End conversion therapy in Aotearoa

I’ve just hit “send” on my submission to the Justice Select Committee on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill – also known as the “conversion therapy ban”, except it’s not therapy, it’s torture.

Submissions close 8 September. They definitely don’t have to be as long and detailed as mine, they can be more personal, or as simple as “I support the Bill”. The Parliament website makes it really easy to make your voice on this.

What I’m saying is, make a submission on this Bill, because we know that the evangelicals certainly will. And after that, do one for the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill because it’s “be a good ally to our gender diverse whānau” week.

Here’s what I had to say on conversion practices – minus some quirky formatting which WordPress was not happy with!


To the Justice Select Committee

Submission on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill

Kia ora koutou

My name is Stephanie Rodgers. I am a feminist, Pākehā, mother and public servant from Wellington, and I write in support of the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.

I unreservedly support a ban on conversion practices, which are often mislabelled “therapy”. These practices seek to alter or suppress fundamental parts of a person’s identity – their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. They are unscientific, harmful, and grounded in bigotry against those who differ from the norm, because of who they are, who they love or how they live.

The PRISM report released by the Human Rights Commission in 2020 [pdf] stated:

Multiple comprehensive reviews show that people with a diverse sexual orientation and gender identity experience a higher risk of physical and sexual violence than the general population. In most cases, the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity was a factor in the perpetration of the abuse.

This highlights how critical it is for our Parliament to send the message that these facets of a person’s identity and life are valid and worthy, and that it is neither acceptable nor possible to change them by force or coercion. Banning conversion practices is a powerful way to send that message, as well as responding to the specific harms caused to by these practices.

Specific recommendations

I support section 5’s definition of conversion practice, and especially wish to endorse its inclusion of gender identity. New Zealand, following the United Kingdom, has unfortunately become a battleground for trans rights due to a vocal, minority, orchestrated campaign which seeks to marginalize and erase trans and nonbinary people, reaffirm a strict gender binary in society, and position the rights and lives of trans and nonbinary people as antagonistic towards cis women and LGB people.

The reality is that trans people are real and valid; every person’s gender identity is an intrinsic part of themselves which, like sexual orientation and gender expression, cannot and should not be forced or coerced to change; that trans women face misogyny and discrimination based on their gender much as cis women like myself do; and that bigotry against trans people is driven by the same restrictive binaries that are used to oppress cis gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

It would considerably weaken this legislation to remove gender identity from the definition of conversion practices.

I am concerned at the exclusion of the intersex community in section 5. Intersex people also face unnecessary and often non-consensual medical interventions, particularly in childhood, and these should be seen in the same lens as other types of conversion practice, i.e. an attempt to force or coerce someone to suppress their true selves and conform to a rigid idea of sex or gender.

I urge the committee to reject any submissions which seek to exclude gender identity from the definition of conversion practice, or re-frame affirming therapy for trans people as a “conversion practice” against gay or lesbian people. This is simply a tactic used by a transphobic minority to justify abusive and coercive treatment of young trans people, forcing them to pretend to be cisgender, and contributing directly to the extremely upsetting statistics of mental distress and suicidality among trans youth documented in the HRC’s PRISM report:

Youth12 data for suicide rates supported [the findings of the Counting Ourselves report], showing 37% of trans participants had attempted suicide at some point; more than twice the rate reported by same or both-sex attracted young people.

I oppose section 5(2)(a)’s blanket exemption for health practitioners. The 2019 Counting Ourselves report found that:

  • 26% of respondents had experienced a health provider “knowingly referred to [them] by the wrong gender, either in person or in a referral”
  • 21% had experienced a health provider “knowingly used an old name that [they] are no longer comfortable with”
  • 16% had been “discouraged from exploring [their] gender”

These incidents all have the effect of suppressing an individual’s gender identity or gender expression, and when done knowingly, meet the definition of conversion practice in the Bill. However they are not necessarily “outside of the scope of practice” of the health practitioners in question, who should be held accountable for their actions.

I further oppose any exemption for conversion practices performed on religious grounds, or by parents. Such exemptions would render the legislation toothless, and undermine the fact that conversion practices do not work and are never acceptable.

I recently became a mother, and rather than changing my mind on topics like these, having my daughter has only reaffirmed that no parent has the right to force their child to be something they are not.

