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New Year's Honours: Ten Terrific Treasures!

Sun 1 Jan 2006 In: Community

Some of us have been unjustly accused of fizzing at the bung before, but on this occasion it's unabashedly true as we explode in a jismatic fit of superlatives for our list of this year's good guys (and girls too – we ain't living in some sort of Duffocracy here). STEVE "X"  Last year this unassuming and publicity-shy Aucklander assumed the role of Miss Russia and was crowned Queen of the Whole Pacific. This year, he covered himself in Milo to be transformed into Miss India, and was crowned Queen of the Whole Universe. A humble accountant by day, Steve undergoes a Wonder Woman-style transmogrification into drag divadom only a few times a year, generally for fundraising events. His Queen pageant creations have been bigger than the countries whose name they bear, with this year's Miss India scaling new heights. Miss India's outrageous array of costumes saw her dressed at various times during the show as a giant elephant, a multi-armed goddess, and a sensual Bollywood temptress. Her solo performance opened with a video segment made especially for the evening, in which she locked lips with notorious celebrity hunk Marc Ellis (although the connection was simply a casual meeting at the local dairy). Steve's colourful, entertaining and elaborate contributions to the drag world are akin to The Towering Inferno's contribution to the disaster film genre, and what a glamorously beautiful disaster it is. Even non-drag enthusiasts are keen to see what on earth he's going to come up with next. MARYAN STREET  New Labour MP Maryan Street blazed into Parliament this year with an inaugural speech that put her firmly in the still burgeoning category of LYDaFaWs (Lesbians You Don't Fuck With). She cited treatment of minorities as a yardstick of democratic society, and lashed out at the minority-bashers: "The shabby, slovenly thinking behind the detractors of what is pejoratively termed "political correctness" must be seen for the crass political opportunism that it is," she said. "Pushing people to the margins of our society and then despising them for being there, purportedly in the interests of the great ill-defined "mainstream", serves our democracy badly." "As a lesbian, I have often been the subject of others' efforts to push me to the margins, to erode my legitimacy as a citizen and to belittle my efforts and achievements because I am a member of a minority," she continued. "I have never accepted marginalisation. It is a construct of others who wish me to be marginalised – it is not where I see myself, or the many others like me. But it has always required courage." Indeed. And when you've even got National MPs singing your praises, it's clear that courage and determination has got you places. PITA SHARPLES  Despite lingering concern over their aspinations (see definition in Ten Tawdry Transgressors, link below) in some policy areas, the addition of Pita Sharples as co-leader for the Maori Party has done much to assuage glbt community fears that to support Maori sovereignty was akin to supporting duffocratic (also see definition in Ten Tawdry Transgressors, link below) bigotry. Tariana Turia's record on supporting glbt civil rights in the last Parliament was abysmal. Her support for the obscure Family Rights Protection Party in the run-up to the election, her bizarre cosying up to elements of the race-baiting right, and the knowledge that the Maori Party were likely to do quite well in the polls had some glbt worried, and some Maori glbt feeling betrayed. Yet during the election campaign, it was Sharples who waved a flag of peace. "Countering homophobia requires building a commitment towards a goal and a vision that is powerful enough to both overshadow current prejudice and, more importantly, to challenge its very logic," he wrote in an election column exclusively for "For the Maori Party, this vision is for restoring kaupapa-informed whanau and communities, for restoring whanaungatanga as a key value for all who call Aotearoa home." "Walking the kaupapa talk" was a big part of Sharples' platform, and so far the Maori Party has delivered. All four of its MPs voted against the anti-gay Marriage (Gender Clarificaition) Bill, sending a resounding message to the religious right. In a debate speech which commentator Tony Milne said was the best of the bunch, MP Hone Harawira said he hadn't asked any of his seven children what their sexual orientation is, but that whatever it was, it wouldn't change his love for them. DES It sounds like the title for one of those small-town art-house heartwarming indie movie hits, but fantasy became reality in May this year for civil union poster boys and gay granddads, Des Smith and John Jolliff. Guests at the ceremony, held at the Wellington Council Chambers, entered through a rainbow guard of honour. As's eyes and ears on the day, Robyn Paterson summed up the mood: "There was no question that guests were celebrating not only the Civil Union of Des that the couple had played a big role in helping to achieve. We've come to know them as the "poster boys" of the campaign for Civil Unions – their 19 year relationship a clear example that gay and lesbian couples are as capable of love and commitment as their heterosexual counterparts. Having tirelessly made submissions and given interviews in support of Civil Unions passing into law, it seemed fitting that Des Comedians are used to finding people and situations to use as cannon fodder in their routines, but when award-winning disabled, gay and vegetarian comedian Philip Patston heard comments from New Zealand's favourite dummy-spitter Alan Duff that he was sick of hearing about gays and disabled people, he took it seriously – but fought back humourously. As well as unearthing hitherto-unknown gems of wisdom from Confucius – "He who once were warrior and say dumb things had better be careful crossing road" – Patston wondered aloud whether Duff would volunteer to be run over so he could spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, unable to access buildings and subject to the same intolerance he dishes out. Duff's comments (the rantings of a mad King Lear, Gayline's Neville Creighton deliciously called them) couldn't have come at a worse time for the National Party's newly-appointed PC