Trans Awareness Week a chance to reflect on journey so far, but still a long way to go

OPINION: Trans Awareness Week was last week, and I spent some time reflecting on how best to leverage my cis-privilege as a Member of Parliament. For many years, I have sought to be an effective ally for trans, intersex and non-binary people, especially takatāpui with diverse gender identities and sex characteristics. I sought to create space, collaborated, researched and took direction from their leadership and advocacy. It included the creation of the concept of ‘Mana Tipua’ within my Whare Takatāpui framework – that the mana of trans, intersex and non-binary people today is based on the acceptance of fluidity and spiritual significance in traditional Māori society.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, as with many of the issues facing people with diverse genders, sexualities, and sex characteristics, the discrimination against us can be easily traced back to colonisation and the way that early colonists and missionaries pathologised and criminalised us. Any person who did not fit their construct of a real man, a real woman, and people who should be in heterosexual, monogamous relationships would be punished. Our people rejected and subverted it back then, and we’ve continued to do so ever since.

For too long, people have been marginalised through legislative barriers, discrimination, prejudice, and a lack of awareness and understanding. I’m here to continue the Green Party’s work to change that. In the last term of Parliament, the Greens made changes such as ensuring the next Census contains questions about gender identity, and secured funding to start clearing decades-long waiting lists for gender-affirming surgeries.

* Transgender Awareness Week: Fight for inclusion still ongoing, advocate says
* Wellington City Council asks organisations to support rainbow communities
* Breaking down barriers: How an online event aims to improve transgender people’s access to healthcare
* Early Māori view on sexual fluidity far more liberal than previously believed

This term we have pushed for two major pieces of legislation that centre the rights of takatāpui, trans, intersex and non-binary people. The first is the Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill, which will finally ban the traumatic, unethical and harmful practice of trying to change someone for who they are. Aotearoa should be a place where no matter who you love or how you identify, you are accepted. This bill takes us a step closer towards that vision.


Two prominent Christchurch leaders who identify as LGBTQIA+ are full of pride as the city launches into a 10-day celebration of all things rainbow. (First published March 2021)

The amendment of the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Act (BDMRR) will allow takatāpui, trans, intersex and non-binary people to self-identify their gender on their birth certificates. Aotearoa will become one of the few countries in the world to enable people born here to self-identify their gender on their birth certificate through a simple statutory declaration. We continue to push hard for a way that New Zealanders born overseas, including refugees and asylum seekers, can be included.

“Trans people born overseas, particularly trans people of colour, are regularly asked to show their passport to prove their immigration status, including their ability to work or study here. They face significant challenges when they have no New Zealand documentation with a name and sex marker that matches their affirmed gender.” – Submission from Gender Minorities Aotearoa

Being on the select committee hearing the submissions on BDMRR was difficult. The scale of misinformation, lies and scaremongering was staggering. The consistent misgendering and denial of human rights routinely made me furious. I maintained my composure (most of the time) knowing it was just a fraction of the discrimination that takatāpui, trans, intersex and non-binary whānau face every day.

As MPs, we were keenly aware that many takatāpui, trans, intersex and non-binary people were watching the hearings. My approach at the beginning was to interrupt the many haters, refuting their so-called research and disputing their convoluted arguments. But as time wore on with hundreds of oral submissions, I decided not to give them any energy and to focus only on people supportive to the bills – to create a safe space in a relatively dangerous environment. And despite the overwhelming numbers of a well-co-ordinated anti-trans lobby, the stories of takatāpui, trans, intersex and non-binary people and their parents, friends and allies were the ones that shone through. For me and my other MP allies, these were the only stories that mattered.

The hearings for Conversion Practices will continue until the end of the year. Back in the mid-1980s, I was a youth activist and heard many of the same arguments against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill. The Salvation Army led almost all churches against it. Now, 36 years later, almost all mainstream churches are supporting the ban of conversion therapies. To hear church leaders reinforce the mana of all Rainbow people, has been a healing journey, particularly for survivors.

“It is important that survivors of conversion practices have access to specialist psychosocial support to help make sense of their experiences, develop a positive sense of their own identity and repair relationships. Support services should be peer-led, trauma-informed and affirming of rainbow identities.” – Submission from Te Ngakau Kahukura

Together, these new laws will shift the thinking of New Zealanders. It will mean that the Government of this country stands behind takatāpui, trans, intersex and non-binary people.

It has been an honour to be here to help make that happen. We still have a long way to go but we will not stop fighting for the mana, wairua, mauri of our takatāpui, trans, intersex and non-binary whānau.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere (Ngāti Oneone, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Whānau a Kai, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri) is a Green Party MP. Her PhD on takatāpui identity and wellbeing is required reading in universities here and internationally, including in Australia, the US and Europe. Her takatāpui suicide prevention resources are used in health and school settings across the country. Kerekere brings Te Tiriti o Waitangi/takatāpui-based advice to current research projects addressing: assisted reproductive health and family formation, LGBTIQ young people health and well-being, trans and non-binary health and wellbeing, and gender inclusive maternity care.

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