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Five minutes with John Key

Mon 13 Feb 2012 In: Features View at NDHA

This woman, her dog and her bananas were among the first to be snapped with the PM, who was far from 'Mr Grumpy' It’s an interesting sight watching John Key arrive at the Big Gay Out. People flock to him like he’s a celebrity; groups of mates taking turns posing for pictures with him that are destined for their Facebook walls, mothers pushing through to get a shot of their kids with the Prime Minister, people hell-bent on getting answers to their burningly serious questions and tipsy revellers who just want a word with him about all manner of silly issues. There are many who watch on in disdain; lifetime Labour and Greens supporters who don’t want a bar of the celebrity PM, sitting back with clear consternation on their faces that a man who voted against civil unions because he thought that was how his electorate felt, despite personally being in favour of the legislation, is so warmly welcomed in a gay crowd. But each year since he was elected he has been embraced and nearly downright stalked by plenty of people at the annual celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender New Zealand, even getting a strange cheer in 2011 when he stated his government hadn’t taken any of our rights away. A year on, after he and his entourage made it through the sea of cameras, got on stage and delivered a speech, then made it back through the sea of cameras again, we pulled Key aside for a five minute chat. The PM was even interrupted for a photo by this random Australian guy, as he tried to give his speech onstage Dressed down in a blue shirt, no tie and comfortable shoes the camera-happy Prime Minister was far from the “Mr Grumpy” the media has labelled him in his new term. He was relaxed and entirely delighted with another mostly warm welcome in the drizzle, in his sixth year at Coyle Park. “I think people respect the fact that we turn up and support the Big Gay Out,” he tells “They’re not all going to be National supporters, but there is a lot of support out there for us. I think we’re doing quite well in the gay and lesbian community.” While his time on stage was a pretty sober affair compared to the infamous time when he danced with Buffy and Bimbo, he said he would have been happy to repeat the stunt. “They didn’t ask me to. I understand David Shearer said no,” he jibed. “I might have been keen.” NZAF Executive Director Shaun Robinson grabs a word with Key as his entourage makes its way through Coyle Park Moving on from the fluffy stuff, youth suicide is an area Mr Key told the crowd he wants to tackle, and when we asked he was aware that glbti youth are overrepresented in the self-harm and suicide attempt statistics. “I’m very interested in doing something about the statistics we have,” he said. “[Suicide victims] are obviously small numbers of people, but they devastate their families. It’s ultimately a symptom of much wider mental health issues that we need to address, and we’re really trying to put together a comprehensive programme in the same way that we did when we tried to tackle the methamphetamine. "We acknowledge there will probably always be the tragedy of people taking their own lives, but we’re really determined to try and get better opportunities for young people to reach out and get help and feel suicidal. On gay adoption, Key says he believes the best way for the outdated 1955 Adoption Act to be sorted would be through a private member’s bill coming onto Parliament’s agenda, “but obviously the control of that process is a bit in the lap of the Gods, whether the bill will get drawn. If it does we’ll take it through. My own personal view is that I’m not opposed to gay adoption. I don’t think Government would put it on the agenda primarily because adoption rates now are very low in New Zealand, there are under 100 family-based adoptions in any one year, so it’s probably not fundamentally the biggest issue the Government has to concern itself with. But we accept it’s an issue for the gay and lesbian community.” When probed on why such a small thing that would be so easy to fix can’t just be sorted out by the Government, Key says the Government has been looking at “a number of other things” to see if adoption can be made slightly easier. He says it’s likely to sign an agreement with Russia, which might help speed up non-family adoptions. “And there are a number of other things that we could consider … we’ve come a long way in terms of IVF treatment and the likes of that have helped a lot of families. But for a lot of people not being able to have a child because they’re gay or simply can’t conceive, really rips their life apart, so we understand that issue.” On gay marriage, Key’s response is even less hopeful. “I don’t think it’s likely to progress. Again, I think it’s possible through a member’s bill, that would be considered. Again I think it would be something that the community would argue there’s no particular reason to be opposed to gay marriage, but at least the step to a civil union was an important step and an important win,” he concedes, just over seven years since he voted against the Civil Union Bill as a first-term MP. “We’ve got no intentions of reversing any of those gains to the community, so at least some progress has been made.” The nation's "sexiest male politician" is certainly not camera shy Overall the leader of our nation thinks we are doing well when it comes to embracing diversity. “I think we’ve come a long way. There’ll always be some prejudices, as there is always some degree of racism in any community as well. People are prejudiced for a variety of different reasons. But the days when people are discriminated against because they’re gay or lesbian or transgender hopefully are well and truly gone. You look at somewhere like the United States where they’ve only finally just got rid of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, you sort of think New Zealand’s a lot more advanced. And that’s a really good thing.” Personally, Key says, he treats people on what they bring to his experiences with them, whether professional or private. “I don’t judge people on their sexuality.” With that the celebrity Prime Minister is off to deal with the crowd that has gathered waiting for yet more pictures as we spoke. Sheesh. Jacqui Stanford - 13th February 2012    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Monday, 13th February 2012 - 4:44pm

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