|Jan Logie and Louisa Wall Our newest lesbian MPs Labour's Louisa Wall and the Greens' Jan Logie have proven that with their powers combined, they make a formidable team. Back from a trip to Uganda where they inspired a stand against the nation's hateful anti-gay bill, Wall shares the secrets to their success and their shared passion for fighting for equality, here and across the world.
Wall and Logie spent their time at the 126th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in Kampala basically working their butts off, deciding early on that they would make a stand against Uganda's disgusting Anti Homosexuality Bill, rallying MPs from other nations to the cause, and meeting with gay and lesbian Ugandans to find out what life is really like for them.
They returned home have had letters opposing the Bill sent to all of the Ugandan political parties, including President Museveni of the ruling party, whose backbencher is pushing the legislation. The letters were signed by President del Picchia of France, head of the 12+ Geo-political group. The group comprises 46 counties affiliated to the IPU including outspoken Bill opponents UK, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Iceland and Canada.
Wall says if the 'Draconian' Bill passes, it will institute the death penalty for some 'acts of homosexuality' and will require other people to dob in gay people to the police within 24 hours of realising their sexuality. Failure to do so will result in them becoming liable to prosecution themselves.
Louisa Wall tells us more
"The role Jan and I chose to take on was to make sure that we put on the agenda sexual orientation and gender identity rights," Louisa Wall tells GayNZ.com in a briefing on their time in Uganda. "And the fact that we were able to do so within the context of that 12+ group, the most organised and effective geopolitical group at the IPU, and for us to walk away with letters signed by the President of that group, which meant that every single country who is a member of the 12+ group agreed with the letters that we sent, it's pretty amazing really."
Wall says one of the secrets to their success was simply providing an opportunity for people to be really clear about what human rights are when it comes to sexual minorities, and pointing out areas of IPU, Ugandan national and party constitution which promise to protect these rights.
The IPU constitution calls for the IPU to 'contribute to the defence and promotion of human rights, which are universal in scope and respect for which is an essential factor of Parliamentary democracy and development'.
"And essentially what Jan and I did was held this entity accountable for what it says. A lot of our conversations, our engagements, with our fellow parliamentarians were around principles and what we stand for, what we say and what we do and reconciling those two things. It worked really well and we were able to find others who were of like mind," she says.
"The Finnish were the ones who actually put it formally on the agenda at the IPU. They just said ‘What can we do? We're here in this country, this bill is before the House of Parliament, we don't like it. What are the options available to us?' And from that we were part of a drafting group with the Netherlands, with Spain, with the UK, and with Canada. And essentially over the week, we met on Friday and our last meeting was the following Thursday, we had meetings almost every day. We came to a point where everybody was really keen for us to make a statement as the 12+ group. And we broadened it; because our initial thinking was we would just write to President Museveni and not in his role as President of Uganda but in his role of leader of his political party, because it's one of his backbenchers who has the bill."
Iceland then mooted writing to all political leaders in Uganda. “There was just a really good consensus around the issue. It was great to work in such a collaborative international group. It's an interesting organisation, the IPU. It was very much set up so we could share best practice and be able to dialogue, and we were able to pull out that clause, and then what we highlighted to Museveni was a clause in the constitution of his party, the National Resistance Movement, which reads:'Whereas the National Resistance Movement restored politically stability, respect for human rights, national unity, peace, security, law and order, and constitutionalism and the rule of law' while the constitution of Uganda says 'that all persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect shall enjoy equal protection of the law'.
"And where we eventually got to was that the Presidents of our group, on behalf of 46 countries, would sign it. It was more than I think anybody imagined we could have achieved," Wall says. "But we just brought it up every day, basically."
Wall says it's important to acknowledge her Labour Caucus, which gave her the opportunity to go, when she convinced them she was the woman for the trip. "The fact that we had consensus within our Caucus that they sent me, I think was a really strong statement about where Labour stands on these issues."
Making a second stand
In the Human Rights stream of the conference, Wall and Logie also proposed an agenda item for future IPU Assemblies: sexual orientation and gender rights; and the role of parliamentarians in affirming these rights in legislation.
“We realised when we got there that we had an opportunity to propose a theme, which I did ... That idea came pretty quickly on the first day. But there was a lot of resistance, as you can imagine, especially from the African nations. And from the Asian nations.”
The theme was not picked, with themes around social media and drug legalisation instead shortlisted. Wall says there was then lots of resistance to the drug legalisation proposal, so she stood up and said her theme should be picked instead. "And obviously it was incredibly sensitive because we were in Uganda, with the anti-homosexuality bill," she points out.
After Wall spoke President Museveni's wife Janet, a Parliamentarian herself who is regarded as the First Lady of Uganda, stood up and spoke in favour of the media theme.
"It was pretty interesting," Wall says of the experience. "There was a lot of security whenever she was around. So I forced a vote. I said ‘Well, if people don't want the legalisation of drugs proposal I propose that sexual orientation and gender identity rights then be the second one'. And that's where we had the vote, at the end of it. We pushed it into a space that we were excluded from being a part of anyway. And there was no justification for why our theme hadn't been picked.”
