Article Title:Beyond The Lavender Ceiling
Author or Credit:Doreen Agassiz-Suddens
Published on:21st August 2002 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:43
Text:Political columnist Doreen Agassiz-Suddens continues to examine the new Parliament through gay-tinted glasses, wondering how Auckland Mayor Banks and Minister of Local Government Carter will co-exist and pondering on the political power of the word "lesbian." Nearly a month after the election we now have a clearer idea of how Parliament will look over the next three years. The parties have chosen their spokespeople, and Labour has sorted out its line-up of Cabinet Ministers. Chris Carter has been selected as New Zealand's first 'out' gay Cabinet Minister - he has broken the Lavender Ceiling. Carter has now become Sandra Lee! He holds the portfolios that were once the domain of Lee - Local Government and Conservation, plus the extra case load of Ethnic Affairs. With Carter holding the Local Government reins we should see some interesting interactions between him and Auckland City Mayor John Banks. Choosing Carter for the Cabinet positions shows Labour distinguishing and distancing itself from the United Future Party and its Christian collection of MPs. Since his elevation to Cabinet, Carter has reiterated that he is proud to be an 'out' gay man and to be representing the gay and lesbian community. The media have also mentioned Carter's 29 year relationship with his partner Peter Kaiser. It's good to have the myth that gay relationships do not last long laid to rest. Apart from seeing how Carter will handle working with people such as Banks, it will be interesting to see how he is accepted by other minority groups in New Zealand society in his role as the Minister of Ethnic Affairs. He has mentioned in the media that he has empathy for outsider groups because as a gay person he knows what it is to be an outsider, but will some of the more culturally conservative groups that he will be working with be as understanding about his homosexuality? Could this lead to conflict? But, as many of us know, Chris Carter can ooze charm and will no doubt get most people on side with him! Tim Barnett has also been mentioned in dispatches. He has become a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Justice on Human Rights Issues, and to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector. What this PPS job entails I do not know, and there is no extra money for doing it. But it is good to see an 'out' gay man doing whatever it is he will be doing! After the final count of the special votes we had the good news that Katherine Rich had been returned to Parliament for the National Party. Rich has supportive views about us in the gay and lesbian community. Hopefully they will survive over the next three years. The final vote count also (for a very short time) saw United Future's Paul Adams tipped out of Parliament as the Green Party gained another MP. Not many of us in the gay and lesbian community were sorry to see him go after we heard his comments about wanting to quarantine people with AIDS. But lo and behold the man is back again. His resurrection was due to United Future MP Kelly Chal's ineligibility to take her seat in parliament because she is not a New Zealand citizen. Although I do not think that too many of us will be distressed that Chal has gone either. She is a member of Brian Tamaki's fundamentalist Christian Destiny Church. Not a place where many gays and lesbians are likely to be seen clapping along. The next three years will see gays and lesbians keeping a close watch on the relationship between Labour and United Future. has made a good start with this already. The relationship between the two parties is fraught with pitfalls and misunderstandings, which could be a rich source of opportunities for opposition parties to exploit. An example of this sort of mischief can be seen in the press release that New Zealand First put out on 9 August 2002. It appeared on the Scoop website, titled 'Lesbian Parenting Legislation Dunne's First Challenge', and quoted NZF MP Brian Donnelly waffling on about how United Future will be facing legislation that will, 'provide lesbian partners guardianship rights'. This legislation, he added, would 'create guardianship for a lesbian partner with consent of the mother', and that 'the natural father will be able to be excluded as will grandparents'. Donnelly stated that 'this legislation will inevitably test the consciences of his [Peter Dunne's] caucus'. The press release appeared to be an attempt to alarm the ranks of United Future and to hopefully destabilise its confidence and supply arrangement with Labour. Oh the power of the word "lesbian!" At the moment things seem to be falling into place for this Parliament to run its full term, even so, we in the gay and lesbian community need to be alert to any political machinations in the House that could impact on our wellbeing. We need to keep a watching brief on parliament, every piece of legislation, and MPs. They all need our scrutiny. It has been said that behind every lace curtain there is a person watching, and I think that this new parliament will find that behind every piece of legislation a gay or lesbian is watching, and as the saying goes: 'we are everywhere'! Doreen Agassiz-Suddens - 21st August 2002    
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