Bill Logan

Bill Logan


This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

Wai: So here we have the respectable Bill Logan, who's a counselor, a gay activist, and a revolutionist. Tell us a bit about that Bill.

Bill Logan: Oh, my goodness! Which part of it? The respectable part?

Wai: [laughing] Oh, why not.

Bill: No, I'm not very respectable. I grew up in the '50s and '60s when New Zealand was a very quiet place, and I probably found that rather boring. And then I hit University and the anti-war movement, and got involved in protests and student power and all sorts of things like that. I spent my 20s mostly overseas building a small, left-wing organization, and learned a hell of a lot about Marxism and that way of looking at the world.

Marxism is a program or an idea for changing things, but it's also an analysis of how things are now, and both of those things have stayed with me. I still want to change things, fundamentally, and I still think that it's important to have intellectual frameworks to understand things. And the Marxist intellectual framework is the one that I think works best.

Wai: So how did you get from quiet, small New Zealand to wanting to do student politics and activism and Marxism and social change stuff?

Bill: I guess that had a lot to do with being at University at the right time, and probably also to do with being a gay man and not yet recognizing it, and therefore not quite fitting and struggling to find a way to fit and a way to understand what it was which didn't work about me in the world. And you try all sorts of things. That takes a while if you're slow like me, to see that actually one very important part of it is a sexuality which is a minority sexuality.

Wai: So what was it like, I guess not fitting in, but feeling like you didn't fit in. What was the kind of climate around gay stuff? Was it just not talked about, or was it actually quite vehement and anti?

Bill: It was mostly not talked about. I do remember occasional bits that were talked about. I remember a forum on the laws about homosexuality at University in, say, 1967.

Wai: Where did you go to University?

Bill: Here in Wellington.

Wai: At Wellington, yup.

Bill: And this policeman, a police superintendent, was talking about why it was necessary to maintain these laws. I didn't recognize myself as gay, but I and the people that I knew thought the laws were stupid. And this guy was worrying mostly about anal damage through... [laughs]. It was sort of bizarre.

Wai: [laughing] And anal damage was against the law?

Bill: Well, there should be a law to prevent people putting themselves in a position where anal damage might occur, apparently. And it just seemed silly. And it was possible to see the law as stupid without identifying as gay at all. I didn't. I realize now that I was gay back then, but I'd hidden that from myself under all sorts of things, and I didn't have a fantasy life at all.

Wai: So you hid that for any particular reason, or subconsciously, or you really didn't know why?

Bill: I certainly didn't know why, because I didn't know it was going on. I can see now that the costs of being gay in the early 1960s would have been enormous. No one was openly gay and got anywhere. No one had a real job who was openly gay that I knew. I know there were one or two people that you could see in the distance who were rumored to be gay, or might have been gay, or who looked effeminate and probably were gay.

And lesbianism? Well, I'd heard of lesbianism, but that seemed even more mysterious. So, no.

Wai: So what was happening in the '80s? You had a lot of stuff to do with homosexual law reform. What was happening then that made people go, right, this has got to change? Had attitudes already changed by that stage, and the law was trying to follow, or was it really not happening and everybody just got sick of it?

Bill: I think that, as I said, in 1967 already a lot of liberal university students and lecturers thought that the law was stupid. There was a big population of people by then who already saw the law as silly, but it was a minority all the same.

That minority probably grew right through the '70s. And also, the various liberation movements – women's liberation, various black-power movements – created a climate in which fighting for your own rights and a place in the world was part of the way things were. So in that framework, particularly after Stonewall which was in '69, there was the development of a gay liberation movement, which had its reflections in New Zealand and a lot of important pioneers that were working there.

And so you had this generational thing. The previous generation had been a response to the Wolfenden Report, which in New Zealand was expressed through the Homosexual Law Reform Society and the more liberal kinds of things. And they were probably the people who organized the meeting that we were talking about on the campus where this policeman was talking.

