Corrections Continues to Fail Transgender Prisoners – And Breaches the Official Information Act

“We are sensitive to the needs of transgender prisoners including the issues surrounding their placement and safety.”

That’s the line we got in every single press release from Corrections about transgender inmates this year. During the hunger strike for Jade Follett, who was being held in Rimutaka, a men’s facility, despite her request for a transfer, that’s what they said (along with denying the existence of her transfer request, considering they lost it). When news broke of a trans woman being assaulted and raped in Wiri, another men’s facility, that’s what they said. If someone confirms the rumours that the prisoner who committed suicide in Mt Eden was trans, that’ll be what they say (as an aside, if anyone has information about this, please get in touch with either myself or No Pride in Prisons). They’ve fallen back on this line over and over again in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

Corrections has never responded satisfactorily to activists and advocates and their demands for better, safer treatment of trans people in prisons. They have not responded satisfactorily to No Pride in Prisons’ attempts to hold them accountable. They did not take responsibility for the rape in Wiri, a direct result of their policy around trans placement and their double-bunking policy. They have not taken any steps to improve their placement policy beyond the Minister of Corrections, Sam Lotu-Iiga, stating that the policy was “fairly new” and that if it kept failing he’d look at changing it.

When the news broke that Jade Follett had been transferred, we kept pushing for more. I was explicit in my interviews with press that this transfer wasn’t the whole issue and that policy around initial placement needed to be addressed, including around remand facilities. It isn’t clear in the Corrections Prison Manual whether trans prisoners are placed in the correct remand facility or whether they’re eligible for transfer while awaiting sentencing, but we know both Jade Follett and Daytona Haenga more recently were in men’s remand facilities – Haenga ended up in protective segregation while in remand.

Corrections also need to address their transfer policy around serious sexual assault – currently a trans prisoner cannot be transferred to the correct and safer facility if they have been convicted of a serious sexual assault against their gender. Anecdotal evidence seems to point to the fact that trans people can be convicted of ‘serious sexual assault’ for not disclosing their trans status before a sexual interaction. Regardless of the details of the conviction, however, deliberately exposing trans women to a 13x higher rate of sexual abuse is torture, and at the very least surely counts as “disproportionately severe” in the eyes of the law. Either way, Corrections’ policy around this is abhorrent and needs to be repealed.

Back in June and July a group of us submitted a range of Official Information Act requests to Corrections asking for information about trans and intersex prisoners and their conditions. Specifically, we asked about how many transgender prisoners there were and where they were being held. Corrections refused to answer, stating “we cannot readily extract statistics about numbers of current and former transgender prisoners from our records,” that they would “be required to manually review a large number of files” to get that information, and that was not “an appropriate use of our publicly funded resources”. Today, Deputy National Commissioner Rachel Leota told Radio NZ that there were 20 transgender prisoners in Corrections facilities.

Where did this data come from? Did they suddenly decide, now that there’s more public focus on these issues, that extracting this data was an appropriate use of public funds? Are our lives and safety only worthwhile when there’s public outcry? Did Corrections take Sophie Buchanan’s advice and find someone to call up the manager of each facility to get an estimate (and respond to RNZ but not the long-overdue OIA request?)

This is just another example of Corrections showing a complete disregard for incarcerated trans people and the advocates trying to improve things.

It’s time for Minister Lotu-Iiga to take action and do something, instead of waiting for Corrections policy to continue to fail trans prisoners with horrific results. It’s time for placement policy to be changed. It’s time for some kind of process, before placement into remand, identifying the needs of trans prisoners and where they need to be for their safety. It’s time to get rid of the frankly torturous serious sexual assault part of the transfer policy.

It’s time for Corrections to take responsibility for the harm they have caused and continue to cause, and to admit that they are not, in fact, “sensitive to the needs of transgender prisoners including the issues surrounding their placement and safety.”

