While New Zealand’s new self-identification process is great news for many transgender, intersex, nonbinary and takatāpui people, the move is being seen as a step backwards for those not born in Aotearoa.

The new process that launched last week makes it easier for people born in New Zealand to amend their registered sex on their birth certificate. 

The new process also introduces an additional gender term, meaning those with a New Zealand birth certificate can now apply to amend their registered sex to male, female or non-binary.

Previously, applying to have a birth certificate amended this way required an application to the Family Court, as well as proof of medical treatment, which is no longer necessary. 

While this is a positive step for people born in New Zealand, Tabby Besley, Managing Director of InsideOUT Kōaro, said it’s disappointing there’s not yet a solution for those born overseas.

“We’re really pleased to see this [new process] come through,” she said.

“It replaces what was a really lengthy and more expensive process for something a lot more simple and administrative.

“A lot of people don’t realise the impact it can have not having your documents line up … It’s the kind of thing that can improve people’s wellbeing by just not having this sort of systemic microaggression of going somewhere and things not matching up or not being able to be true to who they are.

“So, it’s going to make a big difference for people, however, of course we are really disappointed that there’s not yet a solution for those born overseas.”

‘They think you're committing identity fraud’

The absence of that solution is especially difficult for transgender refugees and asylum seekers living in Aotearoa, according to advocacy group Rainbow Path.

The Department of Internal Affairs says it’s looking at ways for some people to amend their name and gender on their citizenship record, and for refugees to amend those same details on their Refugee Travel Document.

But Rainbow Path committee member Amur, who only wanted to go by their first name, said the group is worried those proposals won’t actually work for trans refugees and asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers often have to wait years to be accepted as a refugee and therefore don’t qualify for a Refugee Travel Document. 

Even when people do have that document, Amur said many institutions won’t accept it. 

And if the name on that document doesn’t align with the person holding it, those problems become even worse.

“When you have a mismatching document, no one will accept it and you cannot get essential  services, like opening a bank account … or get an IRD [number],” Amur said.

“[That means] they can't find a job, they can't apply for benefits, they can't do anything. They can’t just go to the hospital or get medication.

“Basically, if you speak with an accent, everywhere you go, the first thing they ask [is] ‘are you a resident?’ 

“You always have to prove that you are eligible, and to prove that, part of that is to show your documents, show your visa and stuff. And if any of those things either don't match … or the document doesn't look like you, they will think you're committing identity fraud. They won't accept it.”

Amur said the situation is also incredibly dangerous for transgender refugees and asylum seekers. 

“We were persecuted because we are trans.

“Every time we show our document, people know we are trans and sometimes people will know that we are a refugee or asylum seeker as well, and that’s not only dangerous for us, but also dangerous for our families back home.”

‘Political football’

The Government said it’s deferred further work on developing a process for people born overseas to register their gender.

At this stage, there is no straightforward way to develop a solution that will address the issues that transgender people born overseas face when needing to use official identification,” a spokesperson for the Department of Internal Affairs said.

“The Government remains committed to supporting transgender people born overseas to effectively use identification. 

“This policy work may be revisited once it is clear how digital identity tools might contribute to a solution.”

But Rainbow Path committee member Jack - who asked Re: News to only use his first name - is doubtful about this commitment.

“Refugees are a political football and rainbow refugees are a double political football. There’s no votes to be won on achieving this,” he said.

“And it's ironic, because [the Government] talks about bread and butter issues … There's nothing quite as bread and butter as having a document that means you can travel through your life, you can do the ordinary things in your life without always wondering if someone's going to think you're committing identity fraud or are going to refuse your service.”

Amur agrees, saying it’s humiliating not having a usable ID. 

“When it's an identity document, it's not just a document, it's like who you are, everything about you. When that's not recognised, it's like you're less of a human, basically.”

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