LGBT+ commmunity continues to suffer from discrimination - Human Rights Commission

Imogen Wells
Source: 1News

A Human Rights Commission report has found people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) continue to suffer in New Zealand from discrimination.

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It found people with a diverse SOGIESC in Aotearoa New Zealand face specific and unique barriers to the full enjoyment of human rights.

“While not exhaustive, our analysis reflects the voices of the SOGIESC-diverse people who attended the Human Rights Commission’s consultation hui in 2018,” said Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt.

Public meetings took place in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, while one hui was held in prison with transgender prisoners and a fifth hui was held with disabled SOGIESC-diverse people.

The Prism report, released today, revealed between January 1 2008 and 31 December 2019, the Commission received nearly 2000 complaints on the ground of sex and 377 related to sexual orientation.

According to the report 11 per cent of the instances of discrimination because of sex were made by people who identify as transgender, gender diverse or intersex.

Trans and gender diverse people were the most commonly discriminated against by government activities.

Green Party Rainbow Issues Spokesperson Jan Logie said the report reinforces the need for a targeted and ongoing government response.

“This work is especially critical given there’s no specific office or channel in government responsible for looking out for the LGBTQI+ community. I reinstate my call for there to be a Government office specifically focused on Rainbow issues,” she said.

Auckland Pride director, Max Tweedie, said it’s time the government acknowledge the current systems in place aren’t working or protecting the rights of Rainbow Communities.

“From dropping the ball on self-identification for trans people, conversion therapy, or not updating the Human Rights Act - we’re disappointed and frustrated about the lack of progress. A rainbow government office with this exact mandate will allow for greater accountability.”

The workplace is where the majority of discrimination for sexual orientation occurs, according to the report.

People with a diverse SOGIESC said they do not feel safe enough or fear discrimination at work and when applying for jobs.

Many choose to conceal their identities or partners for fear of discrimination, should their personal details be disclosed to colleagues.

Mr Tweedie said while New Zealand workplaces have developed better understandings regarding obligations for ensuring safe and inclusive environments, more work needs to be done.

“There are still glaring inequities for them across employment, and organisations need to play an active role in addressing them.”

The report outlined six human rights issues related to people of diverse SOGIESC to help improve their lives; the right to freedom from discrimination, information, recognition before the law, the highest attainable level of health, education, and work.

According to the report, The Human Rights Act 1993 does not provide explicit legal protection from discrimination because of gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics.

It also said people with or with perceived diverse SOGIESC are more likely to become victims of crime.

Within the education system, the report found New Zealand’s overall curriculum inadequately informs young people about Rainbow Communities.

It also said school is often not a safe environment for kids with diverse SOGIESC, and found youth with diverse gender identities are four and a half times more likely to be bullied than other students.

Kids with diverse sexual orientations are three times more likely to be bullied.

Compulsory, comprehensive education around diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and sex characteristics could lower these bulling rates, Mr Tweedie said.

“Homophobia and transphobia aren’t inherent, they’re learned - and schools should be a place to contribute to the unlearning of these demonstrably harmful beliefs.”

The report also looked at the current process to amend sex on identity documents, and found it continues to be lengthy and difficult for transgender, non-binary, and intersex people.

The right of self-declaration on identity documents is also yet to be fully implemented in New Zealand, currently only applying for passports and drivers licences, but not for birth certificates.

Making changes on birth certificates requires meeting a medical threshold, and the involvement of the Family Court, which the report said presents barriers to having a child, enrolling in school, getting married, and other areas of life.

Last year, Internal Affairs minister Tracey Martin announced legislation allowing transgender to more easily make changes to the sex on their birth certificates would be deferred following concerns the select committee process did not adequately consult the public.

Within the health sector, people with diverse SOGIESC have poorer physical and mental health outcomes than the general population, with healthcare practitioners and providers frequently lacking the training needed to meet the needs of SOGIESC people.

Gender reaffirming healthcare remains difficult to access in New Zealand.

Last year, the government announced a $3 million funding boost for gender reassignment surgery.

Previously, the Government only funded on average two operations a year, resulting in a 50-year wait list with 163 people in line.

The Ministry of Health puts the average cost of male to female surgery at nearly $43,000. For female to male surgery it’s close to $219,000.

The extra cash has the potential to see up to 14 people a year get the surgery, although it’s yet to be confirmed if there’s been an increase since the funding announcement.

The report also addressed the need to update New Zealand’s data collection processes, as the currently limited response options result in a lack of diverse and accurate answers, reducing the ability of SOGIESC people to be counted.

It also highlighted the impacts colonisation had on sexual and gender fluidity in Māori society.

“[Colonisation had and has] dramatic consequences, including loss of acceptance within their own societies and communities. In keeping with the Commission’s statutory role to educate, advocate, and promote respect for Te Tiriti o Waitangi and human rights in New Zealand, Prism is designed to address this shortcoming,” said Mr Hunt.

Green Party MP Jan Logie echoed that stance.

“LGBTQI+ people are a significant part of our community who face a long and ongoing history of discrimination, which continues to cause harm. We can’t continue to fail our Rainbow communities. We have to make more progress to ensure they are safe and able to live as who they are,” said Ms Logie.