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Ministry of Health Release Information About GRS Funding

The Ministry of Health this morning responded to an Official Information Act request made in August by A.D Tait requesting “any correspondence, briefings, summaries or presentations related to changing the current level of funding for Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS)” as well as “any assessments, briefings or correspondence between the Ministry of Health, DHBs and overseas providers of Male-to-Female SRS, in regards to sending patients overseas for treatment,” as discussed in the Ministry’s response to another OIA request in April.

The outlook is bleak. First off, the Ministry is withholding three emails (falling under the second half of the request, about overseas treatment) between them and ‘the DHB’ on the grounds of “maintain[ing] the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions” (OIA Section 9(2)(g)(i)). What does ‘free and frank expression of opinions’ mean in this context and why do they need to be withheld? Considering Andrew Little and co’s comments earlier this year and the fact that in the Ministry’s own communications released in this OIA they refer to trans surgeries as ‘elective’ I don’t have high expectations. Hopefully a complaint to the Ombudsman gets them to release those emails, or at least give some detail as to the content of them.

The first email in the release is to the Chairperson of the Health Select Committee, Simon O’Connor, from Dr Don Mackie, Chief Medical Officer, about the petition recently delivered by Tom Hamilton and 435 others. The first section is basically a summation of how crap we have it – services aren’t standardised, they’re sparse, and we’re often forced into the expensive private sector for what should be basic healthcare. The second talks about surgeries, overseas options, and the waitlist, and is basically what we already know – 73 people are on the combined AMAB/AFAB waitlist; 5 on the AMAB waitlist who have been already approved will be sent overseas “as soon as the Ministry can confirm an overseas provider”. The final section admits that “there has been little consideration of the provision of a comprehensive gender dysphoria service nationally” and “acknowledges that it is time to review the numbers publicly funded for GRS, and how these may be managed in a timely manner” (though it’s worth noting that in a later email in this release they state they have no timeline for this review).

The second email is, quite frankly, pretty horrific. It’s from a surgeon in Australia (Brisbane from the looks of it) who the MoH are considering as their overseas provider for AMAB GRS. He spends 99% of the email talking about his AFAB GRS experience and practice, stating only that he is “interested to expand this service for MtF [sic] patients at a later stage”. He makes zero mention of any experience performing AMAB GRS. If this is the Ministry’s choice, how can they justify it? A surgeon with no experience who currently doesn’t even perform the procedure they’re looking for? Are they willing to accept an even longer wait for trans fem people? An even longer wait for those 5 people already approved waiting for a provider?

The last email from MoH is in response to a doctor requesting information and clarification for a client about the waitlist and its criteria. The client made a complaint about the “lack of action on making a referral” for GRS. The doctor asks:

“I am aware that the only surgeon in NZ performing this surgery has now retired. In this context, can you please tell me exactly what level of gender reassignment surgery is currently funded via the SHCTP [Special High Cost Treatment pool]? Can you also tell me how you manage the referrals for such surgery and the large waitlist that I suspect must inevitably result. Assuming we are funding some small number of surgeries (in Australia perhaps?), are we able to share what number of people are already on a wait list for surgery so that a newly referred person knows that the wait will be a very, very long time and is [sic] public health funding is probably not a realistic solution for them.

“I am keen and it would be very helpful to be able to give this client accurate information and a realistic account of what she can expect from the public health system, assuming she meets all eligibility criteria (which I’m not confident she does anyway).”

