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Monday 08 November 2010


The human rights report card

Posted in: Community
By Jacqui Stanford - 24th September 2010

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Joy Liddicoat
The Human Rights Commission is pretty chuffed with the response to a thorough look into how the nation is doing when it comes to issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation.

The draft chapter is part of a wide-ranging review of the state of human rights in New Zealand in 2010.

GayNZ.com spoke to Human Rights Commissioner Joy Liddicoat, for a more in-depth look at what some of the key issues are in the draft chapter and how the consultation process is going.

Gathering statistics

One of the crucial points the HRC makes in the chapter is that we are lacking data on sexual orientation and gender identity. The issue is an awkward one, with a clear need for data to push for more human rights for sexual minorities, weighed against the concern that homophobia and discrimination may result in negative reactions to a sexual orientation question on a Census.

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Statistics New Zealand has ruled out including the questions in next year's Census, but has discussed the possibility of running a separate survey. That could be something along the lines of a surprising new survey of 450,000 people in Britain, which estimates that just 1.5 percent of the population identify as gay or bisexual. Previous estimates sat in the range of 5 percent to 7 percent.

That survey was run very simply, with respondents provided with a showcard containing four options: heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual or other. They were asked which option best described themselves, but it appears there was no question on gender identification other than 'male or female?'.

Liddicoat says getting figures on sexual and gender identity is a tricky issue, as there are so many different views on identity and how it should be recorded. "You've got some who would say, in relation to trans issues for example, 'I want to be able to identify as the gender, having completed transitioning, that I believe I am'. You've got others that would say 'well I want to be able to identify as trans', or you've got someone saying 'I want to be able to identify as something other or in between'."

The commissioner says gathering the data in a way which would reflect diversity would mean having many options and allowing people to tick more than one option, which is something that causes concern for statisticians. She says an idea which was raised in Wellington consultation was concentrating on health data as an entry point, while others felt that would make it about gay sex lives when there are wider areas where data is needed.

The commission has recommended Statistics New Zealand establishes an advisory group to consult with GLBT researchers about the collection of sexual orientation data, to get a clear sense of what the options are.

Violence

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The HRC points out in the document there is also currently an inability to monitor the level of violence and harassment against GLBTI people, including hate crimes motivated by someone's sexuality or gender identity.

"We're in this infinity circle really, aren't we, of there are no statistics and how big is the problem? And how do we find a way to fix the problem?" Liddicoat says.

Among priorities for action in the chapter are taking steps to reduce gender-based violence and improving the safety of GLBTI young people in schools. She says there are some great initiatives already running, led by groups such as Safety in Schools For Queers, Rainbow Youth and the PPTA.

"There are pockets of good practice that are emerging. But, I think it's undoubtedly the case that we live in a society where for some people walking down the street, going to the shops, going to the library, is a hazardous exercise. It just should not be, for anybody," Liddicoat says.

She believes there has been a "quantum shift" in the way trans people are treated in the media in the past three to four years, especially since the Transgender Inquiry.

"I think that hasn't yet come through to the issues for children and young people in schools – and through to the public for the experiences of trans people more generally."

The feedback process

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Liddicoat says the questions the report is centred on are at what point New Zealand is in the turn of change and how it can keep the momentum going forward. "So we can say 'look, here's a snapshot' and find out how people respond to that and what the priorities are."

She is impressed with the response from the community, saying it's the first time the Human Rights Commission has drafted a specific chapter on sexual orientation and gender identity. Around 30 people turned up at public consultations in Auckland and Wellington, with the Christchurch session delayed due to the earthquake.

"Not only those who are always interested and always making submissions," Liddicoat says. "But we've also had some new faces, which was really good."

The HRC has also received a good number of written submissions.

"I think to get 50 or so submissions on something like this, with everything else that's going on in peoples busy lives, I'm really delighted."

Liddicoat says the overwhelming feedback is that the HRC has it right with its summary of how far New Zealand has come in the past 25 years and where it is today. She says there were some areas where people wanted a little more attention and emphasis, which will help add greater depth and more richness to the final product.

"Broadly I think the feedback has been really excellent."

Submissions on the draft chapter close on 27 September. They will then be collated and a revised document will be written and finalised a chapter in the wider New Zealand Human Rights report, which also includes topics such and justice and political rights.

The HRC will then look at what the overall priorities for action are across the entire report.

Liddicoat is hoping the AsiaPacific Outgames Human Rights Conference in March will be an opportunity to focus on particular actions. She is on the organising committee for the law and human rights stream and hints that there are some exciting speakers coming to Wellington.

"I think that's another opportunity, if people want to talk about how we're going here or compare with their brothers and sisters in the region, that will be a place to do it."

Overall, Liddicoat is humbled by the positive feedback from the community. "It's my last year in the commission this year. My term's up next June. And I really want that support to continue for the other queer commissioners and for the commission.... we're really grateful for the support that the community's been giving us."


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Jacqui Stanford - 24th September 2010