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Georgina's Gender Bill: "It's just about protection"

Fri 18 Feb 2005 In: Features

It's been a long time coming, but the wait is over for our country's transgendered communities. They'll finally be protected under the Human Rights Act along with gays, lesbians, and other minorities; subject to the will of a conscience vote in Parliament as all human rights (for sexual minorites at least) are. Georgina Beyer still hasn't managed to shake her eponymous media tagline of “world's first transsexual MP”, and in light of the Gender Identity Bill which she's sponsoring through Parliament, it's a label which looks set to be forever linked with her name, particularly if the potentially controversial bill becomes law. However, Beyer herself doesn't see there being much controversy. She told National Radio she didn't expect there to be as much opposition as there had been over prostitution law reform and civil unions. “This is about protection, it takes nothing away from anybody else,” she said. We spoke to Ms Beyer at the Big Gay Out in Auckland last weekend about these comments. Was she suggesting that civil unions had taken something away from people, which is what the religious right had argued all along? “Only their moral ethics about it,” she told us. “That's what was taken away from people who didn't believe in the Civil Union Bill, and that is something that's not tangible, it's within an individuals mind. They're allowed to have it, but I think they feel that the institution of marriage, regardless of civil unions, has been diluted.” She reiterated that her bill takes nothing away from anybody. “It only provides protections for a minority within a minority, so I don't know who would be affected by it other than those for whom it would benefit. So I really set the scene for the argument against the bill, which I expect will be mean spirited and lacking any particular substance.” So far she looks to be on the money. National MP Richard Worth, who unsuccessfully tried to force seventy time-wasting amendments to the Civil Union Bill on Parliament last year (including a bizarre “incest” amendment that would have allowed siblings to register their relationships), was first out of the gate, describing the bill as over the top. “If you just think for a moment, there are going to be huge practical problems with such a law change,” he told National Radio. “Look at some employment fields, can you imagine cross-dressing being seen as acceptable behaviour in the police force, in the military, in the prison force, in the military, in the prison service, in an educational setting?” These are observations which Agender, a national transgender advocacy group, find ill-informed and nonsensical. “There are standards that people adhere to, whether it's police or military, you don't turn up for army manoeuvres in high heels,” says spokesperson Claudia McKay. “The concept is just ludicrous. The people doing those jobs are professionals, and they will continue to do their jobs.” Beyer says Worth's comments are ridiculous. “A former police commissioner Bob Moodie set that trend back in the 70s when he was wearing kaftans so I thought it was a ridiculous statement, and quite below the intelligence of Mr Worth – or not,” she told us. Paranoia similar to Worth's was expressed in the debate over the Human Rights Act in 1993. National MP John Banks, then Minister of Police, feared it would lead to policemen in tutus (a photo of Banks in a pink fairy costume at a charity do emerged in the press a few days later). Fundamentalist Christian Paul Adams, now a United Future list MP, lobbied against provisions that would eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation because he feared men in dresses would end up teaching his children. Twelve years on, and Adams' party – who were so opposed to the Civil Union Bill that they took out a taxpayer-funded ad campaign against it – have said that many of their MPs will actually support Georgina's bill. Beyer says she's surprised and delighted by the news. “I'd heard some time ago from one or two of the members that their caucus had discussed it and had generally thought that they could support it. I was absolutely delighted, I had it confirmed last week from [leader] Peter Dunne. Many in the party, in their caucus, would support it with the proviso being that it was a conscience vote.” It's unknown where Paul Adams vote is going to fall on this one, but fellow Christian colleague Murray Smith, who sat on the select committee considering civil unions and was an outspoken critic of that legislation, appears to be in Georgina's camp this time around, at least for a first reading. “There is a real danger that when it comes to minority groups such as transsexuals, cross-dressers, that we simply say, no, we're not going to touch that when what we need to do is to look at the real issues that those people face and come up with a solution without going overboard on it,” he told National Radio. Cynics have observed that it's a desperate move by United Future to appear more moderate in an election year, but other regular attackers of the GLBT communities have felt no such need to restrain themselves. NZ First MP Dail Jones claimed to speak for his entire party in rejecting Georgina's bill. “NZ First doesn't support this gender-bending type of bill. It's a nonsense piece of legislation,” he said. “If you're born a male, you stay a male, if you're born a female, you stay a female, that's the way you're made. If you want to start fiddling around and changing your body, that's a decision you make and you must bear the consequences that follow from it.” Agender say they're flabbergasted by Jones' rhetoric. “Essentially, for me, changing my body to match how my brain perceives myself is really important for me as an individual,” says McKay. “Now if doing that means I should be denied the human rights that Dail Jones would have for his own religious beliefs, then there's something really strange about that mentality.” ACT's Stephen Franks, who has said in the past he's happy for the GLBT communities to be second-class citizens and has described them as “riddled with pathologies”, says Georgina's bill is an “odd” legislative priority. “I suppose it's simply because, I think, the underlying law in this area is wrong anyway. To have a bunch of government-aid busy bodies telling us when we can't laugh or make preferences about how people conduct themselves in their sex lives is a huge intrusion of freedom.” As always, for Franks, freedom for bigotry is far more important than freedom from discrimination. Freedom of expression is a one-way street on Planet Franks. National MP Worth's quaint paranoia about his perceived implications of the bill is a sad reminder of how socially conservative the party that gave us the Human Rights Act in the first place has become. “You have to ask, what are these people worried about really?” says McKay. “I sincerely hope when they take the bill to the first reading that it's not a major issue. It's really exciting for our community, because for the first time in our history we'll actually have a piece of legislation specifically protecting the ‘dregs of society' as we've been called for so long. If you're not transgendered, I think it's hard for a lot of people to comprehend, but the importance of it...I just get lost for words.” The first reading of the Gender Identity Bill is expected to come up within the next few weeks. Both Beyer and Agender are urging people to write to MPs to show their support, as the bill is expected to be a conscience vote. “I'm not unhappy with a conscience vote,” says Beyer. “I'd actually quite like it, it's a far more honest debate and then you know black and white where people are going to fall.” Chris Banks - 18th February 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Friday, 18th February 2005 - 12:00pm

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