Before even getting into the Ministry’s response the attitude towards GRS and trans healthcare in this email really unsettles me. The eligibility criteria referenced is pretty fucked – requiring 2 psychiatric reports, one psychologist report, and “demonstration of progress in transition” including “dealing with work, family, and interpersonal issues as well as significant improvement/stability in mental health”. Aside from the gatekeeping and hoop-jumping required by that many psych reports (as Megan says on twitter, does any other population need 3 psych reports to get on a funding waitlist?) the “demonstration of progress” shows a real lack of understanding as to trans experiences. My mental health hasn’t improved after coming out and starting transition, and it’s not because transition isn’t right for me. My MH was bad before, it’s bad now. While for the most part dysphoria is lesser and HRT has helped with gender issues, being an out trans woman means I have to face transmisogyny and violence on a daily basis. Show me any other population that faces daily aggression, micro and macro, without that having an impact on mental health. Same goes for “dealing with work, family, and interpersonal issues” – what about those with unsupportive families? Unsupportive workplaces? A social circle that refuses to accept them? What happens to those who end up isolated and alone after coming out? Does this render them ineligible for what is a lifesaving surgery?

Then there’s the super cavalier attitude to how long the waitlist is – realism is good, most of us already know what the wait will be like, but this email shows little to no concern as to this wait and the impact it has.

The response from the Ministry to this is the one where they talk about the timeframe for the waitlist review – “due to the increasing W/L we are looking to review these numbers, but no time frame yet”. Interestingly, they also state that they “should be able to send the first of the W/L off to the preferred provider this year”. This doesn’t align with the single provider they claim to have contacted (seeing as the scope of the request included any correspondence with overseas providers) who doesn’t even perform the procedure yet and likely has zero experience. Unless contact with another provider is in the three emails they withheld (not likely, considering they state these emails are between MoH and DHB) this timeframe seems unlikely, if not irresponsible.

At the very least the Ministry recommend to “always inform the patient fully [about waitlist times] and place them on the W/L anyway”.

Overall, the information included in this release is disappointing at best, worrying at worst. They seem to have made little progress as to an overseas provider, have no timeframe for reviewing the forty year long wait list, and discuss an overzealous, gatekeeping, and misinformed set of criteria for funding. The Ministry of Health need to do better, but while attitudes in this country – both public and political – consider GRS ‘nutty’ and ‘elective’ I don’t hold much hope. I don’t think I’ll ever get the surgery I need, publicly or privately.

Update 30/09: Thanks to some rumours from Oz and some quick detective work (squinting real hard at redacted names in their OIA release and cross-checking where he studied) we’ve found the name of the surgeon MoH are in touch with in Brisbane – Hans Goosser, a urologist with special interests in men’s health, erectile dysfunction, male infertility, and prosthetic surgery. He currently only sees ‘FtM’ patients but plans to expand – we’re still waiting to hear back from MoH about how this fits with their “later this year” timeline for sending ‘MtF’ patients off for surgery, or why this is the only surgeon they claim to have contacted about this.

NO PRIDE IN PRISONS: HUNGER STRIKE FOR JADE FOLLETT

Copied and pasted press release from No Pride in Prisons.

Transgender and queer activists are planning a hunger strike, demanding the transfer of an incarcerated trans woman to a women’s facility. Jade Follett is currently being held in the Rimutaka men’s prison, despite requesting more than two months ago to be transferred to a women’s prison.

According to the group, No Pride in Prisons, Jade is in a precarious situation. ‘We’ve received correspondence from Jade saying she requested transfer to a women’s facility in June, and has yet to see any action taken on behalf of the Department of Corrections,’ says spokesperson Jennifer Katherine Shields.

‘We are very worried about Jade. Although she’s a very strong woman, we know that a men’s prison is not a safe place for a trans woman.’

The group has pointed to a 2007 study which shows that trans women were 13 times more likely than the general population to be sexually assaulted in men’s prisons.

‘However,’ Shields says, ‘the reality of the problem for trans people in the New Zealand prisons cannot be fully known. Corrections refuses to collect and release adequate information about trans women in prison, despite numerous Official Information Act requests.’

‘We are also calling on Corrections to release information regarding the number of trans prisoners across the country, including what facilities they are being held in.’

The group has informed the Department of Corrections that if she is not moved before the 27th of August 2015, they will stage a hunger strike.

‘Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. The fact that Corrections hasn’t done anything about this for two months shows their complete lack of respect for trans people.’

