Title: Sleeping While The Enemy... Credit: Tim Barnett Features Sunday 16th March 2003 - 12:00pm1047772800 Article: 69 Rights
With the high-profile battles for law reform and human rights all but won, gay MP Tim Barnett is concerned our GLBT community in danger of dropping its guard, letting ultraconservative groups regroup and rename themselves as they seek to erode our achievements. Let me start with three questions: Why do some people get so very upset about public discussion and law reform around issues involving sex and sexuality? Why were over half the arrests in the last five years for prostitution-related offences of men? Why are energy levels in our community so low on issues of law and policy change to ensure more fair treatment? They are not about such different issues as a quick first reading might indicate. Because they touch on matters of immense importance as the disparate strands of our queer/Rainbow community work out where they are heading in the post law reform era. Post law reform? Well, the hurdles still to be overcome on the way to legal equality are limited. If we can achieve a new legal status (the debate on which will naturally flow into a discussion on the future shape of the institution of marriage) and tidy up the rights and responsibilities in existing law attached to specific kinds of relationships, legal equality will be to all intents and purposes a reality. And that will be in spite of forces in our society which are as noisy and bigoted as they ever were, even if they are less representative of public opinion. And that brings me to what I see as the crucial danger in the new era, bridging all three of those questions which I posed. Once the obvious issues of discrimination - of unfair law - are removed, our targets will be more subtle. They will include, for example, how the Police do their job (and those prostitution arrest figures show how homophobia can interfere with good policing practice); also how schools perform when faced with queer students keen to be open about what they are. However, it is very difficult to get the whole community excited about such matters. It is in that environment - of a community happy enough not to go that extra mile to push for reform - that the moral right can start to get a strong foothold. They may be numerically weaker, but their money pours in from United States and other sources, they have become more skilled at spreading homophobia without being so blunt as they were in the past, and there is always a rich range of agenda items for them to get excited about. They also tend to reinvent themselves from time to time - the Maxim Institute is their latest and most prominent lead organisation, and prostitution is their current obsession. They rely on pseudo-research (often selectively generated), they work through Baptist and other fundamentalist church congregations to give the (usually false) impression of support on the ground, and they have staying power. Their message gets into Parliament through parts of United Future, ACT, New Zealand First and National. So, all in all, the scene is very interesting. To break the mold we need to organise and campaign better, we need to inform ourselves for that last push for equal rights under the law, and we need to realise just how great a threat our old enemies - in their new C21st guise - can still be. Tim Barnett - 16th March 2003    
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