No action over sex book complaints

01:42, Aug 27 2012

The Human Rights Commission will not progress discrimination complaints lodged over a council produced booklet on South Auckland sex workers but found the term transvestite had been misused in the publication.

The 19-page booklet was released last month by Auckland Council and the Otara-Papatoetoe, Mangere-Otahuhu and Manurewa local boards and details residents and businesses concerns and pushes for a law change so council's can ban prostitutes from working in certain areas.

Auckland Councillor Cathy Casey complained that the booklet was discriminatory towards the transgender community, as did Auckland University of Technology lecturer Lexie Matheson who also said it was biased  because it was written "largely by middle-class, white privileged heterosexual men" without any consultation.

The commission also received a complaint from a third person.

Auckland Council put out a statement soon after saying they didn't mean to offend anyone and wouldn't support production of further copies of the booklet "in its current form".

In a response to Casey earlier this month, the commission said the word 'transvestite' was the only descriptive term used in the booklet to describe sex workers.


"This may give the impression that all of the street sex workers in South Auckland are transgender or transsexual. In doing so it has the potential to reinforce limiting stereotypes that have very real impact on the lives of young trans women," the commission's senior policy analyst, Jack Byrne wrote.

The term was used in two personal accounts in the booklet to describe the actions of sex workers.

"This raises some questions about whether personal accounts are the most effective means to bridge the current level of division on these issues. Instead they may solidify misconceptions and stereotypes."

The commission said it was unclear to what extent transgender workers or organisations were consulted. Had they been spoken to, the commission found, they would have "drawn the council's attention to inappropriate terms".

The commissions said they advised Government agencies to avoid using the word 'transvestite' as it is "considered derogatory by many transgender people".

Byrne said the commission was "unable" to progress the complaint of unlawful discrimination but hoped their reply would be "useful in addressing the human rights issues" raised.

Despite the commission not taking her complaint further, Casey said it was clear council were in the wrong.

"The Human Rights Commission has given the Auckland Council a dressing down for the use of language and images that contributes to the negative stereotyping of the transgender community," she said.

Casey said she hoped the council would be more careful in future and avoid quoting people anonymously.

"If it is good enough to say, it is good enough to put your name to."

Casey said the wording in the booklet was at odds with the council's Auckland Plan - a 30-year blue print for the city.

"We cannot criticise negative stereotyping of transgender people in our Auckland Plan and then engage in that same stereotyping ourselves," she said.

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