So you see, you get these layers, and in each generation it's done in a slightly different way. In the early '80s you had those two previous layers of people, and then you also had an apparent chance, it looked as if the politics could go through in Parliament, and at that point quite a lot of people got involved with big, big meetings. And there were one or two politicians who said, yup, we'll go for this, and so Fran Wilde eventually introduced a bill.

Wai: How did middle New Zealand respond? You talked about the building group of minorities that thought this was a stupid law. What was the response of middle New Zealand, or did you not really have anything to do with it anymore?

Bill: It's a good question, and I'm not sure that middle New Zealand at first worried much one way or the other. I think that at first it was mostly people who already had fairly well-developed, liberal, intellectual ideas, and gay and lesbian people, and perhaps feminists, who were for law reform; and religious nutters on the other side who were opposed. And most people didn't give a damn.

And that was what happened during the time that the law reform was being debated in Parliament, where middle New Zealand just couldn't avoid the question. You had things in the paper every day and things on television all the time and demonstrations and petitions and stalls on street corners and a lot of attention given, so that every news bulletin, practically, had something about this homosexual law reform. And they started to have to make up their mind, and right from the start I think most of them felt, well, why not? It's nothing to do with me. But that position sort of solidified and became stronger, and a lot of people became more aware of the issues.

A lot of lesbian and gay people came out during that period, and that meant that people who thought they'd never met anyone who was lesbian or gay realized that, actually, their brother was gay, or someone at work or someone they drank with or whatever. And so the amount of knowledge about and of lesbian and gay people just exploded in that period.

Wai: And you'd come out by this stage, or half, or a little bit?

Bill: Yeah. I was a slow developer. I came out to myself in my late 20s, and I really didn't... I don't know; I'd started to get involved in gay communities in Wellington. I'd been overseas and came back to Wellington in 1980, got involved a bit, and then we were starting to have to do things public. I had a bookshop. I was selling gay books, among other things, and my bookshop was a bit of a community center.

Wai: What was your bookshop called?

Bill: Capital Books.

The bill was about to be introduced, and the Cardinal, Cardinal Williams, made a statement saying how terrible this bill was, and the television people said, you know, you've got to put someone up to oppose him. And in the circle of people who were organizing, everyone either had a job they were worried about or felt very young and inexperienced. I was just a little bit older, so people said, you better front this, Bill. So I found myself debating the Cardinal on television, and I think that's the way all my family and friends learnt that I was gay, was on television.

Wai: On national TV you came out.

Bill: On national television. Yes.

Wai: That's fantastic! Were there lots of different groups working on law reform? You were saying you were working with the lesbians or feminists or people for law reform. What was that like?

Bill: Well, in Wellington, where I was based, we were lucky because the newspaper was more open to publishing stuff than anywhere else, so we got a bigger swing of opinion than anywhere else.

Wai: [Than] Anywhere else in the country.

Bill: Yeah. We got a bigger swing of opinion in Wellington than anywhere else, and that was for a whole lot of reasons, one of which was we did more on the streets. We involved more people. We had a definite policy of engaging and involving gay people and lesbian people in their own interests. And so there was a bigger sense of movement here.

But the thing is that there was this huge variety involved. There were the party boys who wanted law reform, but really wanted to have fun on Saturday night. There were the old timers who'd been slogging away at homosexual law reform for years, and would have accepted the slightest change. There were radicals who wanted to abolish all sexual division and didn't see it even as a political thing, but a social thing. There were the feminists. There were a variety of different currents within the lesbian movement. There were nasty, misogynist old men. Everyone sort of wanted this common goal, but holding them together...

Some of them thought there should be nothing happen in the street because we'd look bad, and that we should be utterly polite everywhere, and when our opponents said nasty, homophobic things at the public meetings we should just accept that, whereas other people wanted to do more than throw rotten tomatoes at them. And everyone thought that everyone else was destroying the possibilities of change.

