New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s SOGIESC advisor
My name is Taine Polkinghorne, and I am the New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s SOGIESC advisor. I have been in my role for three years and work on a wide variety of human rights issues related to LGBTI New Zealanders.
Please give a summary of Prism, its process, recommendations and why it is important for the Commission to embark on this?
In June 2020, the Human Rights Commission launched Prism: Human Rights issues relating to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) in Aotearoa New Zealand – A report with recommendations.
The process began in 2018 with public consultation meetings for LGBTI communities. Through the feedback and information gathered, the Commission established clarity around the top human rights issues for the communities we spoke to. These included the right to be free from discrimination, the right to information and to recognition before the law, as well as rights to health, education, and work.
Each of the six chapters presents recommendations to organisations, individuals, and decision makers to advance LGBTI rights in New Zealand.
These recommendations came directly from the communities we spoke to, not from the Commission itself.
It was important for the Commission to publish this resource as nothing similar existed which discussed our human rights issues. We also had not released anything related to all parts of the LGBTI/SOGIESC acronym for ten years.
How has Covid-19 affected the SOGIESC communities in New Zealand?
How has the Commission been able to respond to their needs?
News reports (e.g. one, two, three) indicate that COVID-19 has affected SOGIESC-diverse communities in New Zealand disproportionately due to the existing gaps and lack of protections and services. The Commission initiated meetings with community organisations to hear directly about the impact of the pandemic. We heard that our national SOGIESC phone support service received an increase in first-time callers during New Zealand’s lockdown. Some of those callers were saying, ‘I think I might be LGBT,’ beginning to realise and come to terms with their identity. Callers mentioned isolation, financial and economic hardship, housing issues, and access to hair removal (as it is deemed ‘non-essential’) as some of their key issues during the pandemic.
For those who use shared computers and devices at home, in some instances there has been less digital engagement with support organisations. This is a concern given the community’s experiences of social isolation without a pandemic.
Rainbow communities experience poorer mental health outcomes, with high rates of significant depressive symptoms, anxiety, and psychological distress. In light of COVID-19, another organisation we met with noted that these mental health concerns were reflected in their staff and volunteers, with their support workers in particular taking a toll.
Why was it important for the Commission to have a specific SOGISC Advisor?
Are there any other NHRIs in the region with this particular post?
Do you think it would be a recommendation for NHRIs in the region as well?
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission established a permanent SOGISC Advisor in 2017 to ensure the portfolio of work had dedicated expertise and resourcing. The Australian HRC has a parallel role (Specialist Adviser, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and Sex Characteristics), but we are not aware of other NHRIs in the region with posts focused solely on SOGIESC human rights.