“Civil rights? Yeah, right!”: Reflections on legislative changes from older sexual and gender minorities in Aotearoa New Zealand


  • David Betts The University of Newcastle, Australia




sexual and gender minorities, older adults, legislation, social policy, social work, Aotearoa New Zealand


INTRODUCTION: Sexual and gender minorities continue to face social stigma and discrimination in countries that have progressively passed legislation designed to support their wellbeing and social inclusion. This article explores the impact of similar legislative changes in Aotearoa New Zealand through the reflections of older sexual and gender minorities.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews with older sexual and gender minorities were conducted in multiple locations across Aotearoa New Zealand. Associations between legislative changes, social policy, and stigma and discrimination were examined in relation to the contemporary and historical experiences of older sexual and gender minorities.

FINDINGS: Findings indicated that changes in legislation and social policy have not protected older sexual and gender minorities from social stigma and bias, and that social workers need to be active about their role in promoting a critical awareness of these intersections.

CONCLUSIONS: With a growing number of older adults who identify as sexual and gender minorities in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is important that social workers promote a critical perspective about relying on legislation as the sole benchmark for social change.



Adams, J., Braun, V., & McCreanor, T. (2007). Warning voices in a policy vacuum: Professional accounts of gay men’s health in Aotearoa New Zealand. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 30, 199–215.

Adams, J., Dickinson, P., & Asiasiga, L. (2013). Mental health promotion for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex New Zealanders. Journal of Primary Health Care, 5(2), 105–113.

Antonelli, P., & Dettore, D. (2014). Relationship, social, and individual well-being in Italian male same-sex couples. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 26(3), 383–406. doi:10.1080/10538720.2014.926231

Beddoe, L., & Maidment, J. (2009). Mapping knowledge for social work practice: Critical intersections. Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. London, UK: SAGE.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2014). What can “thematic analysis” offer health and wellbeing researchers? International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 9(1). doi:10.3402/qhwv9.26152

Brennan-Ing, M., Seidel, L., Larson, B. & Karprak, S. E. (2014). Social care networks and older LGBT adults: Challenges for the future. Journal of Homosexuality, 61(1), 21–52. doi:10.1080/00918369.2013.835235

Brown, K. (2006). Vulnerable adults and community care. Exeter, UK: Learning Matters.

Cathey, A. J., Norwood, W. D., & Short, M. B. (2014). Social pain and social anxiety: Examining the experiences of ethnic, sexual, and dual minority groups. Journal

of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 18(3), 247–265. doi:10.1177/0361684316635529

Craig, G. (2002). Poverty, social work and social justice. British Journal of Social Work, 32(2), 669–682. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/23716487

Craig, S. L., & Keane, G. K. (2014). The mental health of multiethnic lesbian and bisexual adolescent females: The role of self-efficacy, stress and behavioural risks. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 18(3), 266–283. doi:10.1080/19359705.2013.879846

Dant, T. (2003). Critical social theory: Culture, society and critique. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Fabbre, V. (2017). Queer aging: Implications for social work practice with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer older adults. Social Work, 62(1), 73–76. doi. org/10.1093/sw/sww076

Fenaughty, J., & Pega, F. (2016). Why marriage equality is not enough: Enduring social policy concerns for gender- and sexually diverse New Zealanders. In L. Beddoe & J. Maidment (Eds.), Social policy for social work and human services in Aotearoa New Zealand: Diverse perspectives (pp. 223–236). Christchurch, NZ: Canterbury University Press.

