Billboards of Whangārei District Council candidate Melanie Payne have been vandalised with transphobic tags, causing a total of $1400 of damage.
Seven of Payne's billboards in Whangārei have been tagged, damaged or removed since the Okara Ward candidate, who identifies as a transgender woman, has been putting them up around the city.
Tags range from defacing scribbling, to vandals crossing out Payne's first name Melanie and replacing it with "Mister" or "Mr".
"I had put up another three replacement billboards last Saturday," Payne said. "By Sunday, they were all defaced."
Payne, who has lived in Northland for 18 years and came out as transgender 11 years ago, said there was a lack of public awareness of the transphobia that exists in Northland.
She said on a normal day out she would often be harassed 15 to 20 times by strangers.
"It can be a scowl or sneers, a look of disapproval, to threats and verbal abuse, and of course, the danger of physical abuse is real. There is a broad range of unacceptable abuse."
Payne is an advocate and educator for gender diversity and transgender health in the community.
She has been advising the Northland District Health Board on gender diversity issues, giving talks at NorthTec and the Whangārei Central Library, and has been volunteering for several community institutions over the years.
Payne said friends had encouraged her to run for the NDHB; she decided however that she could address a wider range of issues that also affect the local LGBTQ+ community if she ran for council.
"We have a diverse community; different sexualities, people of different countries and religions, but yet this is not reflected in the council.''
The council had launched its "Stand" campaign in July, acknowledging the lack of diversity within the council and had encouraged people of colour and non-binary communities to run in the election.
Payne says she was hoping to increase the rainbow visibility with her candidacy to provide better services across the board, including health.
Waikato University conducted a survey with 1178 trans and non-binary people last year titled Counting Ourselves, which indicates that mental health issues are prevalent within the community.
The stats show that young people especially struggle with mental health, as 71 per cent aged 15 and older reported high or very high psychological stress.
RainbowYOUTH is a New Zealand organisation who work with queer and gender-diverse youth in Northland and country-wide, and are in the process of setting up an all-ages support service.
RainbowYOUTH spokesperson Toni Duder said transphobia is alive and well in Northland.
"Transphobia happens in multiple ways every day, and the treatment of Melanie is an example of why it is rare that trans or non-binary people would run for things like the local council," Duder said.
"It's a really hurtful thing to being attacked about the way you look, especially if you're standing as a candidate to represent your community. You want to be judged on your policies and what you're going to bring to the role. It's difficult to acquire a position of authority for transgender people in this atmosphere of hostility."
The NDHB recently contracted RainbowYOUTH to launch peer-support services for transgender people of all ages, including their whānau.
Duder says in rural regions like Northland, there was a lack of support networks for transgender people which leads to individuals feeling isolated. With no community standing behind them, a transgender person could easily become a target of transphobic abuse.
Duder encourages gender diverse people who are in distress or require someone to talk to, to reach out to RainbowYOUTH or the organisation OUTLine who operate a confidential support line.