He waka eke noa – we all belong in this waka together. This whakatauki is about equality – about not leaving anyone behind.
As a progressive country, New Zealand prides itself on being world leaders in human rights – from votes for women, to decriminalisation of sex work, equal rights is a strong part of how kiwis see themselves.
But a small handful of anti-trans extremists, or ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’ (TERFs) are attacking the human rights of transgender people, usually with a focus on transgender women, and sometimes with a focus on retransition (or “detransition”) for trans men.
These anti-trans fanatics say that letting trans women have equality would mean non-trans women have less rights. They also say organisations like RainbowYOUTH are using conversion practices to turn all the lesbians into trans men.
We’re going to take a look at some of their claims and actions, to see if anti-trans campaigners are really the feminists they claim to be, and find out how to spot an anti-trans campaign when you hear one.
First, lets hear what real feminists have to say.
What do feminists think?
“Trans women’s rights are women’s rights – and women’s rights are human rights” said National Council of Women Chief Executive Gill Greer.
“Like others, the National Council of Women supports the inclusion of trans women’s needs in all conversations about gender discrimination. In many cases, trans and gender diverse people are experiencing serious barriers that all feminists – and actually, all New Zealanders – should care about.”
ActionStation – a “community of over 180,000 New Zealanders”, issued the statement today which expressed that:
“Trans women are so acutely oppressed, marginalised and dehumanised in our society. They experience some of the highest levels of sexual and physical violence in Aotearoa, and young trans people are five times more likely to attempt suicide.”
[see Counting Ourselves, 2019].
Women’s groups and feminist groups are pretty unanimously in support of transgender rights, and recognise that trans women are women. They also tend to campaign on issues such as the pay gap, reproductive rights, sexual violence, benefit rights, rights for single mums, rights for sex workers, nurses, caregivers, and in other industries with predominantly women workers.
What do anti-trans campaigners think?
Anti-trans campaign groups tend to only campaign against transgender rights. They may have campaigns about women in sport, schools, and healthcare – but all of these focus on stopping transgender people from accessing these things. They’re not usually interested in women’s rights in any broader way.
The anti-trans extremist movement, primarily voiced in 2019 by creative writing student and anti-trans anti-sex worker campaigner Renée Gerlich, insists that trans women are “mostly” heterosexual European men.
They claim that indigenous genders don’t really exist, and push a deeply flawed and transphobic ideology, with false information and discredited studies as their evidence.
They claim that not being offered a platform to campaign against transgender human rights means that trans people have a major conspiracy of corporate backing, blackmail, and having every political party in our collective pocket.
They believe that almost all cisgender women agree with them, and furthermore claim that transgender people – who are 1% to 2% of the population – will “drown out” and “silence” cisgender women (who are around 50% of the population). They refuse to hear that most cisgender women really don’t share their anti-trans views. [photo evidence]
What are anti-trans campaigners doing?
Their activism against transgender human rights includes an open letter by Renee Gerlich which attempted to defund RainbowYOUTH and InsideOUT, New Zealand’s two biggest LGBTQI+ youth organisations. In the open letter, Renée advocated against transgender people’s access to health care, supportive social environments, and respect.
Renée Gerlich and Charlie Montague (who has also done public political work between 2016 and 2019 under the names Emily Dyer and Charlie Dyer), crashed the Auckland Pride parade to jump in front of the media earlier this year, with a banner which falsely implied lesbian youth were being forced to take hormones and become trans men.
The media weren’t interested, but far right religious fundamentalist group Family First was only too happy to share their story – even featuring an article about them on it’s website, which may suggest more than just a shared ideology. Interesting, considering Family First opposes LGB adoption and ‘same sex’ marriage.
Just months later, one dressed up as a giant penis called ”Dick Surprise” to highlight her opinion of trans women, harassing staff at a gym which said it would welcome trans women. ”Dick Surprise” is a reference to ”trans panic defense” which is a legal tactic to excuse the murder of trans women, because the murderer was so ”surprised by a dick”.