And I had the position that we actually needed everyone. We particularly needed the feminists because the core support in the Labour Party was the Labour Party women, and if we didn't have the support of the feminists we wouldn't get the support of the Labour Party women. And the lesbians were really, really, really important, therefore, and some of the guys thought that the lesbians were completely irrelevant to it, and they were more trouble than they were worth, and they demanded too much attention, and so on. And sometimes I thought they demanded too much attention, too, but you had to accept that.

And then we needed the misogynist old men because they had lots of money, and we had to be nice to them because we had to get money out of them. We didn't have any money at all. The opposition had considerable funds from American fundamentalists and things like that, and we didn't have a penny. The Auckland gay guys had a bit more than us, but we needed some in Wellington, too, and we had to be nice to these guys, and to keep diplomatic relations with some of them.

So in a way, that was my main role, was being sort of a diplomat – sort of keeping everyone happy with one another.

Wai: And it all happened, luckily. So what are the big changes that you've seen within...? I don't know if you think that there's a queer community or communities. What have been the kinds of shifts that have happened since law reform? Did people kind of think: Oh, thank goodness! We don't have to work together anymore. See you later! [laughing]

Bill: Well, it might be little bit like that. It's interesting because before law reform, while we were still illegal, there were two major clubs, two or three bars, a couple of sex-on-site venues, a whole lot more things than now.

Wai: So, a whole lot more than now.

Bill: Now there's no clubs. There's one bar and one sort of nightclub type place in Wellington, and I think that's representative of right around the country.

Wai: Do you notice any differences between Wellington and Auckland? You were saying that Wellington did a lot of street stuff.

Bill: Yeah. Wellington is a funny town because, I don't know, it might have to do with the whole design of the city being held in by the hills and things like that, but it's a very concentrated city, and it means that we get together as a community, even if it's only to fight, much more easily than in Auckland where people are sort of spread out all over.

Wai: [laughing] Too far away to fight; stuck in traffic.

Bill: Yeah. I think there's a lot more activists in Auckland, but somehow they never get to critical mass because they never manage to get together. And I think that's the way it was then. I'm exaggerating. They did some huge stuff in Auckland, but it was led by a group which was less open.

In our case we had a gay taskforce. Anyone could go along to those meetings, and it was there that decisions were made, once a week. And usually it was a small group. People trusted that small group to make decisions, but occasionally there was something really important like a big argument about whether we'd have a demonstration or we should be respectable, and everyone would come together and argue that out. It was a way of involving people, and it was a way which required people to make compromises sometimes, whereas in Auckland there was nothing quite equivalent. There was a leadership, but it had a definite policy and it managed to keep control of things.

And there were some messages there from the gay taskforce in Auckland that we wouldn't have wanted to endorse. For example, there was an upsurge of anti-gay violence. The Wellington response was: we're going to have lessons in self-defense, and we're going to get TV cameras along to show everyone that we are learning how to look after ourselves. In Auckland, the advice was: don't go anywhere without company, and be careful. So it was a slightly different kind of way of doing things.

Wai: So what would you say to people now who are kind of saying, well, you know, you've had law reform, you have civil unions, pretty much there's no homophobia, everybody's sweet as, and things are much better now. What degrees of truth do you think that has?

Bill: Well certainly, you know, there are many opportunities for gay people to be openly gay and to lead lives which are OK in terms of the rest of the population. Our people can go out and have a good career in many, many areas, and be openly gay. You can be a gay doctor or a gay bureaucrat or a gay businessman, without any problems at work, or without many problems at work.

But try being a gay high-school student in New Plymouth, and that's not quite so easy. Or actually, just try to be an ordinary member of a straight family and be gay and realize you're gay at the age of 25, and negotiate your way through explaining to everyone that things are a little bit different than they thought. Not easy.

So there are still quite serious issues: youngsters who can be very depressed, suicidality, really important things that...[interrupted]

Wai: Just among young queer people or across ages?

