Article Title:Buddy, Can You Spare a Vote?
Category:Comment
Author or Credit:Doreen Agassiz-Suddens
Published on:4th January 2002 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
Story ID:23
Text:Doreen Agassiz-Suddens believes it's not to early to prepare ourselves for the General Elections towards the end of the year... and to start watching likely candidates very closely. When the calendar turned over to the year 2002, New Zealand started the count-down to the next parliamentary election. From now on we should take all words uttered by, or written by, Members of Parliament with 'a grain of salt', and with a critical eye. For we in the gay and lesbian community, as with all other communities, will become targets for the candidates' desire to capture our electorate and party votes. Polling day should take place in either October or November. Keeping ourselves fully informed about issues that effect us is not an easy task. We cannot expect to know everything printed, or spoken, about during the campaign. In Britain, during their last general election in 2001, they tried to get around this impasse by creating a website called 'The Gay Vote'. It was supported and maintained by the Pink Paper, one of Britain's best known gay newspapers, the well-know gay and lesbian website 'gay.com', and by UNISON, Britain's biggest union. UNISON, which is the Public Service's union, has been very supportive of its gay and lesbian members for many years, and has encouraged them to form a 'self-organised group' so that they would have a voice in the union. Gays and lesbians even have their own website: - http://www.unison.org.uk/lesandgay The Gay Vote described its own website as, ' a unique service providing lesbian and gay voters with impartial information on candidates, parties and policies'. They also provided links to parties, and manifestos. News updates about relevant election affairs were provided on a regular basis, and information was given about the views, and voting patterns of sitting MPs on issues that effect gays and lesbians. Of course these views are easier to monitor in Britain than New Zealand, because of the voting that has taken place on issues such as the repeal of Section 28, and also on the age of consent. Section 28 is left over from the Margaret Thatcher regime and prohibits local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality, and from promoting 'the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship'. By tracking MPs' voting habits, it is easy to find the members who are not our friends and supporters. This information can make an MP vulnerable and a target for the Pink Vote, as shown by the demise of the sitting MP in Dorset South. Conservative MP Ian Bruce only had a majority of 77 votes. He had voted against the repeal of Section 28, and against an equal age of consent, and so was perceived as being homophobic. This lead to Bruce being targeted by 'a Pink Paper/Stonewall/Gay Vote campaign' , which he said he was 'not threatened' by. He denied that he was homophobic and said that 'friends of mine are homosexual'. But Bruce lost his seat to Labour's Jim Knight. This incident shows the power of the Pink Vote when we work together to progress our rights through the political process. Not only did The Gay Vote website highlight the targeted seats that were ripe for change, but it also listed the MPs who could be relied upon to vote for gay and lesbian issues positively, these were the MPs who were 'out' gays and lesbians in parliament, and also the MPs who were known supporters of our community. The Gay Vote website also ambitiously said it was going to monitor the progress (or otherwise) of the new MPs who had been elected into the House of Commons, but I can see very little evidence on the site that this has happened. But although the updating of the website seems to have stopped not long after the election, it is still an interesting place to visit to check out what was done, and the work that was put into it for the benefit of the gay and lesbian community. The creators of the website said the reason it was devised was because it had been shown 'that politicians are more than happy to make often ill-informed statements and decisions about the gay community', but in the election, 'the gay community should make well-informed decisions about politicians'. The address of The Gay Vote website is: http://www.thegayvote.co.uk/ Doing the same sort of website this year in New Zealand would no doubt take too much time, money, energy, and resources, but maybe we can utilise 'gaynz.com' as much as possible to alert the community to candidates' comments, manifestos, and articles etc, by posting them on-line, perhaps through an additional section to the regular Political Column which would concentrate on the election. But no matter how we get our information it is going to be an interesting and exciting year ahead - you may not think that you are interested in politics, but politics are interested in you - so beware! Doreen Agassiz-Suddens - 4th January 2002    
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