In the following months, they printed stickers and posters which again posed as affirmative statements for lesbians, while attacking trans women – including trans women who are lesbians and their partners (photos below). [photo evidence]
Are they an organised group, or just a handful of bigots?
In 2019, an anti-trans campaign group formed to oppose proposed amendments to the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationship Rights Act, which is currently being debated in Parliament.
The Bill proposes that it be made simpler for transgender people to change their birth certificate so that the gender marker matches with their experience. This would change from a complex and expensive court process to a simple administrative process, much like the current process to change the gender marker on one’s passport.
“By recommending a similar process to updating a passport or driver’s license, the Select Committee is bringing New Zealand in line with international human rights law and with the Government’s own Rainbow Policy” said The Human Rights Commission of New Zealand
“These changes will have very little impact on the non-transgender community, as a passport can be used as proof of identity in most circumstances. They will have a very significant impact on the takatāpui, trans and non-binary people in those instances where a birth certificate must be shown” said a joint statement in support of the Bill, co-signed by over 30 organisations and individuals.
September 6th 2019, anti-trans campaigners held a public talk, entitled ”Speak up for women”.
Their chosen venue, Thistle Inn, turned out to be a fabulous ally to the trans community, and canceled their booking once they knew what the event was really about. Likewise, the print shop they had used also refused to print for them again, after realising the anti-trans agenda.
However the meeting went ahead, with 25 attendees which included 7 in opposition to the hate group, along with 8 men and 10 women who appeared to be in support of it. This included the speakers Georgina Blackmore and Charlie Montague.
The meeting began with a personal statement from an anti-trans group in the UK being read aloud, thanking and encouraging the NZ based anti-trans group. Much of the support for the anti-trans group appears to be UK based, and Renee’s Twitter following is largely UK based.
During Q & A, a school teacher from the audience spoke in support of trans rights, and a trans woman questioned whether they wanted her to use the male toilet. The speakers spoke over her and did not let her speak. They appeared to be confused and unsure how to answer, at one point asking the trans woman ”can I be a trans woman?”, and asserting that if she can’t be a trans woman then trans women are not women. Unfortunately it escaped her that she is also not a Maori woman, but it does not follow that Maori women are not women.
At least one trans woman endured an hour of listening to people say her existence is a threat to their safety. Meanwhile, one of the speakers tweeted about how great it was to have ”people who ID as trans” present to ”hear different ideas”. It was unclear to participants whether her aim was to manipulate and mislead public perception as to the purpose of the meeting, to incite hostility, or if she simply lacked basic self awareness. The latter seemed to participants the most unlikely.
2020: Speak up for women event, supported by New Conservative party and ACT party leader
SUFW attempted to hold a 2020 event at Massey university, but the Massey Wellington Students Association called for the event to be cancelled. It penned a petition, saying ”By providing a platform for a hate group to speak on our campus, Massey University is putting ‘freedom of speech’ over the safety of its staff and students. This petition gained over 1,300 signatures in the first 5 hours, and ultimately the event was cancelled.
They were, however, supported by New Conservative Party.
The event was later re-booked at parliament by ACT party leader David Seymour.
This video tells it better than we could.
We note that they threatened to sue the reporter over this video.
2021: STFU “national speaking tour”
2021 was a busy year for Speak up for Women and their supporters. We’ll touch on a couple of highlights.
Christchurch libraries refused to host Speak up for Women
SUFW attempted to hold a national speaking tour, possibly more for publicity than anything else. However, their first stop was Christchurch, where locals weren’t having a bar of it, and the booking was canceled.
“The group has courted controversy since its inception in 2018 when it invited controversial Canadian blogger Meghan Murphy, who has been banned from Twitter for hate speak, to speak at its events.
“The group was formed in opposition to the Government’s proposal to allow people to self-identify their sex in the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill. It planned to discuss aspects of the bill in Christchurch.
They further noted that “The group has also campaigned against the inclusion of transgender women in women’s sport.”
Nelson Councillor said the “guise of feminism” obscured SUFW’s true aims
Stuff reported that Nelson councillor Kate Fulton said she was embarrassed that Speak Up for Women had been allowed to speak on council premises, after they booked a council owned venue.
