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Bill Logan Pt.1: "It was a good ride!

Sun 24 Jul 2011 In: People View at Wayback View at NDHA

For many New Zealanders in 1985 and 1986 Bill Logan became the voice and face of Homosexual Law Reform. As one of three coordinators of the Wellington Gay Task Force and that organisation's media spokesperson he was the Wellington print media's go-to man on the subject. And as national TV news was then largely based out of Wellington he was also frequently projected into the homes of the nation. In retrospect there seems a quiet inevitability about Logan's involvement. In a 1985 issue of Out! magazine, the chief gay community chronicler of the fight for law reform, Logan (pictured in the centre of the 1985 Out! photo above) said he became involved in the fight for equal gay rights when he realised he was gay. "I have always believed that people have to struggle for their rights, right are not given to them," he said. "As I started to recognise my gayness and to recognise how much people who are gay are outsiders in society and are not given the rights of ordinary people I started to resent this.” "You have to remember,” says Logan in 2011, “that to be out was quite difficult in those days because you could lose your job very easily and so many of the people who were very out were very, very young and inexperienced. I happened to be a little older, I would have been 35 or 36.” BILL VS THE CARDINAL Logan first began to front up inthe media when a prominent Catholic churchman went public with the church's opposition to all things homo. “When the Cardinal made a statement against homosexual law reform we had to find someone to get up and speak against him and everyone pointed the finger at me as the one who was willing and was sufficiently trusted. And so I found myself coming out. Because I hadn't come out to many people other than other gay people until that point.” So Logan found himself on national television arguing with the Cardinal “which was good fun.” It helped that Logan's background was in political studies and that he had clear ideas of how to use the political process to knock out opposition to social change. “Before I came out I was a political activist, a leftist, a Marxist, a political scientist. I taught political science at Vic for a little while... I was used to trying to build unity around political issues, fighting them and so on.” "I had a background in the left, in building demonstrations against All Blacks going to South Africa and all sorts of things like that going back to the 1960s." In those campaigns Logan learned the importance of coalition building, the techniques of bringing together disparate organisations and people who nevertheless had the same goal. They would prove vital skills. As for the time it would take out of his days and weeks to work on the campain it helped that Logan's employment situation was, to say the least, flexible. “I had a little bookshop which wasn't doing terribly well and which I simply closed rather early into the thing. I had really wanted to become a bookseller... it was something I was entirely unsuited to because I am not very good at business and the paperwork side of things and I didn't realise this at all... there's a lot of exactly the kind of stuff I'm worst at in bookselling!" As the campaign gained momentum Logan got an offer he couldn't refuse. He had a lease on the shop's premises “and they they wanted to do a highrise building shortly after I'd got this lease and so they had to buy me out. And so I had enough money to live on, and so I lived on that for the period of Homosexual Law Reform basically. That money was all gone by the end of it but it was well worth it. It was a good ride!” 1985/86 was a time of great change in New Zealand. After years of the almost dictatorial rule of the Muldoon National government which had resulted in New Zealand being socially ossified and practically bankrupt (think Greece or Ireland today) things had to change. When a booze-sodden Muldoon called snap election in mid-1984 he lost the bet, allowing the charismatic David Lange and his team of fresh young politicians eager for change to take the helm. While most emphasis was on economic matters it was quietly obvious to those in the glbt communities eager for change that the new Labour government was populated with socially liberal politicians who might be supportive of decriminalising homosexual intimacy. “I've always been a political creature and I also saw that there was a real possibilty of getting the thing through,” remembers Logan. “There had been many occasions when it would have been a nice idea but it wouldn't have been worth putting as much (effort) into it. The likelihood of winning wasn't worth it the previous times but here we had an opportunity where it could come off.” 

 HIV/AIDS TIGHTENS ITS GRIP A sense of urgency and focus was also coming from an unlikely quarter. In major gay communities overseas such as San Francisco, New York and London gay men were dying in their hundreds from terrifying disease called AIDS. In 1985/86 it had only just been realised that the disease was spread through sexual connection and that supportive awareness campaigns focussing on condom use just might stem the tide of death which was just starting to hit New Zealand. Alone and largely unsupported gay men were getting sick and dying painful and miserable deaths. The commmunity and some elements of the medical profession responded with great compassion and courage. “I was very deeply involved in setting up the AIDS Suppport Network and the AIDS Foundation and the bookshop was a centre for gay people and I was involved in the Gay Switchboard and I was also newly out so I was really enthiusiastic about a new life,” says Logan. “I had a new relationship which had begun in 1983, with Jerome, and so it was a time of huge optimism and opportunities and it suited me to get into a political battle which we could conceivably win. And there was a sense that this was a way that I could be really useful to the people who I had become very close to as I was coming out.” Logan became one of three coordinators heading up the Wellington Gay Task Force, one of many similar organistions around the country fighting for law reform. Some of those organisations were were big, such as in Auckland, some were smaller such as in Christchurch or Hawkes Bay. And they were only loosely bound together. And in the main centres there were groups other than the Gay Task Forces. "There was no effective national organisation", recalls Logan. "And that was ok because we occasionally could get together and we had lots of phone communications and we worked together fairly well. There were different styles obviously and we just got on with our own thing mostly.” The Gay Task Force held weekly meetings open to all gays and lesbians at which individuals and other groups could air their ideas and differences. "Sometimes there would be just a few people and sometimes they would be huge meetings... the Gay Task Force had huge authority because everyone was part of it," recalls Logan. DIVERSITY OF OPINIONS There was a distinct diference in approach between Wellington and Auckland, Logan recalls. He feels the Wellington Gay Task Force assumed more, and national, authority because the other main group, the Auckland Gay Task Force was "a completely different animal, it was a closed organisation and you had to belong. People had selected themselves in the first place but at the core of it were some Labour Party types... it had a different style... they had much more money than we did and they had connections with Don McMoreland who was a very useful legal brain." Logan feels the Aucklanders managed to offend the women in Auckland, and the young men, by what he describes as "their exclusiveness." "We had a variety of equivalents in Wellington but everyone kind of was part of the same thing. In Wellington there was more of an activist left wing and an organisation called CHE, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and there was the more respectable liberal academic Homosexual Law Reform Society - it had been started by the Dorian Society but by this time that connection was long finished." Logan worked to keep the various Wellington groups in touch. "I went to as many of the meetings and belonged to as many of these organisations as I possibly could in the interests of trying to tie things together... so I was on the executive of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, I went to CHE meetings every week but the Gay Task Force was the core thing in Wellington." The WGTF wasn't just Logan though. There was an office staffed by two volunteers. "No one was paid but they were more or less full time... people gave up their time, there was David Hindley who was our public relations expert, there was James Heslop who was our money person, there was Alison Laurie and Linda Evans and Tighe Instone and Phil Parkinson." 