Everyone has freedom to follow their own religion and practise it how they choose; however, that freedom clearly stops when it becomes an excuse to abuse people. The fundamentalist churches who claim that this Bill will criminalise prayer must have a very different definition of prayer to the mainstream, and if it involves coercing people to change or suppress their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, it should be criminalised.

I propose that section 8 be expanded to include people who are under the care or guardianship of others, regardless of age.

Jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia, despite having a more restricted ban on conversion practice (limiting the ban to people under 18) have explicitly expanded that ban to include people for whom a conservator or guardian has been appointed.

People, including those with disabilities, who are either not permitted to make or assumed to be incapable of making their own medical decisions, are at a much greater risk of having conversion practices imposed on them. They may also be at a disadvantage when advocating for themselves, again because they are assumed to be incapable of doing so.

I question section 9’s reliance on the notion of causing serious harm, or a person’s intent to cause serious harm. Conversion practices are inherently harmful, yet those who commit them typically believe they are in the right and even “helping” the people they are abusing. I am concerned that a requirement to prove that a person “knew” the practice would cause serious harm or were “reckless” about the possibility of causing serious harm creates an obstacle to properly prosecuting and ending these abusive practices. 

I oppose section 12 which requires the Attorney General’s consent for prosecutions under this Act. I refer the Committee to a comparably “contentious” piece of legislation, the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 which abolished the use of parental force for the purpose of correction, and required the Chief Executive of the relevant department to monitor the effects of that Act and report on them two years after the commencement of that Act. I invited the Committee to consider a comparable clause if they believe this legislation requires close oversight.

I note that the report into that Act found no evidence of any detrimental impact on parents “lightly” smacking their children nor any other unintended consequences. This is often the case with pieces of legislation which challenge abusive, but socially accepted practices, and attract overblown, even paranoid responses from those who do not wish to have those abusive practices challenged.

I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Committee.

I commend Parliament for progressing the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill and hope it proceeds smoothly through the remaining stages. It is important, it is necessary, and it is past time to put such practice behind us.

Mother’s Day

(Content note: infertility, mental health, motherhood)

My first post about our ~parenting journey~ is here.

Mother’s Day has never been the most problematic artificially-hyped-to-sell-stuff-parental-celebration holiday for me. I grew up ~without a father~ (he bailed; his loss) so it was always the unthinking way we/marketing departments assume that everyone has A Dad to celebrate, and the consequent erasure of dudes who play an amazing role in kids’ lives, which irked me on an annual basis.

But once we’d started trying to have a baby, and the years of it just-not-happening ticked over, Mother’s Day took on a more personal impact. I wanted to be a mum, and it felt further and further away every year, which was only added to by the doom-and-gloom messages that are constantly around about Women’s Fertility Crashing And Burning Further And Further Every Day You Age Past 35 27 23 18 your own birth.

(This cropped up again last week when TVNZ Breakfast were doing a series of stories on infertility, which were really important but also managed to screen each morning at exactly the time I was feeding the baby and trying to find something to watch on TV. Here’s the thing: the “at 35 your fertility dies” trope is not exactly scientific and we need to have way better conversations about why people actually delay having kids – even if you don’t have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for fertility treatment.)

A part of me assumed I would just never be a mother. Even once we had the resources to do IVF, the odds felt too great. If the grand narrative of my life was going to go one way, it just felt far more likely I’d end up with She Desperately Wanted Children But Could Not Conceive than the Hallmark/Lifetime/TLC movie After Years And Against All Odds, A Miracle.

I’ve had anxiety and depression all of my adult life, so the horrible little voices at the back of my brain telling me I’m doomed are so familiar it’s almost comfortable. And they just got louder every time the TV filled with images of blissful mums-and-bubs and saccharine time lapses of The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have.

(Shout out to the current Pandora jewellery campaign for casting a mother and daughter so close in age appearance that I still can’t quite parse the timeline of your ads!)

Often it felt like a grand signal from the universe to just give up. Because the odds are so against you. Because the obstacles are so real and so high. Because if it doesn’t happen – especially after putting yourself through the ordeal of IVF – haven’t you just wasted years, and money, that could have gone to something better, something more productive?

(I still haven’t even begun to unpack the way my brain obsesses about “productivity”.)

