|Labour MP Tim Barnett It's 2008 - election year, and Labour MP Tim Barnett is certain his party is the right choice for our community's two ticks...
Day by day through this intensely political year, the election gets nearer and the factors which will decide its outcome, influencing each of us as we make up our minds about how to wield our two votes, becomes clearer.
Of course, we in the queer community don't just vote one way or another because of our sexuality, but for many of us that is a significant factor because the views and actions of politicians and political parties has been a vital influence on the level of acceptance or rejection which we have faced in wider New Zealand society.
Of the major political groupings only Labour and maybe the Greens choose to have particular, positive messages for and commitments to our queer communities. Labour does this through having Rainbow MPs, Rainbow candidates, Rainbow policy commitments in its policy manifesto and a Rainbow section in its political party make-up. Of course, more than a few political parties choose to have distinctly unwelcome messages for queer people, hoping that the language of hate and fear of us will be attractive to some others.
Even as a gay politician, it can sometimes be hard to detect clear political messages from the disparate strands which make up what we call the queer or Rainbow communities. Sure, there is a demand for equality – although, that legal agenda having been largely delivered, that does not mean so much nowadays. Sure, there is a demand for safety – although that is not delivered by laws and policies alone. Sure, there is a demand that community voices be listened to – although in our political system an ongoing lobby relationship requires the structured groups and the full-time staff which our gloriously anarchic community lacks. Of course there are many reasons why people may choose not to speak out, and personal safety is an obvious and valid reason, but there is a driving need for more noise and more clarity from those seeking further change of benefit to our community.
Even without a strong and insistent lobby, the remaining challenges remain very clear. The opposition to our ability to lead open and discrimination-free lives is never too far below the surface. I see it in many of Parliament's National MPs, nearly all of whom actively opposed the introduction of civil unions; I see it in a range of religiously fundamentalist groups; I see it in many of the small Pacific nations in our region. Although we all live in the most blessed era in world history in terms of queer rights, and in one of the best places in the world to enjoy those rights, our protections remain tender and vulnerable, still lacking the international endorsement enjoyed by most other groups which attract discrimination.
With the exceptions of provocation law, adoption law and improved legal protections for the transgender community, New Zealand could reasonably be said to be at the end of our law reform agenda. The big challenges lie in processes much more complicated than passing laws – they lie in running and planning services in ways which recognise and respect our existence, in enabling people to be open about their sexuality in Government jobs; in finding effective ways of raising the health and welfare of vulnerable queer communities overseas as part of our foreign policy agenda.
Indeed those are big challenges. On the grounds of past and proven record of achievement in Government, of Rainbows present expertise right through the organisation (party and MPs) and of closeness to the varied people and issues of our communities, Labour is best able to meet those challenges. Tim Barnett MP - 31st March 2008