‘We are calling on corrections to immediately transfer Jade to a women’s facility for her to serve out the rest of her sentence.’

According to Movement 03.05.04 of the Department of Corrections’ Prison Operations Manual, all this requires is approval from the Corrections CEO, Ray Smith.

‘Ray Smith must give immediate approval for Jade’s transfer.’

Strikers include prominent community figures and advocates, such as Jennifer Katherine Shields, Emilie Rākete, Aaliyah Zionov, Chase Fox and others.

‘We will hold daily vigils on Auckland’s K’Road until Jade has been transferred.’

‘We will not allow corrections to continue its transphobic disregard of Jade’s safety.’

How Does Stats NZ Define ‘Gender Diverse’?

Earlier this week Statistics NZ released their new standard for collecting information on gender. I’ve already pointed out some problems in the standard, but more information has arisen.

The government-sponsored Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Te Ara, has a definition for ‘gender diverse’. It’s not good.

Te Ara lists as examples of gender diverse people:

  • transsexual people, a term most of the trans community does not identify with – and specifically transsexual people who are medically and/or surgically transitioning,
  • cross-dressers, who are cis and not trans,
  • intersex people, for most of whom intersex is not a gender identity,
  • Māori and Pacific gender identities, the one good thing about this list,
  • and drag kings and queens, usually cis people who are valued more highly than actual trans people.

If this is the standard for which ‘gender diverse’ in New Zealand is referenced back to, then Statistics NZ’s decision is even more harmful. We thought the standard would collect data on non-binary people but make it difficult for other trans people to identify themselves, but this list excludes massive swathes of the community, many of whom have it worst off. If this is what Statistics NZ means by ‘gender diverse’ then they are not going to collect data that accurately represents our experiences and our needs.

Statistics NZ’s ‘Gender Diverse’ Decision

Today Statistics NZ released their decision on creating a new standard for gender identity classification, including “gender diverse” alongside “male” and “female”. You’ll remember that they held extensive discussions with the community via loomio, but today, coincidentally timed, those discussions are no longer publicly available, and the loomio group that gender identity fell under, “ethnicity, culture, and identity” has been closed off. Luckily, I never turned off email notifications from Loomio, so I have most of the discussion archived in my inbox.

The original issue was one of potential confusion, and I’m glad to see that StatsNZ has got past that very very weak excuse. However, the standard they have developed is insufficient and ignores concerns voiced by the community in the loomio discussion process.

(image via GayNZ)

As you can see, this standard separates anyone who identifies as gender diverse from the cis population, only othering us further. As Megan pointed out on twitter, it will capture data on the non-binary population relatively well, but is insufficient for capturing actual data on gender identity overall. It also relies on terminology many in the community refuse to use – such as the typical and frustrating MtF/FtM. It leaves no space for trans women to identify as women, but instead as something Other that relies heavily on “born a man” rhetoric.

Kelly Ellis makes a relevant point on GayNZ: a binary trans woman may elect to tick ‘female’ to not Other herself or invalidate her gender, while someone who, for example, does not experience transmisogyny may tick one of the gender diverse options and thus “skew the picture of poverty that transgender people face.” Essentially, this system would require many of us to marginalise ourselves and our identities by selecting an Othered category in order for important data about our lives and experiences to be collected.

Duncan Matthews, General Manager of Rainbow Youth spoke in the discussion about the importance of accurate data:

duncan

[“A key thing that prevents organisations that are supporting gender diverse communities (RainbowYOUTH, Agender, Genderbridge, OUTLine, to name but a few) is a lack of nationally representative data on the gender identity of New Zealanders.

We have some nationally representative data from the Youth’12 report – where young people were asked the question ‘Are you transgender?’. This provides some information, such as 1.2% of high school students self identify as transgender. But does not provide a broader picture of the gender diverse community across all ages, and ‘transgender’ may not be a term all gender diverse people identify with.

