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Mon 15 Dec 2014 In: True Stories View at Wayback View at NDHA

Shelley Howard was able to change her name, but left with the title ‘Mr’ by her bank due some silly policies. But, with the advocacy of Overwatch and quick action from Westpac senior management, that changed pretty quickly. Shelley tells the full story: Greater understanding of the human condition has resulted in some dramatic changes to legislation in recent decades, empowering those of us previously excluded from the exclusive albeit invisible ‘box’ to live our lives free of prejudice. Almost! While laws and regulations might change, it can often take a lot longer for them to permeate the labyrinthine corridors of government (national and local) and corporate bureaucracy. Just last week I encountered one such situation. Having officially changed my name through the Ministry of Internal Affairs I set about informing all relevant parties, including my local branch of Westpac Bank. The process of changing my name was seamless, apart from the difficulty my ‘personal manager’ had in addressing me using appropriate pronouns. However a real glitch occurred when it came to the mandatory requirement of assigning a ‘title’ to my profile. It seems that without changing my designated ‘sex’ on the bank database, it is impossible to assign a feminine title. So what, you might reasonably think. Just change my sex designation on the database! Well . . . . no! It seems that is not possible if the Internal Affairs document shows your sex is other than female. Interestingly, had I produced my passport instead of my birth certificate as verification of my name change, there will not have been an issue as I am ‘female’ on that form. Coincidentally my passport is also issued by the Ministry of internal affairs – le sigh!!! It was at about this point I began to question the bank’s validation to hold the “Rainbow Tick”. Some further discussion ensued with my ‘personal manager’ doing his best and seeking advice from his superior. It seems the process could simply not be thwarted. I was to be designated “Mr” Shelley Howard, at least until I could produce my passport! Oh the ignominy. On returning home all the time becoming more irate, I burst into print via a Facebook rant. This was picked up by Capt Leanne Chambers, head of NZDF Overwatch, the Defence Force LGBTIQ support group to which I am affiliated as an ex-serviceperson. Capt Chambers kindly offered to advocate with the bank on my behalf through an established contact. Westpac was awarded a Rainbow Tick last month. My situation was subsequently treated with not just serious concern by Westpac, but also with urgency. An immediate investigation into the bank’s role was conducted and as a result the Wellington Area manager contacted me two days later to offer me a sincere and personal apology. We each recognised the incident has highlighted limitations in training and preparedness of its staff to deal with trans or other gender identifying people and also limitations in its systems and processes. The bank has taken immediate steps to rectify its shortfalls and has also requested input from Overwatch (and myself) to help it identify other areas and issues that may also be buried within its already established processes and programmes. While it is always a little sad and unnecessary that people identifying outside the binary have to endure such problems while attempting to go about their ordinary everyday lives, my recent experience highlights that often such matters are not intentional but simply the consequence of centuries of conditioning (and thinking) within a binary hetero-normal paradigm. But by adopting a cooperative approach to such problem-solving we queer folk can achieve positive and rapid change in an atmosphere of greater inclusion. I was most impressed with the support and responses I received to my circumstances. Overwatch, via Capt Chambers was outstanding. Westpac demonstrated accountability, responsibility and excellent leadership in addressing the matter the way it did and the management team involved deserves commendation for the part it has and continues to play in making good on the issues my simple request raised. . . . .. . . And for anyone interested, I am now officially “Ms” Shelley Howard on the bank database.     Shelley Howard - 15th December 2014

Credit: Shelley Howard

First published: Monday, 15th December 2014 - 8:39am

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