Sex Self-Identification in New Zealand

Women's rights group Speak Up For Women targeted and censored

On July 13, a billboard paid for by women’s rights group Speak Up For Women was removed following backlash on social media. The billboard, displayed in downtown Wellington, simply stated the dictionary definition of the word ‘woman’.

The billboard design and inspiration is derived from the work of UK-based women’s rights activist Kellie-Jay Keen Minshull (Posie Parker), whose “adult human female” billboard was labelled as hate speech and removed from a building in Liverpool in 2018.

The Wellington billboard was removed just 24 hours after it was displayed in response to a campaign orchestrated by a small group of trans activists on Twitter who filed a total of 34 complaints with the company commissioned by Speak Up For Women, Go Media. Netizens referred to the definition of ‘woman’ as hate speech and ‘transphobia’ and encouraged others to fill out a feedback form found on Go Media’s website.

Speak Up For Women responded with a press statement, “We will not be silenced”, explaining that a recent high court judgement found the organization could not be classified as a hate group. The case centered around the city councils of Dunedin and Christchurch, which had both denied SUFW the use of public venues for conducting meetings due to their opposition to a bill which would allow sex self-identification. Mayor of Lower Hutt, Campbell Barry, had last week posted derogatory remarks about SUFW on Facebook, saying, “If this group needs a venue in the Hutt, I've got some nice new waste bins they can use.” Barry has since issued an apology on Twitter which doubled down on his insinuation that Speak Up For Women had participated in hate speech.

“We’ve been here before and I won’t lie, it is exhausting. We have made it clear from day one that our issue is with law and the conflation of sex and gender. We have never wished harm on trans people and quite frankly, if these activists have proof that we have it is time they shared it. We are told that these activists speak for the most vulnerable group of people in the world, but the power they wield in local and central government indicates that they are simply a powerful lobby group,” Speak Up For Women’s spokesperson Beth Johnson said.

Being unable to deny the women’s right to convene, the city council of Wellington prepared a symbolic gesture of disapproval: the Michael Fowler Centre, where Speak Up For Women held a talk on July 15, was lit up in the colors of the transgender flag during their event. In the group’s press release, Beth Johnson responded:

“Told by their lawyers that they cannot shut down our event, three Wellington Councillors – including the Mayor Andy Foster – have decided to use their positions to have the location of our event lit up in trans flag colours. We would have no issue with this were it individuals exercising their own freedom of speech, but this is the power of the council trying to intimidate us again.

“We are just a growing group of women who want to discuss our legal rights. We are not seeking to harm anyone and in fact are simply advocating that the existing law should remain. We are bullied, silenced, and intimidated by people who are never challenged to supply proof of our ‘crimes’. We will not be silenced. We will hold our event. We will continue to advance conversations about the law and how we can deal with the tensions between biological sex and gender identity in practice.”

Since that time, the Advertising Standards Authority investigated complaints about the billboard, and decided that “The majority of the complaints board said in the context of advocacy advertising the advertisement was socially responsible and did not reach the threshold to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence, did not cause fear or distress without justification and was not misleading.”

Currently, the government is holding a public consultation on the bill containing sex self-identification clauses which is open to members of the public living overseas as well as New Zealanders. The deadline for submitting a response is Tuesday, September 14, and Speak Up For Women is asking for international support in opposing the legal erasure of women.