A trans woman from the UK has been granted residence on humanitarian grounds after suffering years of abuse and violence in Britain.
The 57-year-old, who transitioned in her 40s, said she suffered discrimination and threats at work and transphobic hate crimes on the streets before coming to New Zealand in 2009.
The immigration and protection tribunal ruled it would be unduly harsh to force her to return to the UK, given what it described as exceptional humanitarian circumstances.
It heard how she had decided, aged 42, she had to become a woman or commit suicide.
She said she was regarded as a freak at the large multinational company where she worked in IT and was frequently abused by strangers.
"When she commenced the 12-month 'real life test' to live as a woman for 12 months, the workplace became overtly hostile and discriminatory," the tribunal decision said.
"After complaining to the human resources department about a specific incident of bullying, the perpetrator confronted her and threatened that if she ever complained again he would 'rip her head off'.
"Although the appellant persevered and completed her transition ... her work environment became intolerable because of the overt discrimination. She negotiated a severance deal through her union in 2005, and relied on a long-term disability benefit while she grappled with crippling depression."
In the tribunal decision her early life in Britain was described as violent, abusive and extremely traumatic. She would go to an all-night supermarket late at night to avoid being seen by too many people.
"Unfortunately, her experiences at work and in public continued to involve significant and ongoing trauma, abuse and discrimination.
"She provided examples of being screamed at in the street, being stalked, getting pushed off pavements and being beaten up physically on many occasions. Her severe panic attacks continued during this time.
"The trauma and discrimination continued and worsened following her gender reassignment surgery."
She overcame a significant fear of flying to come to New Zealand, where she now lives with her mother.
"The appellant realises that New Zealand is a much safer place for her to live. She has not experienced any harassment and discrimination and has been able to contribute to community activities in the small town where she lives.
"She has not experienced any mental health issues since being in New Zealand and her previous mental health issues have all dissipated since she has been here."
The woman and her lawyer declined to comment.
The full decision can be read here (157KB).
'We tend to be a little bit more tolerant'
A spokeswoman for the advocacy group Transaction, Lynda Whitehead, said New Zealand was a lot more tolerant than some other countries.
"We tend to be a little bit more tolerant of trans folk compared to some parts of the world. In certain areas on this planet the violent and prejudice that is shown against trans people is quite horrendous.
"I'd like to think that Kiwis have got a fairly open-minded and relaxed view of things."
But she said abuse, ridicule and violence do occur in New Zealand and discrimination persists in employment, housing and health.
At least 40 asylum seekers have been granted refugee status in New Zealand because of their sexual and gender orientation.
Twenty-five cases were approved by Immigration New Zealand in the past five years and further cases have been approved by the appeals tribunal.