"There is a fear of being open about who we are"

"There is a fear of being open about who we are"

The right to work is a fundamental human right - but people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) continue to experience discrimination in workplaces which can sometimes force them to leave.

Those are the findings of the Human Rights Commission’s PRISM Report, which is based on feedback from consultative community hui and research.

Taine Polkinghorne resized

Report author Taine Polkinghorne

“Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in the workplace. It’s important for people’s health and mental wellbeing, and their income,” says report lead author Taine Polkinghorne.

“And yet the most common complaint received by the HRC on the ground of sexual orientation is related to discrimination in employment.”

SOGIESC people often conceal their identities or partners at work because of fear of discrimination.

“There is a fear of being open about who we are because of the stigma,” says Taine, who is also a PSA delegate and Out@PSA member.


Taine says a lot of discrimination against rainbow people goes unreported, because people would have to out themselves to do so.

“It’s more common for people to leave their job. But what are organisations missing out on if their staff get to the point where they can’t stand it anymore and just leave?”

Research shows while there have been some gains for people of diverse sexual orientations in the workplace, the pace of change has been much slower for those with diverse gender identities, gender expressions or sex characteristics.

“Intersex people are subject to significant discrimination for having bodies that are more diverse than stereotypical definitions of male and female bodies. In the workplace, they need clear messages that an employer is welcoming of intersex people,” Taine says.

This includes respecting their confidentiality, and awareness that intersex status is about variations of sex characteristics, not gender identity or sexual orientation.


Trans and non-binary people face barriers in gaining employment if required to present documentation such as references or work histories which disclose their transgender status or previous names and pronouns.

They can also face difficulty obtaining identity documents, the reluctance of employers to accept their new gender, and vulnerability to bullying from colleagues.

Being frozen out of the formal economy can lead some to take on precarious work because they have few other options. The University of Waikato’s 2018 Counting Ourselves survey of trans and non-binary people found their 11% unemployment rate was twice that of the general population.

OutPSA Poster 2020 CMYK2Out@PSA supports the PRISM report’s recommendations that employers be proactive in addressing these issues by:

• including references to non-discrimination in job advertisements
• recognising the self-determined gender of staff, and amending employee records
• supporting employees to use the bathroom or uniform of their choice
• developing anti-discrimination policies in consultation with rainbow communities
• offering ongoing workplace training for staff

To join Out@PSA go to www.psa.org.nz/MyPSA or FREE phone 0508367772

Main illustration: PRISM Report cover art by Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho


Cross Agency Rainbow Network Conference

CARN website bannerThe second Cross Agency Rainbow Network (CARN) Conference will be held at Parliament Buildings from March 25-26 next year. 

This is open to decision makers in senior leadership, organisational development and HR roles along with Rainbow whānau in the Public Service.

The conference kaupapa is “To equip public sector decision makers with a better understanding of the experiences of our rainbow communities, to help drive sustainable actions that meet the needs of our communities and enhance our safety and wellbeing.”

Go to www.auaha.co.nz/CARN to register for the conference.



Also in this issue:

Building Our Future

It was our biggest Congress ever, with more than 200 delegates gathering in Wellington to debate, network and make plans that will guide the future of our union.

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Welcome to our New President

We extend a warm welcome to Benedict Ferguson who has been elected as our new president by delegates at Congress 2020.

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News in Brief

An interim offer for the DHB admin pay equity claim, new collective agreements in the Public Service, and a new leadership line-up for our union feature in our News in Brief.

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What can we expect from the new Government?

With a new Government now in place it’s timely for the PSA to consider what we can expect, and what we would like to achieve in the next three years.

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"Our Māori membership stands proud"

Delegates at Hui Taumata came away feeling inspired and empowered to make a difference for their workmates and their people.

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"A Champion of the Vulnerable"

Allan Franks says he felt “privileged and a bit overwhelmed” to receive the Marlene Pitman Award at Hui Taumata, the PSA Māori Congress.

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Delivering on Equal Pay

The PSA is taking a two-track approach to delivering on pay equity - using the force of new law to settle claims and new guidance to end discrimination.

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Rebuilding a Spirit of Universalism

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Here’s why writer and campaigner Max Harris believes universalism is so important.

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HealthCarePlus brings Bikes for Good

Christchurch kids and their bikes will benefit from a PSA HealthCarePlus Grant for Good.

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"It's an eye opener"

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Saving Livelihoods

The Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to have claimed the equivalent of 235 million jobs across the Asia Pacific region.

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Rostering for Wellbeing

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Out of Office

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He Uiui Raumati

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Around & About

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The Last Word

Retiring national secretary Glenn Barclay looks back on a time of growth and change at the helm of New Zealand’s largest union

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