Government organisations, such as DHBs, because of a lack of data around gender diverse people do not allocate funding to services for gender diverse people, and DHBs that are being progressive in attempting to provide services for gender diverse people struggle to determine the demand for the service they will receive. 

In short, until we collect data around gender identity, these populations will continue to remain invisible and not receive the services and support needed.“]

Another important point brought up in the discussion that has not been addressed by this classification standard is one of culturally specific identities. This is especially relevant considering the history of the settler state we live in and the impact colonialism has had on indigenous queer identities. Under this standard, non-Western identities are marginalised further and lumped under “gender diverse not further defined” or “gender diverse not elsewhere classified”. Kiran Foster said it better than I ever could in the discussion:

key

[“Aside from what everyone including myself has already said, I’ll speak here as a person of color and a migrant: I have lived experiences of gender systems and understandings of gender that are different from the pākehā one. Many of my friends are Māori and other people of color whose gender is, similarly, something not adequately documented by the current system or recognised in any way.

Especially as this relates to Māori, I feel that there is an obligation to expand the understanding of gender and the collation of gender data in order to more accurately represent the needs of the people that this colonist state has marginalised.

I don’t think the census can claim to have an accurate result if it does not account for this very fundamental way in which a lot of people of color are alienated and unable to discuss their experience of gender (which is so fundamental to our society), and I think it’s very important for basically every organisation which focusses on especially young people of color or queer people or other marginalised groups to have this information and know how best to support the demographics they are targetting.“]

These concerns all were brought up in the discussion thread and sadly seem to have been ignored. Statistics NZ, the media, and now also the NZ Human Rights Commission are all hailing this as a success, a world first. All this shows is that our concerns have not been heard. The standard, as far as I understand, has only been recommended to be included in the 2018 census (which is also when the next standard review is) so it’s likely it won’t be fixed and included properly until 2023 at the earliest. That’s another 8 years of potentially flawed and insufficient data – data that could save lives.

Update 7:00pm 17/07: Stats NZ have responded to GayNZ’s questions about inclusion in the census and more details on how the standard will be used: they are keeping very vague about its inclusion and say “public submissions on the topics for the 2018 Census closed on 30 June so Statistics New Zealand now has to assess all topics to see what should be included. We have criteria against which all topics are assessed, before testing, and then making a final decision.”

Stats NZ also states that this is a standard and not mandatory for people to use – “so we can’t say how people will apply it.” This leaves the standard open to harmful misuse or misinterpretation – but it may also lessen the harm if organisations allow for people to check multiple boxes in this question – being able to check “female”, “gender diverse not further defined,” and “transgender male to female” as I would. However this does not solve either the wording problems, the Othering problems, nor the problems of culturally specific identities.

Update 7.14pm: A friend just pointed out that StatsNZ’s questionnaire module document states “multiple responses are acceptable” in the standard requirements. StatsNZ also state that a write-in option is preferable, although not mandatory.

Statistics NZ has also confirmed that the loomio discussion is now visible again.

Update 7.49pm: The same friend has pointed out this section on a “synonym report”, which “lists all variations of gender identities, and popular and similar gender identity terms used by the population. This can include abbreviations, slang, and some common misspellings.” We are currently waiting on a copy of this report to examine its scope and see what it includes: my concern is that it will count many identity terms toward a simplistic umbrella such as “diverse”.

PRIDE, INC: A Summary of the Controversy and Why It Matters

This week GayNZ are publishing exposés about Auckland Pride Festival Incorporated (Pride Inc) and its organisation, especially in relation to the events of Pride 2015. I highly recommend going to read them (here and here).