eradicator, Wayne Mapp, who was highly embarrassed by them. He was doubtless made more uncomfortable by another hitback from Patston, who put out a press release suggesting how he (Patston) could be eradicated. This involved giving back a social entrepreneur grant he received in 2003 to promote disability arts in New Zealand, returning the Billy T award he won for his comedy work, and destroying episodes of Shortland Street he appeared in playing a successful disabled businessman. All were obviously examples of political correctness, Patston reckoned, and he said he was happy to meet with Mapp and Duff to discuss the most cost-effective means of eradication. No replies were forthcoming. SHANE BOSHER  Going to the theatre in Auckland has never been more exciting, thanks to the tireless efforts of gay Silo Theatre director Shane Bosher this year. Not only has the Silo put on back-to-back quality shows with high-calibre performances, there've been more than a few queer classics to boot. Bosher himself directed the Tennessee Williams classic Suddenly Last Summer, about the mysterious death of a wealthy gay jetsetting playboy and his mother's inability to deal with the reality of it. The play's stark, expressionistic set design and lighting was provocative, disturbing, and utterly absorbing. "Mr Bosher is definitely a director to cherish," said reviewer John Curry. "His ability to both shape the material and yet allow the actors to display such comfortableness with their roles is both an admirable and an all too rare talent." Bosher was also one of the acerbic highlights of Jonathon Hendry's wonderful revival of Boys In The Band, in which he played Harold. Bosher didn't appear until the end of the first act, standing statue-like in an entrance wearing a pair of dangerously large dark glasses before letting out the beginnings of a lecherous, deep-throated laugh – but it was enough to completely steal the scene. Here's to more top-notch productions in 2006 before Bosher's talents are inevitably snapped up for use elsewhere. AMANDA The strong community response to the botched proposals and wandering focus of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation board crystallised around the words of longtime Wellington-based activist Bill Logan. His comments at the Foundation's 20th anniversary Gala Ball that the board was “strategically disoriented” and that gay men would not listen "to a non-gay organisation tell us how to have sex" received strong applause. A few weeks later at the Foundation AGM, Logan was absolutely on fire, giving the most forceful and impassioned speech of the evening. In order to fight the epidemic we have to change the culture of men who have sex with men, he said, and this will not happen unless gay people feel they own the Foundation. "The problem is that this board has not acted in a way which encourages gay men and MSM to feel that we own you," he said, repeating his comments from the Gala Ball: "And unless we feel we own you, we're not going to let you tell us how to have sex." Before Logan stood up to be counted in his "persistently difficult and rude and undiplomatic" manner (his own words), it was too easy for the ivory tower NZAF board to write off opposition to its proposals and focus as being stirred up by a vexatious minority. He is to be commended for his well-chosen and to-the-point wake-up call. LINDAH LE POU  Transgender people suffer discrimination in all sorts of minor and major ways on a daily basis, but few were more public and embarrassing this year than what happened to fa'afafine fashion designer and singer/songwriter Lindah Le Pou. When Le Pou was being introduced in front of 15,000 people at this year's Pacific Music Awards, she was nowhere to be seen. Scheduled to present an award, she was far too busy being bustled away by a security guard, who scooped her up in the wings as she stood ready to go on. Despite being invited to appear, someone had suddenly decided that Christians in the audience would be offended. The award was presented by someone else, and the audience was left thinking Le Pou hadn't bothered to show up. But the man responsible for this last-minute decision, entertainment director Thelo Meleisea, had chosen the wrong person to mess with. Lindah took her story first to the media, then to the Human Rights Commission. She received unreserved apologies from the Auckland City Council (chief sponsors of the event), including Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard. Meleisea resigned his position. She belatedly received an apology from Meleisea himself, just a few weeks ago, after mediation by the Human Rights Commission. All parties denied throughout that Le Pou's removal had anything to do with religion. THE STAFF OF THE NEW ZEALAND AIDS FOUNDATION  While the Foundation board did its own publicity and cocked up its reputation royally, it was the staff who were left to face the music. Although many in the community had been aware of staff concerns over the board proposal fallout for months, it was only in the days leading up to the Foundation AGM, and at the AGM itself, that those concerns spilled over unequivocally into the public domain, and it was realised just how much staff time had been wasted on the debacle. All staff members who spoke out at the AGM were effectively risking their relationships with their employers by publicly articulating their concerns so forcefully, but the laying their reputations, and perhaps even their jobs, on the line was a testament to how passionate the Foundation staff are about their work and their community. Even board members commented on this – for the staff of the Foundation, this is not just another job. In some ways, it is even a vocation, a desire to help free the community from a terrible disease. And the thought of that focus being lost for even a second, let alone the best part of a year, sickened, angered and horrified them. Here's hoping that with a board that has taken on these concerns, they can get back to fighting the good fight in 2006 and help to repair the damage done in political and community circles to the NZAF this year, at a time when HIV infection rates have never been worse.     Chris Banks - 1st January 2006

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Sunday, 1st January 2006 - 12:00pm

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