Fisher, M., & Henrickson, M. (2019). Are statutory protections sufficient to protect people living with HIV who are employed in the medical workplace? International Journal of Healthcare Management, 12(1), 75–80. doi:10.1080/20479700.2017.1398387

Fook, J. (2002). Social work: critical theory and practice. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Forrest, R., & Kearns, A. (2001). Social cohesion, social capital and the neighbourhood. Urban Studies, 38(12), 2125–2143. doi:10.1080/00420980120087081

Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I., Kim, H., Emlet, C. A., Muraco, A., Erosheva, E. A., Hoy-Ellis, C. P., Goldsen, J., & Petry, H. (2011). The aging and health report: Disparities and resilience among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults. Retrieved from http://caringandaging.org/ wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Full-Report- FINAL-11-16-11.pdf

Freixas, A., Luque, B., & Reina, A. (2012). Critical feminist gerontology: In the back rooms of research. Journal of Women & Aging, 24(1), 44–58. doi:10.1080/08952841. 2012.638891

Gendon, T. L., Welleford, E. A., Inker, J., & White, J. T. (2015). The language of ageism: Why we need to use words carefully. The Gerontologist, 55(6), 997–1006. doi:10.1093/geront/gnv066

Guess, R. (1981). The idea of a critical theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt school. London, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Guest, G., MacQueen, K. M., & Namey, E. E. (2012). Applied thematic analysis. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Hash, K. M., & Rogers, A. (2013). Clinical practice with older LGBT clients: Overcoming lifelong stigma through strength and resilience. Clinical Social Work Journal, 41(3), 249–257. doi:10.1007/s10615-013-0437-2

Hughes, M. (2009). Lesbian and gay people’s concerns about ageing and accessing services. Australian Social Work, 62(2), 186–201. doi:10.1080/03124070902748878

Hughes, M., & Heycox, K. (2010). Older people, ageing and social work: Knowledge for practice. Crow’s Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin.

MacKinnon, S. T. (2009). Social work intellectuals in the twenty-first century: Critical social theory, critical social work and public engagement. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 28(5), 512–527. doi:10.1080/02615470802406494

Mink, M. D., Lindley, L. L., & Weinstein, A. A. (2014). Stress, stigma, and sexual minority status: The intersectional ecology model of LGBTQ health. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 26(4), 502–521. doi:10.1080/10 538720.2014.953660

Mizock, L., Harrison, K., & Russinova, Z. (2014). Lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals with mental illness: Narratives of the acceptance process. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 18(3), 320–341. doi:10.1080/193 59705.2013.828007

Robinson, J. L., & Rubin, L. J. (2016). Homonegative microaggressions and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 20(1), 57–69. doi:10.1080/19359705.2015.1066729

Schmidt, J. (2017). Homosexuality in Aotearoa New Zealand: Regulation and resistance. In A. Bell, V. Elizabeth, T. McIntosh, & M. Wynyard (Eds.), A land of milk and honey? Making sense of Aotearoa New Zealand. Auckland, NZ: Auckland University Press.

Smith L. C., Shin., R. Q., & Officer, L. M. (2011). Moving counselling forward on LGB and transgender issues: Speaking queerly on discourses and microaggressions. The Counselling Psychologist, 40(3), 385–408. doi:10.1177/0011000011403165

Taylor, O., Rapsey, C. M., & Treharne, G. J. (2018). Sexuality and gender identity teaching within preclinical medical training in New Zealand: content, attitudes and barriers. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 131(1477), 35–44.

Van Den Bergh, N., & Crisp, C. (2004). Defining culturally competent practice with sexual minorities: Implications for social work education and practice. Journal of Social Work Education, 40(2), 37–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/10 437797.2004.10778491

Van Wagenen, A., Driskell, J., & Bradford, J. (2013). “I’m still raring to go”: Successful aging among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults. Journal of Aging Studies, 27(1), 1–14.

Wahab, S., & Abel, G. (2016). The Prostitution Reform Act (2003) and social work in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Journal of Women and Social Work, 31(4), 418–433. doi:10.1177/0886109916647764




How to Cite

Betts, D. (2020). “Civil rights? Yeah, right!”: Reflections on legislative changes from older sexual and gender minorities in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 32(1), 5–16. https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol32iss1id700



Original Articles