the Manukau antisoliciting bill, which seeks to weaken the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003 through reversing its specific decriminalisation of soliciting within specific urban streets and precincts. The bill was reintroduced into Parliament after an earlier failed first reading during the time of the previous Clark administration, but is fortunately languishing within the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee, still awaiting its second reading and as a private member's bill, it is not a legislative priority. Unfortunately but predictably, Asenati Lola Taylor (New Zealand First List MP) is trying to introduce her own private member's bill into Parliament on the same issue. Based on the New South Wales example, we know that such backlash, populist antisoliciting legislation does not work and only endangers the lives, health and safety of both transgender and cisgender street sex workers. (As the Prostitutes Collective has noted, any antisocial or aggressive bona fide behaviour amongst street sex workers can be addressed through the Summary Offences Act 1981, and as for the issue of underage street sex workers, under the ambiguous status of the transgender community and current religious overview of the emergency shelter provision field, they really may not have anywhere else to go). While Auckland and Christchurch City Council appear to have been captured by the Christian Right on this particular issue, there are some promising signs within the media. It was excellent to see TVNZ's Seven Sharp's intelligent scepticism and critical scrutiny of the claims behind the Manukau antisoliciting bill, and credit must also be paid to North and South for its earlier piece on this issue. Clearly, however, the above requires further expansion and detailed scrutiny, which it will receive in my forthcoming Gaynz.Com columns on this issue. Indeed, with the passage of the Marriage Equality Act, it needs to become the chief legislative priority for our communities. At present, New Zealand LGBT youth and transgender New Zealanders are still treated as second class citizens within New Zealand society. It's time to change this state of affairs. In the case of transgender New Zealanders, it is long overdue. Craig Young - 25th April 2013    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 25th April 2013 - 11:48am

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