New Zealand adds gender-neutral title for voters ahead of polls

by Beh Lih Yi | @BehLihYi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 4 August 2020 09:51 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A dog waits outside a polling station during the general election in Auckland, New Zealand, September 23, 2017. REUTERS/Nigel Marple

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Nearly 1,000 people have chosen the gender neutral title 'Mx' on voter sign-up forms for next month's election

By Beh Lih Yi

Aug 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - New Zealand authorities have added the gender neutral title Mx for voters who do not identify as male or female, seeking to boost LGBT+ participation in next month's election.

Nearly 1,000 people have chosen the gender neutral title since 'Mx' was added to voter sign-up forms alongside the existing Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms and 'other', an official said on Tuesday.

The change was introduced late last year but only received public attention ahead of the Sept. 19 general election.

"This is the first time we have included Mx as a title choice on the form," Electoral Commission spokeswoman Clare Pasley told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

"We want to be inclusive and encourage all New Zealanders to enrol and vote," she added. The change does not affect ballot papers where voters do not write their title.

LGBT+ group RainbowYOUTH described the move as "great".

"Being referred to correctly is a basic human right," said Frances Arns, executive director of the Auckland-based group.

"This is especially relevant for young people, who may be engaging in the voting process for the first time," she added.

New Zealand has long had a progressive reputation, but advocacy groups say LGBT+ people still face prejudice, and so-called gay conversion therapy remains legal.

Almost one in three transgender people in New Zealand have been raped but many avoid seeing a doctor for fear of being mistreated, according to a study of 1,178 people last year by New Zealand's University of Waikato.

Officials have vowed to do better, including by collecting information on its LGBT+ population in the next census in 2023, to address concerns over the lack of specific funding or resources to help the community.

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(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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