Pride Inc. began as a charity in mid 2012, when three public meetings organised by GABA were held. The meetings showed a community consensus for some kind of Pride parade or festival, and a charitable trust was started. The trust’s objectives included to “foster an environment… for all members of the Rainbow Community to celebrate its sexual orientation and gender idenitity” and “to embrace the principles of Te Tirititi O Waitangi” (bolding mine). The principles included respecting “the diversity of the Rainbow Community of New Zealand/Aotearoa; respect the bicultural heritage of New Zealand/Aotearoa; respect the diversity of cultures in New Zealand/Aotearoa” (again, emphasis mine). The principles also included a line about working to reduce discrimination based on sexual orientation, but no other axes of oppression. The original trust board was to have between 3 and 7 members with the power to appoint replacements for themselves. It could also “from time to time, have regard to the desirability of at least one of the trustees being a member or representative of a particular sector or interest group or within the Rainbow Community… or tangata whenua” (emphasis mine).

Right after Pride 2014, this was all scrapped. Auckland Pride Fest Trust became Auckland Pride Festival Incorporated, and their principles did not include the Treaty obligations, did not include the lines about diversity, bicultural heritage, diversity of cultures, or the board representation for interest groups and tangata whenua.

Pride Inc was no longer a charity. It was this governing board that invited Corrections officers and police to Pride 2015; it was this governing board that is responsible for Emmy’s broken arm.

The new Pride Inc could and did fill its board membership solely on its own without public applications. The new Pride Inc has so many problems with accountability and transparency that its own members have resigned – one, Lexie Matheson, calling the board dysfunctional, noting that she was uneasy with the lack of transparency, and suggesting that two other members, Megan Cunningham-Adams and Daniel Mussett, were dishonest in Pride Inc’s public statement about the resignation of central organiser Julian Cook.

Mussett, in an interview with GayNZ, said: “I think sometimes people forget that … we’re volunteers, so please don’t judge us too harshly. It’s actually really quite hard when you’re a volunteer to be told that you suck, when actually you’re giving up a hell of a lot of your spare time. We really are doing the best we can, with very limited resources.”

Pride Inc’s board changed their mind about speaking to GayNZ about Matheson’s resignation, claiming they’d rather Pride 2015 speak for itself – and it did.

Where Andrew “quite happy with my gender” Little Went Wrong

Today Labour voted on and passed a policy for free gender reassignment surgery for the second time at a regional conference. Seeing as the current waitlist is longer than our average lifespan, this sounds like good news!

Until you read the coverage, and how the higher-ups in the party responded.

“I’m quite happy with my gender” – Andrew Little

Andrew Little apparently hasn’t given the policy any thought, and stated that he was happy with his gender. Okay, great for you, so am I, but just because you don’t have any problems doesn’t mean the rest of us have to go without surgery that’ll save lives and significantly improve mental health and living conditions.

Then there was Stuart Nash, MP for Napier, pulling the “we just don’t have those people here” we’re all too familiar with:

“To be honest, never once in Napier has anyone ever said they’re not going to vote for Labour because we’re not funding gender reassignment surgery.”

The thing is, Nash, there are definitely transgender people in Napier. In fact, with an electorate population of about 70,000, there are probably at least 500 transgender people in your electorate (judging from the 1.2% gained from the Youth12 data). And even if there somehow weren’t, does that mean that transgender people outside your electorate don’t deserve access to healthcare? Would you do this for every group of people with specific healthcare needs? If they’re not in your electorate, they don’t matter? Would you ignore the needs of at least 500 of your constituents if it were any other group of people?

Little and Nash’s views reflect a very serious problem: they don’t care about our healthcare needs, not when it’ll come at the cost of votes. Nash was quoted saying “I don’t think it’s an issue that’s important to the people of New Zealand”. Because public popularity is more important than our lives.

This issue is important to those affected by it. This ‘issue’ is our lives and our well-being. This is a human rights issue, not a policy popularity one.

Cheers to those within Labour who are pushing for this. To the rest: sharpen the fuck up.

I wrote about trans healthcare, lives, and safety in reference to state violence last month: read here

I also spoke about this issue and Labour’s response with GayNZ: read here

Finally, read my appeal for fundraising help here