Change isn't always a bad thing
Change isn't always a bad thing
Editorial: Our world seemed to change last night as the election results poured in. Change is always disturbing, especially after nine years of solid and consistent government support for glbt initiatives.
But in the clearer light of dawn maybe things aren't as bad as some fear. So let's look at where things stand from a purely glbt perspective.
Defeated: Helen Clark
The loss of Helen Clark as Prime Minister and leader of the remarkably pro-gay Labour Party cannot be understated. Clark was, and is, personally committed to social justice for all people, including easily despised sexual minorities.
At heart a quietly thoughtful child, perhaps what might now be called 'emo,' Clark developed into a strong character and influential politician with a seemingly instinctive understanding for the isolated, the outsiders, the overlooked, the downtrodden. She turned up at many of our glbt events armed with empathy, knowledge and the kind of charisma engendered by stern but fair headmistresses. She gave her g, l, b and t MPs (there was at least one of each in her caucus) the stamp of approval to get on with it.
Politically she was prepared to risk some damage to her government in seeing goals such as Civil Unions and the Property (Relationships) Amendment act addressed. But, most importantly, she publicly gave glbt issues and initiatives and politicians her blessing, thus setting the tone for the rest of her party to swing in behind those matters which were, and are, important to our lives.
And let's not forget that two decades ago Clark was a pivotal Minister of Health who helped set the tone for a rational and successful response to the rapidly emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic that was mysteriously killing hundreds of New Zealand gay men and engendering corrosive anti-gay political and media hysteria overseas. New Zealand would not be in the comparatively favourable position vis a vis HIV that it is today without Clark.
As the glbt community's most powerful ally at court Helen Clark will be sorely missed. But as a famously hard working politician, our loss will be her Mt Albert electorate's, and husband Peter's, gain.
It is also disappointing to see Louisa Wall fall by the wayside as a new lesbian MP showing much promise. The articulate and vivacious Wall worked hard on this election and was particularly visible attending lesbian events.
Judith Tizard, often unfairly derided as part of a gay and gay-friendly group of so-called 'luvvies' closely associated with Helen Clark, must also be wondering why her previously rock solid winning margin in Auckland Central, the country's gayest electorate and hothouse of social change, turned into a losing margin. She'll be back in Parliament courtesy of Labour's list, but surely faces an interesting electorate 'post-mortem' in the coming weeks.
Those are the downsides, but there are also upsides. National is not the National of old, as was typified by the shrill anti-gay bleatings of its one-time Minister of Police, John Banks. All eyes will be on John Key to see whether his glbt-friendly side or his conservative vote hungry side emerges as dominant. I'm picking that he will not be comfortable with Parliamentary moves to roll back glbt gains, nor will he have a naturally receptive ear for the anti-gay lobbyists who will from time to time come thumping on his door.
And let's not forget that National encompasses a number of naturally glbt-friendly MPs and supporters. Being politically to the right of centre isn't always an indicator of comfort with social and legal inequality. National's deputy leader, Bill English, is another matter though, probably a lost cause as far as glbt political causes are concerned.
National's coalition partners also bode extremely well for our futures, if their pre-election statements turn into political action. ACT, and especially its leader Rodney Hide, are passionate about individual freedom and getting government out of its historical habit of proscribing strictures on personal relationships. National needs ACT to be able to effectively govern. Now-centrist United Future, the one-time haven for the religious right, is publicly glad to be rid of its bible-bashing critics of social progress, so that's not a bad thing either.
And on the subject of the religious influences that traditionally seek to blight our lives, those politicians and parties that campaigned on conservative religious themes have been relegated by New Zealand voters to joke status, or lower. For the time being they carry no sway.
STRONG GAY VOICES
Whilst we will have only one openly gay MP in government, he will be an influential one. Chris Finlayson has, like John Key, risen fast through National's ranks. A respected senior lawyer he has even been tipped to take up a senior portfolio such as Attorney General. He was National's shadow minister of Arts and Culture which could be a good signal. Quiet to the point of self-effacement on glbt issues thus far, Finlayson shows promise.
It's on the opposition benches that the even greater and proven strengths of our glbt MPs emerge. Without exception they are remarkably impressive people. Rising to senior Cabinet status, Chris Carter, the most highly placed openly gay politician New Zealand has ever had, acquitted himself well in difficult portfolios. Maryan Street, articulate, intelligent and potentially as focused as Helen Clark, is a past president of the Labour Party and destined for a significant role in Labour's future. If she ends up as deputy party leader, you can say you read it here first. Charles Chauvel is also influential and respected, and if he can hone his political instincts a little more will become an even more valuable asset to Labour and glbt people.
Grant Robertson is already highly situated in the multi-leveled architecture of Wellington power brokers. He may well have given us the glbt quote of election night, calling out to his male partner "Where are you? Stand up honey!" in his televised acceptance speech. Robertson's fellow maiden MP, Kevin Hague, riding into the House on a surge of support for the extremely glbt-friendly Greens, is a consummate politician in the making with a rare skill for morphing social goals into bureaucratic movement.
Let's not forget that Parliamentary initiatives favourable to glbt people generally enter the house as private members' bills, not requiring the public sanction of any party, whether in government or opposition, to get a hearing. Being on the opposition benches doesn't make anyone powerless, as our friends in Labour, the Greens and the Progressives will know, or soon discover.
Yes, a lot changed for the country last night, but it was not all bad for glbt people. We just need to continue working amongst those with political influence, encouraging our supporters, guiding the wavering and confronting the bigots. Thus, for us, politics in New Zealand continues to be more or less business as usual.
Content editor, GayNZ.com
[Editor's note: Perhaps the best summation of Helen Clark's personality and political momentum published this morning is on the Stuff website.]