New Zealand's first transgender MP Georgina Beyer says Government 'dithering' on changing sex on birth certificates

New Zealand's first transgender MP Georgina Beyer says the Government is "dithering" on legislation that would allow people to change the sex on their birth certificate.

Beyer, who served as a Labour MP from 1999 to 2007, is calling on the Government to progress proposed changes to the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR Bill), to help the trans community. 

"I don't know why the Government is dithering. Just deal with it one way or another. It certainly has to be addressed because it's causing too much angst for the transgender community today," Beyer told Newshub.

"It's vital to be able to do that, to change your gender identity in a far more streamlined, accessible, non-judgemental way."

Labour's cooperation partner the Greens support the legislation, and so does National, but documents obtained by Newshub show the Government has been sitting on recommendations for a year. 

The original purpose of the BDMRR Bill was to make it easier for people to understand and improve access to digital information about identities.

The Bill was deferred in February 2019 by former Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, after a parliamentary committee wanted to include changes to the process for changing sex on birth certificates, which proved to be contentious.

New Zealand's first transgender MP Georgina Beyer.
New Zealand's first transgender MP Georgina Beyer. Photo credit: Getty

The committee sought to replace the Family Court process with self-identification, over concerns the current process is inaccessible and confusing.

Allowing people to change the sex on their birth certificate through self-identification would align with the process for passports and driver licences. Birth certificates are trickier though, because passports and driver licences are 'point in time' documents, while changing a birth certificate affects the chain of identity.

What happened to the proposal?

When Martin deferred the Bill, she announced work to make practical improvements to the current process to change the sex recorded on birth certificates.

Information obtained by Newshub shows a working group was set up - which Beyer was briefly on - and its report was delivered in early 2020. A Government response was drafted by the Department of Internal Affairs, but consideration was delayed because of COVID-19.

A year on and there has been no progress. The documents obtained by Newshub show officials have urged the new Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti to progress the Bill.

"There is significant public interest in a review of the process to change the sex on birth certificates," the advice says. "Failure to review the process would disappoint affected communities and likely gain significant public attention."

Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti.
Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti. Photo credit: Getty

Officials recommended Tinetti provide her feedback on the draft Government response and communicate her decision on whether she will take the paper to Cabinet by December 18 last year.

"If she withdraws it, and that's the end of it, then all hell will break loose as far as the transgender community and the other advocates," says Beyer.

Tinetti told Newshub she's still working through it.

"I think for me as a new minister, it's been for me to actually work through the Bill and where it is, and work with my officials," she said. "I'm trying to progress that as quickly as I can."

Support from National and Greens

National's internal affairs spokesperson Todd Muller says the delay seems "extreme and unjustifiable", even factoring in COVID-19. 

"If there are changes to the Bill we would expect it to go back to the select committee for consideration, even if it was a shortened process. It is critical that the public has the opportunity to engage on this often very personal issue," he told Newshub.  

"National continues to support the broad principle of New Zealanders being able to access their birth certificate and, if necessary, make any changes more efficiently."

Green Party rainbow spokesperson Dr Elizabeth Kerekere says she will be pushing the Government to act on the recommendations.

"I think it's critical that our trans, intersex and non-binary whānau should be able to self-identify their gender and that should be consistent across all their documents of identity," she told Newshub.

National's internal affairs spokesperson Todd Muller.
National's internal affairs spokesperson Todd Muller. Photo credit: Getty
Green Party rainbow spokesperson dr Elizabeth Kerekere.
Green Party rainbow spokesperson dr Elizabeth Kerekere. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"We already have world-leading processes for our passports and for our driver licences and it makes no sense then that it cannot be made consistent with birth certificates, because if you've been somebody who's travelled and your documents do not line up, it causes problems in many different ways."

The new process would mean adults, as well as 16- or 17-year-olds with parental permission and approval from a health professional, could make a statutory declaration to change their registered sex.

They would be required to undergo medical treatment and identify as male or female - there would be no non-binary option. 

The latest Ministry of Health data shows there are 255 people on the waiting list for publicly funded gender reassignment surgery, up from 198 in 2019.

It's funded by $2.99 million from Budget 2019 over four years and is only expected to enable the delivery of up to 14 surgeries per year.