A brief history of AGENDER NZ.
In early 1996 Janet and Claudia reached a point in our relationship where we felt we needed to meet other people like ourselves, we knew there must be others but there did not appear to be any organised forms of support about, so like most kiwi’s, we decided to give it a go ourselves. We put a small advert in the personal section of the newspaper and in March 1996 had our first get together with 5 very nervous crossdressers and Janet and myself. It worked, and very soon more and more people were contacting us. Today it is hard to imagine the fears our community lived in back then and so when we chose our first name everyone wanted a name that would not reflect the true nature of the organisation hence the choice of C.D .ROM which stood for cross dressers, real ordinary men. At the time this accurately described our membership and myself.
Janet and Claudia had made a commitment to be as out as possible and be the faces of the group to protect those who were not yet ready to be public .We were also committed to taking whatever publicity was available as a means to changing public perceptions. This was highlighted in 1997 when the ’60 Minutes’ programme did a half hour story which was extremely positive, setting a precedent where all our future media coverage was similarly positive, and attracting national interest.
Our membership continued to grow and worked with people from across the gender spectrum. It soon became clear that the original name no longer reflected the nature of our membership and so a two year programme to find a new name culminated in the choice of Agender NZ.
From the outset we were conscious that there were bigger issues for our community than just those affecting the personal needs of individuals and so these early years were a training ground in activism and politics on issues that we knew someone had to address. In 1999 we had one of our first successes when we lodged a complaint with Radio NZ regarding the use of language in a story, which the station agreed with and introduced policies regarding the language used in stories about the Trans community.
An issue that exercised many minds was the lack of coverage of Trans people in our Human Rights Act and so we began a campaign to introduce a Bill to Parliament to correct this. Working through the Labour Party, this was a grass roots campaign that involved many people and which culminated in the Bill being drawn from the Private Members Ballot in October 2004. Its subsequent history was unfortunate as its selection was just after the uproar over the Civil Union Bill which saw unprecedented protest for and against and meant that the government did not want any more potentially controversial social legislation before an election. It was pulled. One outcome was that we organised the first ever Transgender rally in the grounds of Parliament in support of the bill.
Every now and then there are small issues that become bigger than you can imagine. One of these appeared in November of 2004. Dominion Breweries were running the famous ‘Tui’ brand billboard campaign that featured comments followed by ‘yeah right’. There was at the time a reality T.V. show called “There’s Something About Miriam” which featured a group of men competing for a date with a woman called Miriam. What they did not know was that Miriam was Transexual. The Tui billboard read “there’s nothing wrong with Miriam, yeah right”. This use of the word ‘wrong’ angered many in the community. We lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority who upheld our complaint. There statement was ”the advertisement ridiculed a group of people who were trying extremely hard to become an accepted part of society. In fact the majority went further and maintained that the advertisement undermined any attempt by transgendered people to normalise their status. This, it considered, was not only a breach of the code but also a contradiction of a person’s basic human rights, therefore in the majority view the advertisement was seriously offensive and in breach of Basic Principle 3 of the code for people in advertising”. We won, and the ad was removed, the only time that a host of complaints against these billboards was upheld.
One of the recurring attitudes we encountered during the early years from the community was that we did not deserve good service or treatment, an approach we were fundamentally opposed to. In 1997 we proposed holding conferences like those we had read about in other countries. Nobody believed that it was possible but we went ahead in a good quality hotel and had the first in 1999 and then every second year. They were a huge success. For Agender’s 10th birthday we asked Labour M.P. Maryan Street to sponsor our use of the Grand Hall at Parliament, It was a great night and our community rated it. That year we also reached 300 members.
Other issues we have been involved with have been the Police DLO (diversity liaison officer) programme begun by Eugene Moore to make the police more accepting of all difference, we held New Zealand’s first Transgender Day of Remembrance in November 2006 and at a similar time the first Trans protest in New Zealand outside the Portuguese Consulate in Wellington over the brutal murder of a Trans woman and the subsequent acquittal of her multiple teenage murderers, and the first Transgender Awareness Day the following year. In addition many Agender members contributed to the Human Rights Commission report on the issues facing the transgender community entitled ‘To Be Who I Am’.
In early 2006 we received a copy of the’ Carousel times’ from the Carousel Club of South Australia which featured a design for a Transgender Pride flag that we all liked instantly. Janet had once worked as a flag maker an so she produced one that first flew at our2006 Day of Remembrance and still flies proudly today at all our events. I recently saw coverage of the big parade in Sydney and noted that the same flag that we adopted was seen prominently at that event.
Today Agender is rebuilding itself. The future can and will be as bright and exciting as the past.
Be a part of it and join us.