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  • Henry Broadbent

Winnie Wants to Look at Your Junk

Updated: May 20

A solution in search of a problem


HENRY BROADBENT (HE/HIM)


CW: Transphobia, Sexual Violence, Winston Peters

On May 10th NZ First announced the 'Fair Access to Bathrooms' Members' Bill. If passed, the Bill will mandate that all new commercial buildings must have unisex and single-sex bathrooms, and will introduce a fine under the Summary Offences Act for "anyone who uses a single-sex toilet and is not of the sex for which that toilet has been designated". 


In the week since, reactions have been rolling in. Really, one reaction. Something along the lines of: ‘what the fuck?’. 


Peters, in announcing the Bill, made his international inspiration clear—Tories—citing “a similar move in the United Kingdom this month”.


This is the same UK Conservative Government that risks being listed as a “human rights abuser” by multiple international NGOs thanks to, among other things, its crackdown on basic democratic freedoms.


Rishi Sunack, the (unelected) UK Prime Minister, has also repeatedly hinted at leaving the European Convention on Human Rights—so his government can deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, a state with a well-established track record of repression and disregard for international law.


Great role models, Winnie.


The Bill is allegedly aimed at stopping “the growing trend of mixed-sex toilet spaces which [allegedly] impact the privacy and dignity of everyone utilising these facilities”. Nobody asked, but NZ First is here to save us from the utter debasement of peeing in a closed stall.


The Bill is so absurd that spending time addressing its premise feels somewhat like a waste of time, so we’ll be quick. In a press release, Winnie justified the Bill “primarily in the interest and safety of women and girls”.


Briefly, there is no evidence in Aotearoa of anyone ever using the ‘transgender defence’ for illegal conduct. This is an imaginary narrative. Courts have repeatedly found that people uncomfortable with sharing such spaces can seek out privacy—rather than forever stigmatising trans people. Trans people are already using the bathrooms they have the right to. Cis men are the demographic that perpetuates sexual violence against women, at epidemic rates. The worst of this violence is experienced by trans women. Essentially, this is a non-issue.


But let’s be real. This Bill has a number of motivations, and none of them are ‘protecting women’. Similar legislation elsewhere hasn’t averted any harm—and data bears this out. Instead, it has actively harmed trans people, and breached their rights. Whether the Bill passes or not, Peters may embolden violent transphobes by giving their bigotry the veneer of state-sanctioned legitimacy. Fear of violence is already a daily reality for our trans whānau, and the mere suggestion of this Bill makes that reality more fraught. 


Should it pass, trans people will face a heightened risk of harassment—and one response to an increasingly dangerous environment is to avoid it. This Bill will make merely existing in public more dangerous for trans and gender nonconforming people, therefore eroding their fundamental right to participate in a shared world. Further, in US states with similar legislation, literal ‘pee police’ have spent their time on God's green earth harassing cis women with ‘androgynous’ features—harassment that particularly affects people of colour. 


The Bathroom Bill also operates in a similar way to ACTs inane tirade about ‘woke food’—as a misdirect. As long as we’re trying to keep the State out of our bathrooms (seriously, fuck off) we’ll have less time to think about the fact that the suicide prevention office now has zero full-time staff, beneficiaries are increasingly penalised, cost of living is spiraling, oil and gas exploration is ramping up, the rights of disabled people are being erroded, landlords are given tax breaks, and the government is going to war on Māori. Look after your trans whānau, and keep an eye on the coalition. These are not mutually exclusive.

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