StatsNZ fail to respond to Trans community

A few weeks ago I was listening to my friend talk about the many struggles that she faces in her life as a trans woman. It’s no secret that we – the world, cis people, New Zealand – are failing trans people. And Statistics New Zealand is causing further damage. 

As a cis woman I questioned my right to write about this, but I feel it’s my responsibility as an ally to help amplify the voices of those affected if I can. And fuck, like, it’s really hard when your friends are hurting and you just want to do what you can to help, and I don’t have much to offer beyond writing about it.

One of the things we talked about was the recent rollout of new standards for gender classification by Statistics New Zealand.

StatsNZ consulted informally with the Trans community via Loomio before deciding on the standards, but it appears they ignored most of the feedback – both before and since the rollout. There was also a separate formal submission process through the Statistics NZ website. However most of the discussion has had no impact on the standard, which was already being finalised at the time.

I confess that I did not understand the depth of the issue before I read this post about it by Jennifer Shields, who discusses the whole process and the problems with the result – so please do that.


As you can see, this standard separates anyone who identifies as gender diverse from the cis population, only othering us further. As Megan pointed out on twitter, it will capture data on the non-binary population relatively well, but is insufficient for capturing actual data on gender identity overall. It also relies on terminology many in the community refuse to use – such as the typical and frustrating MtF/FtM. It leaves no space for trans women to identify as women, but instead as something Other that relies heavily on “born a man” rhetoric.

Kelly Ellis makes a relevant point on GayNZ: a binary trans woman may elect to tick ‘female’ to not Other herself or invalidate her gender, while someone who, for example, does not experience transmisogyny may tick one of the gender diverse options and thus “skew the picture of poverty that transgender people face.” Essentially, this system would require many of us to marginalise ourselves and our identities by selecting an Othered category in order for important data about our lives and experiences to be collected.

Jennifer asked me to emphasize here that trans women and people who experience transmisogyny also tend to have higher rates of poverty and other negative statistics.

My friend says that “Technically the standards give room to allow multiple selections (so you could select “female” & “gender diverse”) which is ever so slightly better, but the default implementation is to only allow you to select one of the options. Even then, according to the standard, this puts you in the gender diverse category regardless.

After all this, I felt like I needed to know why the hell Stats would ignore the feedback of the very community they are supposedly trying to get accurately represented.

I sent them a request under the Official Information Act for the following:

  1. How many submissions were made to the consultation around the new statistical standards for gender identity?
  1. Please supply a breakdown of data of those submissions – how many were in favour of the decided new statistical standards, and how many were against?
  1. Are you aware of how many organisations and government departments have adopted these new statistical standards? If not, please provide any information you have in this area.
  1. Please provide any correspondence Statistics New Zealand had with the Minister following the release of the new standards, in regards to the reaction to the standards from transgender individuals and organisations in New Zealand.

In retrospect I should have worded this better – I should have referred to the Loomio discussions as part of the submission process and made it clear I was asking for any data breakdown they had from that. I was too simplistic.

23 October 2015

Dear Ms Wilson,

Thank you for your email received 28 September 2015, requesting, under the Official  Information Act 1982 (the Act), information regarding the statistical standard for gender identity.

The statistical standard for gender identity was released on 17 July 2015. It was developed in consultation with groups representing people with different gender identities and with select government agencies.

A statistical standard provides a comprehensive set of guidelines for surveys and  administrative sources collecting information on a particular topic. Statistical standards also help organisations plan how best to collect the information they need. Following these standards provides consistency in data collection.

Ninety nine public submissions were made (via online and email) on the new statistical standard for gender identity. The public submission process centered on a discussion paper, ‘Gender Identity – Developing a statistical standard’. Submitters were asked six questions in relation to this paper.

Submission questions were design focused, seeking comment on concept and definition of terms. Submitters were not asked to state if they were ‘in favour’ or ‘against’ the statistical standard for gender identity. Therefore, this part of your request is refused under section 18(g) of the Act, in that the information requested is not held by Statistics NZ. (This is such a tricky answer, focusing only on the fact that I asked about for/against, and ignoring that I asked for a breakdown of data).

Adoption and/or implementation of the Statistical Standard for Gender Identity is voluntary.

Statistics NZ does not operate a formal process for reporting on adoption of this standard. However, Statistics NZ is advised that from 1 July 2015, Ministry of Youth Development funded providers are expected to report on the number of young people identifying as gender diverse who are accessing youth development opportunities. The standard is also being used by the Ministry of Youth Development in the application process for Youth Parliament 2016. The Ministry of Education is in preliminary planning stage of an implementation strategy for the  education sector/systems. In addition, the health sector collects gender identity information for  administrative purposes, and the Ministry of Health will be requiring the sector to implement  the gender identity statistical standard in the future. A small number of non-government  organisations have also approached Statistics NZ with questions on collecting gender identity  information. It is not known if these organisations have gone on to adopt the standard.

Following the release of the statistical standard for gender identity, there was no correspondence to the Minister of Statistics regarding reaction to the standard from transgender individuals and organisations. Therefore, this part of your request is refused under section 18(g) of the Act, in that the information requested is not held by Statistics NZ.

You have the right, by way of complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman under section 28(3) of the Act, to seek an investigation and review of this response to your request.

Statistics NZ intends to publish its response to your request made under the Act on the Statistics NZ website. This letter, with your personal details removed, will be published in its entirety. Consistent with the Act, publishing responses increases the availability of information to the public and helps promote balanced public debate.

Yours sincerely,

Teresa Dickinson

Deputy Government Statistician & Deputy Chief Executive

Architecture, Design and Programme Governance

It’s really incredible that, with all the backlash I saw when the decision was released, none of that reaction was discussed with the Minister for Statistics. Why not?

As I’ve noted in the text, they’ve also been tricky about releasing data from the debate leading up to the decision on the standard. So maybe the best representation we have of that is the Loomio discussions referred to in Jen’s post.

I guess the question is, if they’ve failed to react thus far, is there anything that can be done to push the issue? They didn’t correspond with the Minister following the decision, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t record the response to it. They must have.

My friends says “There is no way in these standards for me to be counted as a woman and also have my gender identity accurately represented in statistics. The fact that Statistics NZ haven’t even discussed internally the reaction to this standard from the community is deeply disturbing.”

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