I have many friends who did exactly this. Drew the line in the sand and said, enough. But always with a huge amount of sorrow. That was why we struck that deal with ourselves: three rounds. Enough to say we tried, we gave it our best shot, but it wasn’t meant to be and let’s now focus on what the rest of our lives look like without children.

I honestly don’t know right now if I would have been able to stick to it, or how long it would have taken me to let go, if I could even let go. I didn’t have to find out. We got very, very lucky.

So this year, I celebrate my first Mother’s Day. But not just that: it’s my mother’s first Mother’s Day as a grandmother. My grandmother’s first Mother’s Day as a great-grandmother. As horribly commercial and transparent as it is, that feels very important. At the same time, it brings up everything I’ve been through not just over the past year, but all the years of trying before that, and all the years of wanting and hoping before we could even try. I’m an only child: if I didn’t have a baby, my mother would never be a grandmother. I’m the eldest of my cousins and none of them seem to be interested in having kids any time soon: would we ever have gotten that gorgeous four-generations-in-one-photo?

(And again: let’s talk about how saddling young people with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, in order to get jobs with no long-term security or career path, while housing prices skyrocket, might have the teensiest impact on why millennials and zoomers keep Putting Off Having Children, yeah?)

It should feel like a happy ending. It does. But at the same time I don’t know when I’ll ever stop being just a little bit in mourning for all the grief and stress and painful, painful absence that this day represented for me for so long.

So this one goes to all the people who are still there. Who want to be mums, and can’t for whatever reason, and have to deal with the unthinking assumptions of our culture not just on this day but every other day of the year. It sucks. It doesn’t necessarily get better. I know there’s nothing that can really soothe that hurt because even holding onto hope feels like self-harm sometimes. Look after yourself.


I wrote the above a few days ago. Today, Michelle Duff published an incredibly important article about the Corrections department’s practice of shackling and handcuffing prisoners as they are giving birth, or breastfeeding.

It was probably a mistake to read that on my phone, with baby in arms, right after a feed.

Like I said on Twitter: everyone involved in this – the officers in the room, their direct supervisors, their direct supervisors, and anyone else who had knowledge of this and did nothing to stop it – needs to be fired, possibly into the sun.

It is simply unacceptable that we keep getting these stories coming out of Corrections. It is simply unacceptable that Corrections, and its Minister depending on where we are in the media cycle of any given scandal, thinks they can treat the public like marks who’ll swallow any horror if it has the phrase “security concerns” slapped on it.

This practice is against Corrections’ own stated policy and yet, AND YET,

Children’s Commissioner OPCAT inspectors found prison officers had varying interpretations of when prisoners were “pregnant” or “giving birth”.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

The officers involved in these situations are either ignorant of the basics of their own jobs, or know they’re doing the wrong thing. Either way, they have no place holding those jobs. And their senior leaders, including Kelvin Davis as the Minister responsible, need to stop pretending there’s some third option where oopsie, well-meaning people with the best of intentions just accidentally did a human rights violation oh well let’s commission another review to tell us what we already know: Corrections is not fit for purpose. It is not keeping New Zealanders safe by repeatedly and deliberately brutalising prisoners and lying about it to the public. It is not delivering care to the people it laughably euphemises as such. When pregnant, labouring people are shackled like animals and bullied in their most sensitive moments, Corrections is actively undermining any chance for those people and their families to rehabilitate, to build positive relationships, to feel like they can be a part of our communities.

This cannot be reformed without drastic and immediate action. Call it some kind of transformation rooted in kindness and strengthening the Māori-Crown partnership.

So, Kelvin?

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis was not available for an interview.

Oh.

Do Good Thursday: mental health

This week for Do Good Thursday I’m boosting this fantastic post by Jessica McAllen about the organisations who work bloody hard filling in the gaps in our under-funded, under-resourced mental health system. As we wait to see what kind of government we have for the next three years – and even if it’s a good result, repairing shattered public services is not a quick job – these organisations are still doing the mahi and literally saving lives.

Jess writes:

Organisations like the ones I’ve listed below fill the void while patients slowly climb to the top of the list for DHB care. They provide hope for people with serious mental illnesses who don’t connect with the everyday New Zealander and work to advocate for those who are being treated unfairly within the system. Often these organisations are actually more attractive than DHB psychiatric care because they treat people as an individual rather than a diagnosis.