“She said she was concerned that the way the group presented its arguments “under the guise of feminism” obscured its true aims. “People don’t fully understand, so they see them as a women’s rights group, rather than a transphobic group”.
A number of formal complaints were received about their booking in Auckland
“Members of the community, council staff and the Rainbow Advisory Panel all raised concerns about the wellbeing of the LGBTQI+ community if the event went ahead as planned, the council’s Kevin Marriott said.
They also had a number of other unpleasant incidents, and were offered a dumpster to have their meeting in by another mayor. He later apologised, though we suspect it was legal advice rather than a change of heart.
Speak Up for Women supporter assaults transgender youth
Protesters against Speak up for Women were the majority at both their Dunedin and Wellington events, with thousands showing up in support of trans rights, while under 100 went to support SUFW.
One News reported:
In support of the gender diverse community, Wellington’s mayor Andy Foster, as well as two councillors – Teri O’Neill and Fleur Fitzsimons – have organised for the Michael Fowler Centre to be lit up each night for the rest of the week with the colours of the transgender flag.
Speak Up For Women has hit out at the move, claiming they’re using council resources to send a political message and Fitzsimons agrees.
“We’re absolutely using our venue to send a political message and it’s a message of inclusion and love to transgender people in Wellington and nobody should have any concern about that message and I don’t understand the opposition.”
As fears for the safety of transgender people escalated, one Speak up for Women supporter assaulted a transgender youth.
Gun threats by Speak up for Women supporter
Safety fears about the group and their supporters were again vindicated in July 2021, as ex-columnist and Speak Up For Women supporter Rachel Stewart threatened to strip and hunt a trans rights supporter.
“strip this wee f….. naked, let him loose in my back paddock, jump on the tray of the ute, and hunt him down with spotlights while whooping & hollering & drinking – Rachel Stewart.
Police suspended her firearms licence and confiscated her firearms.
“The police said threats of violence and exhibits of hatred were grounds for suspending her licence, and also noted a change of address that had not been notified.
“Police consider threatening any form of violence against a person and exhibiting any form of hatred, as well noncompliance [sic] with the Arms Act 1983 to be inconsistent with the criteria of a fit and proper person.”
National Party leader Judith Collins came out in support of Stewart, criticising Police for following protocol.
Speak up for Women oppose the Ministry of Education
The Ministry of Education released it’s new guidelines for sex education, The Guardian reported:
“The new guidelines will ensure that the teaching of relationships and sexuality education in our schools will no longer be left to chance,” said Tracey Martin, the associate education minister.
But “Ani O’Brien, a spokesperson for Speak Up for Women, a group formed to oppose sex self-identification, accused the education ministry of an “attempt to appease the demands of gender ideology lobbyists”.
They also accused PPTA of “spreading misinformation” about them to teachers. This followed SUFW’s disinformation campaign, in which they contacted a number of schools to lobby against the rights of transgender children.
Speak up for Women attempts to blackmail transgender organisation into “debate”
In our BDMRR pamphlet, we featured a section on anti-trans campaign groups. It talked about anti-trans arguments being poorly researched, and directly contradictory to empirical evidence.
This was not about SUFW – it was about anti-trans campaigners more broadly. This is not a wheel they invented, anti-trans fanatics have been around for decades.
However, SUFW decided the shoe fitted and wrote an article about us and our pamphlet, claiming it was written about them. They affirmed that they do indeed agree with said anti-trans arguments. They also made spurious claims about our organisation. Funnily enough these claims were poorly researched and contradictory to the evidence.
Their claims included that we “have also accused [SUFW] of being funded by the international Christian conservative / alt-right. […] in fact it is Gender Minorities who receives international funds from lobby groups, not the other way around.
Sorry guys, false and false.
They then attempted to blackmail Gender Minorities Aotearoa into a “debate”, with flimsy legal threats.
We note that they seem desperate to be validated by us through the legitimising effect of being our opponents. We have no interest in this group, besides providing this single article on anti-trans campaigns in NZ more broadly.
“Although our lawyers suggest there is grounds to claim damages for these defamatory statements […]. We invite you to a debate about the merits of sex self-identification. […] I’m sure we can find a media outlet to broadcast it.”
