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Sunday, October 30, 2005

PM gives Beyer's bill the chop

Stuff.co.nz
30 October 2005
By HELEN BAIN

Prime Minister Helen Clark has told transsexual MP Georgina Beyer that her bill to protect transgender people from discrimination is "history", and Beyer blames a "climate of intolerance" for its demise.

Beyer's bill, the Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill, was drawn late last year in the ballot that decides which private members' bills will be considered.

But its journey through the parliamentary process was delayed until after the election because the government got campaign jitters about its subject.

Now, Beyer says, Clark and Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen have said her bill won't be revived.

The bill, like all legislation left on the table when the last parliament was dissolved, has lapsed, and would need to be included in a carry-over motion to be debated in the new parliament.

Beyer said her bill was the victim of a growing climate of intolerance in parliament and society.

"I feel quite disappointed that I have had to capitulate. The political landscape has changed... They want to appease the more conservative elements that have come to the fore in recent years. It is quite alarming when you see this growing tide."

Progressive legislation in previous terms, such as the Civil Union Act and legalisation of prostitution, had fanned discontent among conservative voters, and the current social climate would not accept her bill, Beyer said.

"I want to see this issue dealt with sensibly, without the accumulated backlash - it is not a safe environment for the transgender community if we have this debate now."

Beyer said the appointment of National MP Wayne Mapp as spokesman for eradication of political correctness showed that it would now be "open slather" in attacking minority rights.

National would have "jumped on (the bill) with very emotive and divisive tactics," Beyer said. Even if Labour had supported the bill, it is unlikely that the parties supporting the government, NZ First and United Future, would back it.

NZ First leader Winston Peters said before the election that the bill would result in cross-dressing teachers in New Zealand classrooms.

"We realise that as a party we are going to have to knuckle down and maintain stability, rather than get caught in their venom," Beyer said.

Beyer said the bill would have protected a minority which was vulnerable to discrimination and had no protection in the law.

"Who would have thought that to protect such a basic human right would be such a contentious issue?"

Beyer was determined to continue to fight for rights of transgender people. "It will probably appear that I have lost this battle but the war is not over yet."

She hoped the issue would be addressed through a Human Rights Commission proposal currently before the government.

Beyer has spoken to transgender Auckland fashion designer and performer Linda Le Pou, also known as Lindah E, who was prevented from presenting an award at the Pasifika Music Awards, and was encouraged that Le Pou might take a "test case" in the fight against discrimination.

Le Pou is in mediation with the Human Rights Commission over the matter.

Mapp said the gender identity bill was a classic case of political correctness and he was pleased it would not proceed.

"It is taking things to a ridiculous extent. I'm not suggesting open slather on discrimination, but why do we need a special law for transgender people?

"It's a choice issue - that's a choice she made."

New Zealand did not need law for "that sort of thing" because laws should uphold the rights of mainstream society, not be "captured by a minority".

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