Speak Up for Women to hold Auckland event after High Court legal drama

Speak Up for Women to hold Auckland event after High Court legal drama
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Feminist group Speak Up for Women is set to hold a public meeting in Auckland tonight after High Court legal drama.

The group has been holding meetings throughout New Zealand to discuss sex self-identification clauses within the Births, Death, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill. A proposal is due to be before Parliament that would allow people to change the sex, as mentioned on their birth certificate, by statutory declaration.

Currently, people who want to change their gender identity have to go through the Family Court process so their birth certificate can be legally changed, but the amendments would allow changes to be made via a simpler statutory declaration.

Speak Up for Women has recently faced several hurdles when trying to hold its meetings. They had planned to hold an event at a council-run library in Palmerston North about the issue, but it was cancelled just days before it was due to be held.

But a High Court ruling on Friday determined the group was allowed to hold their meeting since Speak Up for Women "cannot rationally be described as a hate group".

Their event in Auckland was also cancelled due to health and safety concerns, but it was later moved to a different council-run building.

In the High Court hearing, counsel for both Auckland and Palmerston North City councils said it was neither councils' position that the case was about "hate speech". 

Speak Up for Women spokesperson Beth Johnson says the group has faced trouble with councils in almost every town they've tried to hold a meeting.

"The reasons [councils gave for cancelling] were to do with generalised health and safety concerns to do with the wellbeing of the community and staff. They were all quite vague concerns but all the councils had similar kinds of concerns," she tells Newshub.

"Actually, what's happening is a number of our political opponents who are activists are targeting these venues and asking that we be cancelled, and the councils have been caving into that."

Both the Christchurch and Dunedin city councils refused to allow the group to hold meetings.

The meetings involve talking about the impact the proposed Bill will have on women and girls, Johnson says, since it will "actually replace biological sex with the concept of gender identity in our laws".

"There are obviously people on the other side of this argument that are really keen for that law to pass without any scrutiny, and that's why we've been painted in the way that we have for so long by these activists."

The group has been criticised as anti-transgender - something they reject.

"We don't accept that talking about women's rights is synonymous with being anti-trans. You can be positive about trans inclusion and improving the rights of transgender people and still want to protect women's rights, and that's the position our group takes," Johnson says.

The Auckland event is being held in the Town Hall complex on Sunday from 6:30pm to 7:30pm. It was originally meant to be held at the Ellen Melville Centre.

Before the High Court made its ruling, Auckland Council customer and community services director Dr Claudia Wyss said its community venues are available for the public to use, as long as the event is safe and the location is suitable for all involved.

"We have offered the group a number of alternative venues for the event and remain open to working with them to identify a suitable venue," she said.

Johnson says anyone is welcome to attend their meeting, regardless of their viewpoint.

"Our political opponents have been clear that they don't want us to be heard because when we are heard, people can hear that we're reasonable and we have genuine concerns," she says.

"It's a lot more nuanced than just being pro or anti something, it's about doing something right and actually advancing the cause of transgender people whilst also protecting and enhancing women's rights, and I believe those things are possible if we can talk to each other."