A research paper, Making Ourselves Visible is being used as the basis for Oranga Tamariki policy on ‘rainbow and takatāpui’ children and young people in the care and fostering systems. The research recommendations being used to create policy and are now well advanced, having begun in June 2023. But the research was outsourced to organisations that advocate for transgender medicine for children and young people. They have had very little focus on the same-sex attracted youth or gender non-conforming children who form the great majority of ‘rainbow’ and ‘takatāpui’ children in care.
I have written this paper to explain the background and lay out the problems with the new policy and hence the likely impacts as Oranga Tamariki sets out the approach to ‘improving’ the service to these children. The majority are Māori and many have faced severe trauma and disadvantage in their lives.
A related paper, commissioned internally within Oranga Tamariki to support the policy and carried out in the organisation’s Evidence Centre, is a literature review that is poorly conceived and full of misinformation and innaccuracies. Making policy based on poor quality information will seriously damage children in care.
There are three main problems. Firstly gender medicine has extremely harsh impacts on the body. Medication and surgery has irreversible effects but even social transition (encouraging a child or young person to live ‘as the opposite sex’) hardens the likelihood of continuing to medication. Similarly research shows that puberty blockers massively increase the likelihood of a young person continuing to cross sex hormones. The possible medical impacts include possible infertility, problems with intimate relationships, impacts on mental development and brittle bones. That children and young people should be funnelled carelessly onto this path is intolerable.
Secondly by presenting gender non-conforming/gender confused, same sex attracted and intersex children and young people as if they were part of a uniform ‘rainbow’ or ‘takatāpui’ community both pieces of research occlude the differences between and therefore the needs of these three groups. Gender confusion may have multiple causes. Same sex attracted young people are not trans but homophobia is an acknowledged spur to forgoing a lesbian or gay life and disappearing into an opposite sex identification.
Thirdly overseas, but not apparently in New Zealand, there is increasing recognition that transitioning children is outright homophobia as well as incurious as to other reasons why children and young people adopt an opposite sex identity. In a paper to the related Select Committee Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has provided evidence that children who are “looked-after” i.e. children in care, or who have been fostered or adopted, as well as those who have faced traumatic events, have been massively overly represented in referalls to the English gender clinic.
I believe that both these pieces of Oranga Tamariki funded research, and the harmful policies that flow from them, should be withdrawn until they have been independently assessed.