Transgender people are protected from discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993. In 2008 New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission released To be who I am, a report on an inquiry into discrimination experienced by transgender people.
It recommended that:
- transgender people be able to effectively participate in decisions that affect them
- the discrimination and marginalisation experienced by transgender people be reduced
- access to public health services and treatment be improved for transgender people
- the requirements for changing sex details on official documents be simplified.
Many of the issues faced by transgender people result from difficulties in having legal documents altered to reflect their preferred gender. In New Zealand, the sex recorded on an individual’s birth certificate can be changed if they can provide medical evidence that they have ‘acquired a physical conformation that accords with their gender identity’.1 In the past, the Family Court interpreted this to mean that only those who had genital-reconstruction surgery could apply for a change of sex on a birth certificate. However, in June 2008, the Family Court ruled that full gender-reassignment surgeries are not always necessary to meet this legal threshold.
Transgender people wanting their New Zealand passports to record their preferred gender status can have an X, instead of M or F, in the sex field, even if their birth certificate has not been altered. They must provide a statutory declaration that they live as their preferred gender. Post-operative transsexuals can have the sex in their passports changed to their new sex (M or F, rather than X).
Sex is not shown on a driver’s licence, although it is recorded on the licence records. This means that if a name has been legally changed and a recent photo is used, the driver’s licence may relatively accurately represent an individual’s preferred gender.
In July 2015 Statistics New Zealand introduced a 'gender diverse' category as part of its official statistical standard for gender identity.
Finding employment can be difficult for transsexuals who do not readily ‘pass’ as their preferred gender, and for transgender people who do not wish to pass as one sex or the other. Transgender people may also face discrimination within the workplace, particularly if they transition while remaining in the same job. Employment was the most common area of discrimination identified in the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry, and the Department of Labour has developed factsheets for employers and employees.
Because of the difficulties transgender people have in finding ‘mainstream’ employment, some may take up sex work. However, transgender people also work in many other occupations.