“Our materials which you are referencing do not mention your group, though you may consider yourselves implicated as “anti-trans campaign groups” if the shoe fits.
And they came back to assert:
“I have attached screenshots of your website” (this post) “GMA infer our group is supported by conservative Christian and far right movements. There is no truth to these claims. GMA wrongly connects Renee Gerlich to SUFW – she has in fact never been a member of our group.
Tsk tsk. Trouble in paradise.
Every claim we’ve made on this post is supported by photographic evidence, below. If it looks like Renee was involved, it’s likely there’s a reason for that. But they wanted us to clarify, so we’ve also added the 2020 and 2021 sections above, along with some extra photo evidence and more recent articles below, for clarity.
Which is also what we did when Charlie Montegue tried to take a harassment case against a member of staff who she had decided wrote this post.
Speak up for Women organisers named in “cult-like” grooming of vulnerable young lesbians
In a 2020 article, Beau Dyess wrote about having been a vulnerable young lesbian, who was recruited into anti-trans “gender critical” (TERF) activism. Beau called it “cult-like”, and named “Speak Up for Women NZ Organizer Ani O’Brien” and Charlie Montague (who was “working on Speak Up for Women”) as part of an extremely abusive cult-like grooming network of “international power lesbians”.
Beau now identifies as ex-gender-critical. You can read their articles which discuss anti-trans groups working with “rightwing fundamentalists” here, and one on prominent anti-trans campaigners being anti-lesbian here.
Ani O’Brien now works for the National Party.
Speak up for Women advocate for making gender affirming care illegal
In their submission on the Conversion Practices Bill, Speak up for Women claimed that Rainbow Youth centres turn lesbians into transgender men, “a culture of unquestioning affirmation that exists in rainbow youth centres, where you walk into a support group, you get instantly affirmed, you get an introduction to an endocrinologist, you’re given a breast binder, you walk in a lesbian woman and walk out a trans man. These are conversion centres”.
They appeared to be advocating that supporting trans people to transition is a conversion practice, and should be illegal.
They also advocated for the “removal or amendment of section 5.2B and section 5.2C.“
These are the clauses that clarify that gender affirming treatments are not conversion practices. Removal of these clauses would potentially classify gender affirming healthcare as conversion practices, and mean that doctors could be prosecuted for providing gender affirming healthcare.
Of course, no rainbow youth centres introduce young people to an endocrinologist, and the demand for gender affirming prosthetics such as binders far outweighs the financial abilities of any rainbow org in NZ, so none provide these routinely.
They also cited the ‘Bell vs Tavistock’ legal case in the UK, as proof that puberty blockers are dangerous. However, that case has been unanimously overturned. The Court of Appeal has stated that “the [original] claim for judicial review should have been dismissed” outright.
Additionally “[SUFW] recommend that an additional exemption clause be inserted into section 5.2 […] to protect alternative treatment pathways for gender dysphoria” and that “parents, wider whanau, and other professionals such as teachers” should be able to commit conversion practices more broadly (which would include conversion practices against lesbians).
What you can do
Firstly, and most importantly, if you are trans: we want you to know that anti-trans campaigners and TERFs are a very small group, and an unpopular one at that. Most sensible people believe in human rights. If you’re feeling isolated, please connect with other trans people. Get support here.
Second, trans folks and allies: there is nothing more powerful than knowledge. Learn to recognise anti-transgender hate groups and their attempts to take away transgender human rights.
Learn to spot the misleading statements they make and coded language – designed to look benign to the average viewer while presenting an anti-trans message at a deeper level. The stickers below are a great example of this.
Learn the history and the facts – they say “FEMALE suffragettes fought for women to be allowed safe spaces like womens prisons” – suffragists did not fight for prisons, and furthermore the term “suffragettes” was only ever used in NZ to demean women who were suffragists.
Third, support the BDMRR Bill, and the Conversion Practices Ban Bill.
And last of all, we appreciate your support! You can find ways to get involved with GMA here, and if you have a few spare coins please send them our way!