From Friday, the need to provide a vaccine pass with photo ID could mean transgender people are outed against their will, writes Cassie Withey-Rila.
The government is failing us with this vaccine pass setup. By “us”, I mean those of us whose experience, performance or embodiment of gender doesn’t match society’s Eurocentric gender binary.
There is so much nuance and diversity in our communities, and so many words and terms people feel affirmed by: umbrella terms, covering a range of genders, such as transgender, non-binary, gender diverse and gender non-conforming.
Then there are Pacific cultural identities, such as fa’afafine (Sāmoan), fakaleiti (Tongan), whakawahine/takatāpui/tangata ira tane, irawhiti, tāhine (Māori), ‘akava’ine (Cook Island), drodrolagi (Fijian) and mahu (Hawaiian).
And identities that are beyond what words can capture, beyond the knowledge of any one person.
One thing that is common across these experiences is that the systems in this country are working against us.
I generated my vaccine pass over the weekend and it bears a name that isn’t correct.
Some of what follows is recommendations on how we can all make this situation suck less for those of us who are potentially going to be excluded from safely engaging in public spaces. Some of it is just spelling out what is and what is not happening around names and the vaccine pass. And some is advice to transgender people who may not have documents that match their name, or a mix of documents, some with correct names and some without. This also applies to the many people who go by shortened or Anglicised names to avoid Pākehā people butchering their given names, or those who have been married, estranged or divorced.
What’s the current deal?
From December 3 you’ll be required to scan into some venues using your vaccine pass, a code that verifies you have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. This is required for live events, restaurants, bars and cafes, beauty and wellness treatments, hairdressers and gyms, and public and faith-based gatherings.
What the person scanning your pass will see is your vaccination status, name and date of birth only.
No matter what names you used when you set up your Ministry of Health My Health Account, the name that appears on My Covid Record and your vaccine pass is the name attached to your NHI number (whatever was entered as your “preferred name” at the time). If you were born after 1992 or you’ve ever received health or disability care from a GP, clinic or hospital, you’ll have an NHI number.
It will also be the name used on the International Travel Vaccination Certificate, if you intend to travel overseas, and it must match the name on your passport (the name on the vaccine pass, used domestically to get into events etc, doesn’t have to match the name on a passport per se, but if it doesn’t match any of your photo ID… well, that’s what we’re here to figure out).
How do I change my NHI details?
If you are someone whose NHI number doesn’t match the name you go by, you need to “correct” the name associated with your NHI number via your healthcare provider or DHB. They don’t need paperwork to justify this change, they can just update it in their system. Considering how long some of us have to wait for a GP appointment, consider contacting them soon. Some providers are unaware that they can do this, so it might be worth checking or bringing something to convince them if needed (this article perhaps).
Some people have reported success with calling the Ministry of Health directly, but due to the high volume of calls this may take some time or a few attempts. A range of contact details can be found here.
If you have already generated your my vaccine pass and then correct your name associated with your NHI number, you can regenerate the pass so that it reflects that name, but you may need to wait 24 hours.
What should I do if I’m responsible for checking vaccine passes and ID, and the names don’t match?
The vaccine pass that gets emailed to you says “you may be asked to show photo ID”, which sucks for a lot of people. It means some trans people will not be able to participate in society freely. Being outed as trasngender is harmful; it takes away autonomy and control over how we are perceived by society. If every time you enter a shared public space you are forced to provide a document that does not reflect who you are, possibly in conflict with other required documents that might also not reflect who you are, you have to prepare yourself for harm in order to enter those spaces.
The 2019 Counting Ourselves survey found that 32% of transgender and non-binary adults had no form of ID that showed their correct name. That means about a third of our communities will potentially have to navigate these barriers to participation in society.
The Ministry of Health doesn’t require businesses to check anyone’s my vaccine pass information against an ID. It’s up to individual businesses to decide whether or not to do this – it could be because it’s an R18 licensed venue, because the business has decided to make it standard procedure, or simply because the person checking isn’t sure they’re seeing a genuine vaccine pass.
If you work at a business and you can get away with not asking for ID with the vaccine pass, consider doing so. Not just when someone “looks trans”, but as a blanket policy. I love not dying from novel viruses as much as the next person, and I realise this defeats the purpose somewhat, but without a time machine or until it’s easier to make the changes needed, this is where we are at. I am pro-vaccine but also pro-harm reduction.
If you must check ID with people’s vaccine passes, don’t react to mismatched names. Don’t read them aloud. As long as part of the name or the date of birth match, you can assume it’s the same person.
When will this get easier?
There is a rainbow community engagement lead for the Covid-19 vaccine and immunisation programme in the Ministry of Health who is aware of the issues discussed here. They say that the ministry is currently working on solutions for people whose name on their ID is not the same as the name on their vaccine pass, and for people who may not be able to change their NHI preferred name for any reason.
The ministry says it is currently finalising information about how people can change their preferred NHI name themselves without going through their GP, as well as working on some guidance/messaging for GPs and DHBs.
None of these changes will be made before the traffic light system kicks in and there is no way to know what will come of it, but be assured that individuals and organisations are advocating to improve these issues, and someone has a job to listen.