Article Title:Ex-pat Aussie Nick Toonen
Category:Hall of Fame
Author or
Published on:21st June 2003 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:79
Text:Recent recipient of the Order of Australia medal recognising his work for LGBT rights in Australia, Nick Toonen now lives in New Zealand. Who are you and what's your background? I am a 38-year-old gay man living in Wellington with my partner Jay Ocampo, who comes from the Philippines. We met in Australia five years ago and have lived together in Tasmania (my home for 34 years), Manila and now for three years in New Zealand. I was one of the leaders of the nine-year campaign for gay law reform in Tasmania, which was very intense. The campaign involved lots of direct action, lobbying, public education and media work. I also took the case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee who ruled that Australia was in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because of Tasmania's antigay laws. The case led to: international protest campaigns co-ordinated by Amnesty International; a national boycott of Tasmanian products; the Australian Parliament enacting legislation to nullify the effects of the Tasmanian legislation; we activists taking a case to the Australian High Court to interpret the new Australian law against the Tasmanian anti-gay law; and then finally the Tasmanian Parliament changing the law. Over most of our time in New Zealand Jay and I have been involved in working to develop and promote the civil union concept and bill. I originally trained in computers, but since I was 22 have managed not-for profit organisations, starting with the Tasmanian AIDS Council. For three years I've worked as the CEO of the New Zealand Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and also worked a lot on national issues related to volunteering in New Zealand - I chaired the national committee for the International Year of Volunteers (2001). What has drawn you to activism in Australia, and now NZ? A deep sense of justice that I learnt from my father, and a deep sense of pride in being Tasmanian - a deep connection to the place of my birth. It wasn't until the law had changed in Tasmania that I felt free to seriously consider living elsewhere. Another strong motivating factor for me was the isolation and invisibility I felt growing up - and wanting to change things so no young person in Tasmania grew up without being aware of gay and lesbian issues and seeing gay and lesbian role models in the media and elsewhere. Here in New Zealand, it has just been a natural progression to work on relationship recognition issues. My relationship with Jay is such a big part of my life, and we have benefited from New Zealand's enlightened approach to same sex relationships in immigration. So seeing that approach extended generally to gay and lesbian relationships is something we see as worth working on. I wouldn't say my role here has been as an activist though, more as a fairly low profile advocate and support person for those leading the arguments for the civil union bill. What characterises the New Zealand GLBT community for you? My experience is of a lot of strong and wonderful people. Being "on the outside" can lead people to develop wonderful self-awareness and a great sense of community responsibility. It can also lead to quite self-destructive approaches, but I haven't experienced that here in the GLBT communities. What is the worst thing for you about being GLBT? One of the biggest challenges is that if I want children at some point then there can be quite a lot involved - although at the moment that's not really an issue for me. On another level confronting internalised homophobia is a constant challenge, but also a great opportunity to grow. What is the best thing? Making love (in all senses) with a man. Also the wonderful development of myself and of communities that I've experienced. Relationship status? I've been in an amazingly supportive relationship with Jay for 5 years, which has involved living in Australia, the Philippines and New Zealand in an effort to find a country that we were both comfortable in, and which would embrace us both. Favourite food and drink? My favourite foods include pesto, chicken and avocado; my favourite drinks would have to be fresh mango juice and plum wine (but not together). Worst habit? Over-committing myself and then not realising until I'm run down. Most noble feature? Integrity. Favourite TV programme? They include CSI, Friends, and the Goodies (remember them?). While I've only seen them on video, the British Queer as Folk series is right up there too. Favourite movie? Richard III with Ian McKellen. Qualities you most appreciate in a GLBT person? Integrity, good humour, honesty, and a sense of spirituality. What are you reading at the moment? Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh - I've meditated over the last 7 years and find him an inspirational Buddhist writer. I've just read Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two Boys which I loved. Who in the world including NZ would you most like to have a coffee and a chat with? I'm torn between the Dalai Lama and Ryan Philippe. Maybe we could have a nice three-way chat. Role models? Michael Kirby (Australian High Court Judge), Viv Maidaborne (Relationship Services CEO), Bob Brown (Australian environmentalist and Greens Senator), Ken and Elizabeth Mellor (Mediation teachers), Christopher Isherwood and my father Simon. What is the most pressing issue currently facing the NZ GLBT population? Specific to the GLBT population I'd say two are equal-relationship recognition under New Zealand's laws and supporting young people growing up and coming out. If you could have one wish granted what would it be? To transcend my attachments and fears (and to stop being so serious!). - 21st June 2003
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