While the theme didn't make it this time around, the women are already making plans to ensure they get it onto future agendas.
"We'll see what happens from here, but having gone to the Assembly, what we realised is that there are quite a few other opportunities for us to push the sexual orientation and gender identity rights agenda. And so I'm committed to actually asking my Caucus if I can go again. Because the reason they sent me is the reason I need to go back ... That's why I have to go to the next one, we have to make sure through the 12+ group that that theme becomes a theme that our group pushes."
Tau Henare's role
"We worked really well as a team," Wall says of her collaboration with Logie, but what may surprise many GayNZ.comreaders is the support they received from their delegation leader, National MP Tau Henare. An irrepressible smart-ass, Henare has made light of glbt issues in New Zealand; tweeting that a story about moves to wipe the negative use of gay from schoolyard speak was a 'gay story', and mocking gay Labour MP Charles Chauvel across the House with a "Driving Miss Daisy" taunt.
When asked about whether she and Logie had to twist Henare's arm for his support, Wall says, "To be honest once we got there and the agenda was on the table, he basically supported us 100 per cent. He was fantastic, actually. And we all walked really well as a team. And in the end it was he in the 12+ group who said 'Let's just vote on it' ... and it was the vote that meant the Presidents of those 12+ groups signed those letters."
On meeting gay and lesbian activists in Uganda
"Inspiring" is the word Wall chooses to describe the meetings she and her Greens' cohort had with gay and lesbian Ugandans.
"Three weeks prior they had their Minister of Ethics turn up to a meeting about their rights where they were strategising about what they could do. The Minister turned up with the police, broke up the meeting and in fact arrested some of the people that we met with.
"To hear what they have to go through on a daily basis - I mean, we were really worried about the ramifications and whether their lives are in danger.
"But I think for activists in Uganda, they are fighting for their lives already. For them this is about a life and death struggle. And for them to have the space and freedom to be who they are is something that should motivate all of us to do as much as we can.
"And in the end that was the consensus within the IPU; we had the opportunity, we were there, we had to say something and do something. We couldn't be silent because silence is a form of condoning that behaviour. To be honest I was really proud that the IPU made such a strong stand and our President del Picchia, he led the French delegation, he got up in the General Assembly and said one of the main issues that we had been concerned with in our 12+ discussions was about sexual orientation and gender identity rights. And he said it in the General Assembly in front of the Ugandans.
"We have to stand up. There are protocols when you go into a different country, but at the end of the day we have to live the values and principles that the IPU stands for," Wall says. "To be honest it was a really amazing experience. We didn't do any trips; there were people going to the Nile and Equator and having these day trips away from the conference, but we were there working every day," she laughs. "But that's why we went. It was pretty satisfying to get the results, but as I said, we've got a lot more work to do."
Wall says as an out lesbian, she didn't feel unsafe but says she wasn't preoccupied by her safety. "What it highlighted for me was the stress the people of our communities who live in Uganda have to deal with every day."
The Labour MP says what's happening in Uganda seems to be a new dominant ideology, which is driven by the far right Christian groups. "We have a President whose been there for 26 years. His wife who's entered politics in the last six, and who is apparently a born again Christian. It's kind of been overtaken by another agenda and she's saying that [being gay is] 'anti' the Ugandan culture, but when you look at the statistics only four per cent of the population practice their indigenous religion."
Wall says the stand of queer people in Uganda in the face of this has inspired her. "These people are very clear that their identity is part of the Ugandan identity. They're not letting anybody tell them that they're not Ugandan or that there is no place for them, and they are just being who they are very openly and very proudly. And they do it through something that hangs over them in the fact that they can be persecuted.
Looking forward, here and abroad
Wall says the strength, resolve and resilience of the Ugandan activists has made her even more determined, in the face of the trend of nations trying to go back in time when it comes to glbti rights.
"If we look here at home and in the Pacific we've got a lot of challenges around the decriminalisation of homosexuality. And moving to that equality under the law. What we're going to do in the first instance is look at the baseline right across the world and see what we can do in our own part of the world."
Wall and Logie are planning to get a clearer picture of this by drawing up a map of the world and split it into the counties which have the death penalty for homosexuality, countries where there is imprisonment for homosexuality, countries where there has been decriminalisation, nations with decriminalisation with human rights protections, those which have full adoption and marriage equality, and finally those which have full equality under the law.
Wall is Chair of Labour's Rainbow Caucus this term and says full equality here in New Zealand is one of its big priorities. "We're really clear that marriage equality, adoption equality and actually addressing some of the issues of bullying and harassment at school for our kids, and our transgender community actually having full sexual self-determination."
It seems clear that, when it comes to Louisa Wall and Jan Logie, it's a clear case of 'Watch this space.' Jacqui Stanford - 14th April 2012