‘Disturbing’ anti-trans billboard removed after just 24 hours: ‘It’s a hateful dog whistle’

An “anti-trans” billboard lasted less than 24 hours in Wellington, New Zealand, before widespread complaints resulted in it being removed.

Paid for by campaign group Speak Up For Women, the black-and-white billboard displayed the popular gender-critical slogan “woman = adult human female”.

It was taken down less than 24 hours after being installed, thanks to strong support for trans people within Wellington’s community.

Go Media, the company that owns the New Zealand billboard, apologised “unreservedly” for “any distress” caused by the billboard and said that, once it had been alerted to the anti-trans message contained in the slogan, it had “remedied the situation as soon as we could”.

TW: Transphobia, TERF, hate speech

I’m not sure when it happened but SUFW have put up a billboard on Manners Street. Is there anything we can do to get it taken down, or minimise the harm to our trans whānau? pic.twitter.com/W5r7X0nk1o

— Janne (재인) (@jannejanne) July 12, 2021

“We believe it [the billboard] may be in breach of ASA codes, and therefore the advertising material in breach of our contract,” said Go Media’s general manager, Simon Eagle, in a statement.

Eagle said the advertiser had been notified and their contract placed on hold until the ASA responds, adding: “Go Media is an inclusive, locally-owned New Zealand business and we support all communities. While we believe in freedom of speech, we do not condone content that upsets our community.”

Wellington Pride was “heartened by swift community action” that led to the billboard being removed.

“As disturbing as it is to see such blatant transphobia displayed on the streets of Wellington, we are heartened by the swift community action that was taken to wrap around and protect our trans whānau,” it said in a statement shared on Facebook.

“We [Wellington Pride] will continue to unwaveringly support and fight for trans rights. Transphobia — and any group that perpetuates it — has no place in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, or anywhere.”

Beth Johnson, a Speak Up For Women spokesperson, denied that the group is transphobic, telling 1 News: “We are just feminists wanting to talk about the impacts on women and protect women’s spaces.”

But Ahi Wi-Hongi, director of Gender Minorities Aotearoa, told the outlet that the billboard was “definitely anti-trans”.

“It’s also very similar to Lauren Southern wearing an ‘it’s OK to be white’ t-shirt,” Wi-Hongi continued. “Of course it’s OK to be white, of course it’s OK to be a woman but the intent behind these messaging doesn’t affirm people’s identities.”

Johnson said that the complaints against the billboard constituted “a smear campaign”, that Speak Up For Women was “being bullied”, and added that the purpose of the billboard was to raise awareness of potential changes to gender recognition laws in New Zealand, which could make it easier for trans people to gain legal recognition of their gender.

“There is nothing on this billboard about the bill,” non-binary Wellington-based composer and comedian Maxwell Apse told 1 News.

“They knew how the trans community would react, that we would see it for the hateful dog whistle it was, and, when it was inevitably taken down, they could say they were being censored. This is a publicity stunt.”

Wi-Hongi agreed, telling the outlet: “If you look at [Speak Up For Women’s] website, all you see are campaigns about stopping trans people from having rights, from having an education, from having safe bathrooms, and from being able to update their identity documents. They do not campaign on anything else.”

In the UK, the “woman = adult human female” slogan is often associated with Posie Parker, founder of notorious anti-trans group Standing For Women.

Black-and-white billboards paid for by the group and bearing the “Woman = adult human female” slogan were removed from Liverpool and Birmingham in 2018, following complaints, and the People’s History Museum in Manchester also removed a sticker bearing the slogan from its Protest Lab in 2019 after complaints that it was “associated with hostility”.