Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Great Year for Kiwi Trans Cause

Featuring in the Gay NZ New Year's honours list was a pleasant surprise, but on reflection, a promised law change for trans prisoners, integrating them into jails appropriate to their gender, is a very significant step forward. It should also be of no surprise to me that this could be achieved through collaborating with educated, motivated and principled people.

It's nice to have this work recognised and, I guess, because I had my head above the trench further than anyone else, I get the accolades as well as the flak.

A lot of people were pivotal in gaining the commitment from Corrections Minister Anne Tolley to integrate trans prisoners with the gender of their choice. I'm grateful to a number of journalists who I won't name, more for fear of repercussions of forgetting one of the many! We trans people have had better and more positive coverage in the media this year than ever. When Radio NZ runs a story on a new entrant into politics without mentioning that she is transgender, then I think we've really made progress. Without journalists like the ones I've dealt with this year, the fight for this law change would have failed. Thank you, journalist friends.

The team at TransAdvocates - Lexie Matheson, Allyson Hamblett and Kelly Ewing - all had varying but essential roles, keeping on the pressure with their own lobbying and keeping the enthusiasm going when there were setbacks. And setbacks there were, particularly with a venture with no budget coordinated from a ratty laptop on a remote pig farm with marginal internet.

With Jan Logie and Maryann Street taking up the cudgels in Parliament on the issue, the media's interest had already been piqued. The story gathered momentum when the light was shone on two particular trans women's cases here in Whangarei. A plan to challenge the regulations was hatched and the services of the Equal Justice Project at Auckland University were sought. The quality of the report reflects the talent and tenacity of those students who do this pro bono work. The EJP report commissioned by me made its way to journalists and the minister. It hit the national news again and, in my scariest voice, announced on Radio NZ that TransAdvocates Trust was going to challenge the regulations. There followed a resounding silence while the Minister digested the report and its overwhelming arguments in favour of abolishing the physical conformity test used for prisoner placement. Remember its name. The Equal Justice Project.

A special mention should also go in for Suraya Dewing, who not only came and supported the cause in court, but also completed her master's degree with a thesis on trans prisoners. She's a great advocate and someone who really helped me with brainstorming ideas. It's a great feeling having an academic sitting in the back of the court while running a novel argument.

I won't list the politicians and influential people who've helped in one way or another. Just being a fan of our facebook page adds credibility and provides a conduit whose value can't be underestimated.

Kelly Ewing, my partner, who tolerated what some might have seen as a bit of an obsession, showed tolerance, courage and commitment. Both she and Dave, our son, unexpectedly stepped up to the mark and into the glare of camera lights as Luisa Wall's Marriage Equality Bill went through the select committee. I'm very proud of my family, but I've always been conscious that doing high profile work would have an impact on them. As part of the "bitter flak" mentioned in the GayNZ article, she also became a target at one point. Despite this, both she and Dave believe so passionately in advancing trans people's presence and influence, they went on 60 Minutes. They stole the show. It was run four times this year. In doing so, they outed themselves in a small rural community. Scary though that was, it wasn't so bad. Country folk are more interested in having good neighbours than worrying about things like gender history or sexual orientation. Which, I guess, can't be said for all, particularly in light of the two Law Society complaints that came from one loony who claimed I'd misled the court about a transgender client.

But when I look around at the staunch support and cooperation that was focused on advancing trans causes this year, it's no surprise that we've done great things.

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