Bill: Across ages. There's no doubt that young people are especially at risk, but anyone who is a bit marginalized can be at risk of suicide, and the fact is that older people are also marginalized on account of their sexuality, it's just not as pervasive and as strong as it was. But if someone's got one or two other things going on in their life, or comes from a religious family background – if you get down to specifics it can be quite difficult for many, many people.

Wai: So you're still interested in social change. What are some of the other things that you do? I know that you have various hats that you wear.

Bill: Well, yesterday I spent at a governance workshop. I'm on the board. I'm the chairman of the board of something called the Drugs and Health Development Project, which runs the needle exchanges in the lower half of the North Island, for intravenous drug users. It's something that I got involved in rather by mistake, as happens in life. There was some television talk show about AIDS, early on, and people rang in with their questions, and we dealt with the necessity for homosexual law reform – this was in 1984 or '85, I don't know, '84 it would have been – and we talked about that on this television show and the panel had come to agreement that, yes, we needed law reform in order to deal with AIDS, which was part of my objective for being there.

But then someone rang in with a question of how you're going to deal with AIDS and needle users, and I made the obvious point that the same principles applied, and that you weren't going to be able to deal with the possibility or the likelihood of the transmission of HIV through needles without changing the law, liberalizing it, making needles easily available, and preferably ending the illegal status of drugs. Well, of course, this was not popularly received by the Minister of Health, who was also on the panel. I just said, well, you've got to decide, don't you, whether you want to deal with this phenomenon of HIV/AIDS or not, and if you're going to deal with it you're going to have to do something like that. And as it happened there were some bureaucrats in the Ministry who saw the point and very quickly a needle exchange scheme was put into place.

But just that intervention led needle users in Wellington to think that I might be a useful person sometimes, and so I have found myself having a continuing role here, which is fascinating. It's really a world I wouldn't have come across, perhaps, in quite the same way, anyway, without this. And it's very satisfying in that I think that we've been hugely successful, more successful than anywhere in the world, in keeping HIV out of the needle using population.

And that's because not only do we give away clean needles, but we have users on the desks giving them away, giving advice. The users obviously have some moral authority with other users and they can talk about all the other things which you can do to keep yourself healthy. Just washing your hands actually, is quite important if you're into needle use, and filters for different things are important, so there's all sorts of self-care which is necessary.

And our needle users are probably some of the healthiest needle users in the world, and that saves money. People mightn't care about the welfare and safety of needle users – I do, but people mightn't – but they do care about money and health dollars, and we've saved a shitload of them, frankly.

Wai: So where would you like diverse queer communities in Wellington and also in New Zealand to head, or some of the places that you'd like things to progress towards?

Bill: That's a good question, and I don't think I know the answer because perhaps we can't lay down a prescription of where we're going to head. What we need is the abolition of the barriers which prevent us heading where we need to go depending on what we want. And some of those barriers have come down, but...[interrupted]

Wai: What are the ones you see are still around?

Bill: Well, it's still quite difficult to have decent relationships with another generation. It's difficult for gay and lesbian people to bring up kids, for example. It can be done, and lots of my friends are doing it, and it's becoming easier, but we don't have a good framework for it.

It's not possible for a gay or lesbian couple to adopt, as a couple. That's ridiculous. That will change, surely, very quickly, but I'm not sure how much difference that in itself will make. It's an important symbolic thing.

But I think in general it's difficult for younger gay people and older gay people to connect, and I think that's important because we don't yet know how to aim our lives very well because we haven't got very good role models. You know, we learn how to be old from the people around us that we know who are old, and if we don't know people who are old of our own life type, then we're missing some important connections and lessons and models. So I'd like to see better connections between generations, but on the whole, generations perhaps aren't very interested in other generations. You've got to take the realities into account.

Wai: Cool. Thank you very much, Bill Logan, respectable Bill Logan, for yarning with us and sharing with us.

Transcript by