The past decade has been death by a thousand cuts for such organisations. Many have had to cancel vital programs due to a combination of decreased funding and increased demand. Whether you want to go hard-out and do some suicide prevention training (Lifekeepers) or attend an exhibition of artwork by mental health consumers (Pablos’ annual auction is coming up next month), I hope there’s something in this list for anyone wanting to help.

As an additional good work, consider supporting Jess’ freelace work via Patreon.

If you have any other organisations/projects/awesome ideas to boost, drop them in the comments below.

How we talk about tax: the shiftless hordes and the hard-working rich

This is how Stuff chose to headline an article about the way income tax is paid in New Zealand:

tax brunt
On the Facebook thumbnail, it was even worse:

tax hordes
(Congratulations, baby, you’re part of a horde!)

There are many ways to debunk the entire premise of “some feckless baby-makers just want to live in luxury off the rest of us”, like:

 

You could point out that “just counting income tax and not GST” is a Kiwiblog standard tactic as old as the dinosaurs.

You could ask why “an economist at Infometrics” doesn’t understand that literally every country has “a top 1%” because that’s how percentages work.

And you could focus on the comments from Drs Susan St John and Deborah Russell – experts in tax and inequality who understand the world is far more complex than “income tax in, Working for Families out”. Dr St John says:

“We are all in a negative position when you look at what the state provides. If you have an individual on a given income with no children and someone else with the same income and multiple children, they are not in the same position to pay tax. This gives some degree of horizontal equity.”

And Dr Russell:

“Everyone regards superannuation as an entitlement – they think older people are entitled to support because they cannot work any more.

“But why not apply the same thinking to children as well? They can’t go out and earn money. Children do not choose their parents. They are not possessions or commodity items. We need to think in terms of supporting vulnerable citizens – the sick, elderly and children.”

The article redeems itself somewhat with these quotes – right at the end. But what does the headline tell you? Hordes of people aren’t really paying any tax. A small number of good, industrious people are bearing the brunt of tax. When that’s the way the issue is framed from the get-go, it reinforces a terrible set of ideas we have about tax, society, welfare and community: from “people receiving benefits are bludgers leeching off the rest of us” to “the rich are rich because they work hard and don’t expect handouts” to “tax is a terrible thing and wouldn’t it be great if none of us paid it?”

These ideas have become ingrained, reflexive assumptions, thanks to a concerted, decades-in-the-making effort from the right, but also a failure to provide an alternative set of ideas from the left. We oppose National when it promises tax cuts and spins surpluses out of thin air to make them look reasonable, but we also accept that a government must “live within its means”.

We have tacitly supported the idea that tax is a burden, that government spending should be reined in, that we must avoid at all costs getting hit with the “tax and spend” label. We’ve abandoned the good old socialist rhetoric about where wealth comes from – labour – and why government exists – to ensure wealth is distributed more fairly and support everyone in our society to live a good life. Instead we propose minimal-cost policies and fiscally-neutral spending.

It can feel like an insurmountable challenge, I know! The rightwing rhetoric is so pervasive we don’t even see it as a political statement any more, to say “business creates jobs” or “goverments must deliver surplus”. But we can be bold and challenging and forthright about the principles that matter to us.

We can offer an alternative. It’s what people are crying out for.

Untroll Thursday: Captain Awkward

Inspired by Megan MacKay, Thursdays are #UnTrollTheInternet Day, when we uplift the positive stuff on the internet to remind ourselves that this amazing global platform we share doesn’t have to be a force for vileness.

Captain Awkward is an online advice column which provides refreshingly good advice. It’s not that she tells you to reject all social obligcations and live a free life on a libertarian cruise ship; but she will remind you that it’s up to you to decide whether or not those social obligations are a net benefit or net harm to your health.

I get a little evangelist about her, and have even mimicked her style on occasion.

She’s every “but you have to come to Christmas dinner, it’s family tradition!”-complaining relative’s worst nightmare.

At 830+ letters answered and counting, CA can be a bit intimidating for newbies. Fortunately there is a handy FAQ covering core questions like how to start relationships, end relationships, deal with creeps in your social circles, and avoid the dreaded Darth Vader boyfriend.

Reading Captain Awkward has done wonders for my psychological and emotional health. Another fantastic thing brought to you by the internet.