Then as now, and perhaps as always, the glbt communities were frequently divided and even fractious. And not just between those communities but internally as well. Gay men and lesbians in particular seemed to fall into various groupings based on outlook, socio-economic status, age and various other factors. “There were a whole lot of rather different constituencies, each of which had to be convinced that the others had an important role,” says Logan. “There was a tendency at that stage for the modern gay liberationist youth, who were for a strategy of everyone coming out now - a sort of in your face type of strategy, to think that anyone else was useless." The male/female thing added an edgy dynamic. "There was another group of people who thought that actually the men's struggle wasn't as important as the lesbians' struggle... that the lesbians were more oppressed and more deeply oppressed and that it would help lesbians fight against the oppression for lesbians to help fight against men's oppression. But it was for them, at a certain level, secondary. "There were older, rich, sometimes quite misogynist gay men who thought that both of those constituencies were in the way, that they were likely to cause us embarrasment, that they were unseemly and that politicians would be turned off by them. Whereas of course the feminists and the gay liberationists thought that these old troglodytes were making us slip back into the closet and by undermining the necessary strategy of convincing people to come out these people were telling people to stay at home!” “And so,” recalls Logan wryly, “you'd get the different ideas, and many others, argued out. And sometimes those arguments would be between different factions within Wellington and sometimes they would play a territorial role nationally.” Logan recalls that the Wellington and Auckland cultures emerged wih basic differences, particularly between the Wellington Gay Task Force and the Auckland Gay Task Force, each a quite separate organisation. “Right through the whole period of (public debate) there was an increase in anti-gay violence,” he recounts as an example, “and at one stage in Auckland the Gay Task Force came out with a position that gay men should extremely careful of violence and should always make sure that they went around in groups or at least pairs and be careful of dark places and so on. And that was a way of doing things which was informed by a kind of approach to the whole politics, a particular kind of ideological lense on it. In Wellington the response to the violence was to have self-defence classes and make sure there was good television coverage of those self defence classes and that gay people should be able to look after themselves and give as good as they got.” Who was right? “At this stage it's really a moot point which was the better strategy... the point is that there were these different strategies and there was sometimes a tendency for everything to fall apart." FORGING UNITY Logan also remembers a situation when there was a move to have a particular public demonstration in Wellington “and some of the people here thought 'No, we've got to stop this demonstration thing... demonstrations look radical, people don't like demonstrations... not a good idea.' Hundreds of people attended an open meeting of the Gay Task Force to thrash out the issue “and the fighting was fairly nasty until I said 'Hey look, wait a moment, I don't know which we should do but we've got to make this work, we've got to come to agreement. We can't win unless we can agree. Sometimes one side is going to have to step down. Somteimes we're going to have to make compromises. Everyone is occasionally gloing to have to acquiesse to tactics which they don't think are perfect because there's no way that x and y are ever going to think that demonstrations are a good idea...” That demonstration eventually went ahead. “What we did was appoint the most vocal spokesperson for the 'don't demonstrate' group as an extra coordinator at the Gay Task Force. That was Daniel Fielding actually.” Fielding was one of the first men diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand and was already immersing himself deeply in community building and gay and AIDS activism. On balance, did the divisions of outlook and attitude ultimately help or hinder the campaign for Homosxeual Law Reform? “I don't look at it like that,” Logan states, “I just see that as a necessary and inevitable part of the political process. If you're going to get anything done you've got to make a coalition that is broad and that always involves compromises and deals and so on. One of the reasons that I was useful was that I had some understanding of political processes.” But it wasn't only the glbt communities which had to be brought together for the fight to keep gay men out of prison for doing what comes naturally to men in love or in lust. In Part Two of this interview with Bill Logan, tomorrow, he reflects on the alliances which were created between gay activists and politicians and religious groups.     Jay Bennie - 24th July 2011

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Sunday, 24th July 2011 - 1:36pm

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