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Saturday 10 October 2009

Agender's transformational transgender conference

Posted in: Community
By Matt Akersten - 3rd June 2009

Transgender delegates from around New Zealand met in Wellington at the weekend to share stories, network and help build the transgender community. Trans support network Agender's president Joanne Clarke tells says the 2009 conference was a busy and life-changing three days.

Joanne Clarke & Carmen Rupe
"It went really well. We had around 75 delegates, and including presenters added up to over 90 people," she tells Wellington's Mayor Kerry Prendergast and gay MP Grant Robertson were among the opening speakers. Like many of us, Grant Robertson had been inspired by the Harvey Milk movie, and its message of "you gotta give 'em hope".

Sue Nicholson from TV's Sensing Murder was a great speaker who told her story which fitted in with the conference's theme of 'being who you are', says Clarke. "She opened up about her journey to accepting herself as a psychic as the spirits guided her and told her that she had work to do. She told us she has a gay daughter, too."

Flown over from Sydney where she now lives, former Wellington drag showgirl legend Carmen was a guest of honour. "Carmen was fantastic. We had made her a patron last year. Saturday evening featured the Gala dinner, with Carmen telling us stories of her life, with lots of salacious gossip thrown in. Grant Robertson had taken her to Parliament and shown her the picture they had of her in the Rainbow Room there, which I'm sure was a very moving moment for her."

The conference featured the first-ever 'Agender Awards', voted on by the participants of the event. Police Diversity Liaison Officers were in attendance, and picked up the first 'Trans Ally Award'. The 'Working for the Community Award' went to the NZ Prostitutes Collective. Person of the Year was Carmen, and 'Best Presentation' went to Dianne Walker, the mother of a female to male transgender son who had a difficult time at school.

Carmen, Joanne & Gennifer
The wide range of speakers and presentations ranged from talks about spiritual matters, information from the Human Rights Commission, a presentation from the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective, and even flower arranging with a beautiful Fa'afafine demonstrator. Intersex NZ's spokesperson Mani Mitchell ran intersex workshops, Lawyer John Miller talked about the law around birth certificates, and an endocrinologist gave a presentation about important health matters.

2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Kiwi male impersonator and confidence trickster Amy Bock. Her story of living and dressing as a male, being on trial, serving time in prison, and later life as a feminist icon was told by Fiona Clark.

"We covered so much," says Clarke. "Agender has really moved forward in the past year to be more inclusive, which is fantastic."

So what's next for transgender Kiwis since the Human Rights Commission released their ground-breaking trans enquiry 'To Be Who I Am' in 2007? "Agender want to work alongside the HRC and Ministry of Health to make it easier to access to all gender reassignment health services, not just surgeries.

"But authorities are also starting to recognise that female-to-male transgender people don't have to have had the full, and somewhat unattainable, $100,000 surgery to be living fully as a male. The courts now recognise that if you have 'taken decisive steps' to live as your true gender, they can change your birth certificate.

"I think things have improved a lot of transgender people in New Zealand," Clarke adds. "Carmen and I were talking, she told her tales of police run-ins 30 years ago. The fact that the representatives from the police participated in our conference shows we've taken huge steps forward.

"So it was a very positive weekend, but it also showed how much further we need to go in the rights of trans people. All we ask for is the same rights, nothing more, and we still have work to do. But it's happening, slowly but surely!"

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Matt Akersten - 3rd June 2009