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A champion for human rights dies

Fri 2 Apr 2004 In: True Stories

Leading, long-time advocate for gay liberation, human rights and greater respect and understanding persons with disabilities, Stewart Ransom, died in Palmerston North on 23 March. Born in Levin in 1921, Stewart suffered a severe attack of polio at age three. This left him handicapped and deformed to an alarming degree. At the then University of New Zealand, Wellington, he realised he was bi-sexual, an active sexual orientation limited by his bodily appearance. Notwithstanding, he graduated in psychology and philosophy and travelled to Glasgow for graduate studies in personnel management. On his return to New Zealand, he found he was the only overseas-trained personnel manager, earning himself the nickname, Mr Personnel Manager of New Zealand. He worked in industry until 1968 when he became a lecturer in business studies at Victoria and later at Massey Universities. In 1963 he helped form Wellington's Dorian Society, a group of men concerned with the illogical criminality surrounding homosexuality regardless of the consent of both parties. After the publishing of the UK Wolfenden Report on sexuality, the Dorian Society established in 1967 the Homosexual Law Reform Committee with Stewart as Foundation Chairman. Naturally there was enormous opposition from the Governor General (Lord Cobham) down to the homophobic rank and file. Lord Cobham, in rejecting an invitation to be Patron of the Homosexual Law Reform group, said that homosexuality was like smallpox. Perhaps he thought he was in danger of infection. Throughout the 1970s Stewart worked tirelessly for gay liberation. Gradually clubs and advisory services were formed and acceptance grew. The crowning glory came in 1986 with the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act. In recent times, Stewart, an elder of the Presbyterian Church, became increasingly annoyed at the attitude of his church and churches in general to gay and lesbian clerics and membership. He agreed strongly with Bishop Sprong (USA) and delighted in the strides made in Canada and elsewhere towards gay and lesbian acceptance. The elevation of gay Episcopalian priest, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire thrilled him. Likewise he wept over the forced resignation of Dr Jeffery John in the UK as Bishop-elect of Reading. Stewart, in expressing approval of same-sex marriages, regretted is ailing health stopped him from more involvement there, and in seeing a better church understanding of homosexuality. Further, he worked tirelessly for human rights legislation. The Human Rights Act 1993 brought together for him his work in gay liberation and personnel management (human resources in today's language). Now, law against discrimination because of race, sexual orientation, religious belief, disability, political affiliation and age protects New Zealanders. Stewart's work for the disabled is remarkable with long associations with CCS, Workbridge and the Disabled Persons' Assembly. It pained him greatly that disabled persons were thought of as sexless. Naturally this is wrong. Disabled persons need just as much love and concern as able-bodied people and ought not to be shunned in any way because of handicap. Stewart proved many things in his eighty-two years of life: he overcame his disability; he enjoyed several long-term relationships; he made a significant contribution to industry and commerce; he served his church. These accomplishments were evident at the response of people attending 1996 anniversary of the Homosexual Law Reform Act at Parliament; the affection his students held for him; and the tributes that flowed at his death.     Ronald Thomas - 2nd April 2004

Credit: Ronald Thomas

First published: Friday, 2nd April 2004 - 12:00pm

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