Dark Jester

A political scholar with an interest in foreign interference. Traditional conservative. Came out of a family that fled communism and improved themselves thanks to capitalism but would consider myself a distributionist.

On the night of July 15th, Speak Up for Women NZ stopped off in Wellington as part of ‘Let’s Talk About Sex Self-Identification’, their series of public talks to discuss the proposed ‘Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill’ that is currently before Parliament. The talk was given by Beth Johnson, the group’s spokesperson. 

Who is Speak Up For Women?

Speak Up For Women is a group of feminists who are concerned by the ‘Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill’ which allows a person to change their sex on their birth certificate and other identity documents. The group is concerned that the bill has gone through without proper due process or public consultation. They are concerned with the potential implications of the bill, such as biological males accessing exclusively female services.

The group was established in 2018 and came to prominence after being banned from Massey University, which led to ACT MP David Seymour hosting their ‘Feminism 2020’ event at Parliament. Since then the group has been one of the prominent groups in the free speech debate.

Feminism 2020 at parliament hosted by ACT Party leader David Seymour

The event

The talk outlined why the group opposed the bill. Their concern was that the bill would allow males to access services, spaces and rights that were exclusive to and for females: rights that the feminist movement had all fought for. These rights were now in conflict with transgender rights, a conflict they described as a clash of rights. The group believed that the bill had been rushed through the House without proper consultation and that the government should allow more time for that.

It was quite dark as we walked toward the venue. When we got there, there was a large crowd of protesters waiting outside. They were in the dark, as they had been moved to the carpark next to the Centre. A solitary woman carrying a sign guarded the door. The sign she carried was a smaller version of the billboard that the council had removed before the event.

After just 24 hours, GO Media have pulled down a billboard which displayed simply the dictionary definition of the word ‘woman’ along with the website address speakupforwomen.nz. Photo: Twitter

Another woman inside let us in and we were directed to the second floor to the room where the talk was being held. We were late when we walked in so the seats were full. There were maybe a couple hundred in the room, with people standing and watching. A few of the people sitting there had ‘I Love JK Rowling’ merchandise including T-Shirts and stickers.

The talk began with a video made by the group. It outlined the history of the bill, which would have gone through with very little public consultation. However, after a successful campaign by Speak Up For Women, the bill was shelved by then Internal Affairs Minister Tracy Martin. Now with a new Internal Affairs Minister, the bill is back on the agenda.

The talk then moved toward talking about what feminism is and how female rights would clash with trans rights. Their solution was more public discussion with the hope that transgender rights could be respected in a way that would not endanger women.

They also discussed that while freedom of discrimination in the Human Rights Act 1993 was guaranteed under section 21 there were exceptional circumstances that made discrimination necessary, such as under section 43 which allows the maintenance of separate facilities for each sex on grounds of public decency or safety.

The talk also discussed several cases in Canada which are at the forefront of this debate including Jessica Yaniv, who sued 15 clinics for refusing to do a Brazilian wax on his genitals and the case of Karen White, a registered sex offender who, after identifying as a woman, was moved to a women’s prison where he subsequently sexually assaulted female prisoners.

While the talk was received quite peacefully, it was at the Question and Answers that things became lively. When asked how they would reach out to the protesters outside, Beth Johnson replied that it was sad that the kids outside had been told by adults that Speak Up For Women hates trans people – which was not true.

The event was also attended by members of the group Queer Endurance/Defiance who organised the protests outside. The group extended an invitation to the audience to a public discussion on the bill. The debate started when one of the members made the claim that Maori god Whakatane was transgender, which was disputed by another member of the audience. Another member of the audience asked a question that seemed to imply that the fight for trans rights was the same as that for Maori rights. This set off a debate when a woman in the audience asked if the man thought that Maori-only spaces were allowed. When the man answered yes the woman then began to ask if female only spaces were therefore allowed, before the speakers settled them down.

I managed to get some time with Beth Johnson, who was prepared to keep on fighting despite the looming hate speech laws, and who was willing to go to prison. She also had observed a fracturing of the feminist movement over this issue. Speak Up For Women will continue to fight the bill. At the moment it is at the second reading and the group is encouraging people to submit. When I told her my political leanings I was quite struck by her reaction. She smiled and said, “It’s interesting how these are no longer left or right issues, now there are some issues coming up which reach across the aisle”. 

As we left the event that night the security guard attempted to sneak us out the back door; however, we were confronted by the protesters outside, who began chanting, “Trans rights are human rights”, while giving us rude hand gestures. This was the first time I was given a proper look at the protesters. Most were dressed in black reminiscent of Antifa. Reflecting back on that night, I have to ask, what about the right to disagree?

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A ‘Clash of Rights’
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