'Anti-trans' billboard removed from Wellington's CBD

Imogen Wells
Source: 1News

A billboard put up by controversial organisation Speak Up For Women has been removed from downtown Wellington, after only being there for roughly 24 hours.

It stated the definition of a woman as an "adult human female", which some Wellingtonians called transphobic.

"The intent behind the messaging is definitely anti-trans," Gender Minorities Aotearoa executive director Ahi Wi-Hongi told 1 NEWS.

A billboard with the exact same message on it was also removed in the UK after it was accused of being part of a transphobic campaign.

"It’s also very similar to Lauren Southern wearing an 'it’s okay to be white' t-shirt. Of course it’s okay to be white, of course it’s okay to be a woman but the intent behind these messaging doesn’t affirm people’s identities," Wi-Hongi said.

One Twitter user wrote the billboard’s phrase is used widely by people who do not believe trans-women are women.

Speak Up For Women spokesperson Beth Johnson told 1 NEWS the decision to remove the billboard was completely out of the group’s control.

"We are really disappointed. We had digital billboards also planned and those are now also gone," she said.

She claims the company who provided the billboard space, Go Media, told her it had come under pressure from other clients after people took to social media to complain about it.

"This is a smear campaign and we are being bullied."

Wellington Phoenix general manager David Dome tweeted that he had asked Go Media for their position on the situation, as the club and billboard company are partners.

He tweeted the billboard’s message and said it is "certainly is at odds with the club’s position on diversity and inclusion and specifically LGBTQI+".

Go Media's general manager, Simon Teagle, told 1 NEWS it removed the billboard as soon as it started fielding calls from offended New Zealanders.

"We believe it maybe in breach of ASA codes, and therefore the advertising material in breach of our contract. We have subsequently notified the advertiser. We have placed the contract with the advertiser on hold until a clear determination from the ASA is provided.

"Go Media is an inclusive, locally-owned New Zealand business and we support all communities. While we believe in freedom of speech, we do not condone content that upsets our community. We apologise unreservedly for any distress this may have caused anyone, and remedied the situation as soon we could."

Wellington Pride said it was heartened by the reaction of the community.

"As disturbing as it is to see such blatant transphobia displayed on the streets of Wellington, we are heartened by the swift community action that was taken to wrap around and protect our trans whānau," they said in a statement.

"We [Wellington Pride] will continue to unwaveringly support and fight for trans rights. Transphobia — and any group that perpetuates it — has no place in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, or anywhere."

Johnson told 1 NEWS the purpose of the billboard was to raise public awareness of the proposed changes to the self-identification laws.

"There is nothing on this billboard about the bill," Wellington-based composer and comedian Maxwell Apse told 1 NEWS.

"The knew how the trans community would react, that we would see it for the hateful dog whistle it was, and, when it was inevitably taken down, they could say they were being censored. This is a publicity stunt," they said.

"I’m not a trans woman, I’m non-binary, but it still hits me personally. Speak Up For Women’s whole agenda seems to be that if you were born a male, you are biologically more violent than people born female, and will inevitably inflict violence on cis women.

"As someone who has been sexually harassed by people of every gender, I can say that everyone is capable of crappy behaviour, regardless of what's in their underpants," they said. 

Wi-Hongi said the removal of the billboard has shown just how supportive Wellingtonians are.

"It’s not what the community wants. Wellington is a really inclusive, rainbow friendly city. They don’t want anti-trans campaign groups making Wellington a less safe city for trans-people."

SUFW is self-described as promoting "sex-based rights" and does not support New Zealanders being able to self-identify on official documents.

The group has frequently been accused of being transphobic which Ms Johnson rejects.

"We are just feminists wanting to talk about the impacts on women and protect women’s spaces," Johnson said.

Wi-Hongi told 1 NEWS the group’s own messaging refutes that.

"If you look at their website, all you see are campaigns about stopping trans people from having rights, from having an education, from having safe bathrooms, and from being able to update their identity documents. They do not campaign on anything else."

Apse agrees.

"They claim they’re not transphobic, but they’re doing everything in their power to make trans people feel unwelcome."

Johnson said about the group’s purpose and motivation to "spread the word" about the proposed sex self-identification amendment to the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill.

The law change would mean transgender people could more easily change the sex on their birth certificate to reflect how they identify.

Currently it’s a process that involves the Family Court and doctors.

Attempts to change the legislation were made in 2019 however were quashed when then Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin said the bill had elements within it that did not have "adequate public consultation".

Earlier this year, the current minister of Internal Affairs, Jan Tinetti (who also holds the Women portfolio) said she wanted to make sure passing the legislation change was a priority for this year.

Today’s billboard developments come just days before SUFW is due to host an event at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre.

The council today revealing it plans to light the centre up in the colour of the trans-flag while the event is on.

Johnson told 1 NEWS that doesn’t bother the group.

"Transexuals support us," she said.