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Editorial: John Banks - gone but not forgiven

Sun 8 Jun 2014 In: Politics and Religion View at Wayback View at NDHA

John Banks hearing his guilty verdict. (TVNZ pic) As John Banks faced the inevitable in recent days I've been staring at courtroom photos and seeing not Banks but countless hundreds, if not thousands, of other men. And sensing more than a little schadenfreude. Like Banks, they had been in court facing the public dissection of their lives, their morality and their reputation. They were being judged and were being found wanting. If they had so far in their lives managed to maintain some kind of façade to escape opprobrium, now that protection was crumbling in a spectacularly public way. From this point on society would feel it was right to point and snigger, or worse. In all likelihood they would lose their jobs, public position, some or all friendships, and the very mention of their name would come to be a synonym for unacceptability, disgrace, perhaps even evil. Like Banks, many of them would conform to that popular stereotype of gay men: shorter and slighter than average, trim of appearance, fastidious of dress and even prim to the point of prissiness. Like Banks they would have spent a lifetime trying to rise above a perceived stain on their character. Like Banks, the end would have come with an allegation, a police investigation, public speculation, a media circus, charges laid and being processed by the court system. Like Banks, most would have faced the end of everything with emotions held tightly in check, trying to maintain a few last shreds of dignity, being jeered at as they arrived at court, wordlessly hearing a few close family and friends who were prepared to stand in open court to testify as to their intrinsic goodness. And the line-up of prosecution witnesses and lawyers savaging them in open court. Like Banks it would often all come down to an allegation, witnesses with possibly hidden motives, the "he says/no, he says" claims and counter claims, the legalistic interpretation of what had until now been a private moment or arrangement. Many of them would have entered the court with a history of public service. Many would have spent all their lives doing good as teachers or poets or serving in the armed services or as farmers, electricians or interior decorators. Many would have spent time on the boards of libraries, schools, service organisations or charitable trusts. All that was coming crashing down and there was nothing they could do to stop the momentum of their their very spectacular and oh so public fall. Unlike Banks, these thousands of kiwi men had no choice over the personal trait that led them to this end. Their homosexuality or bisexuality was innate and, if shorn of the stigma of public opinion and legalised persecution, inherently hurt no-one. They were the men John Banks wanted to see scapegoated and reviled all their lives. He would, even after the decriminalisation of homosexual intimacy in the mid-1980s, embark on his own personal campaign of abuse and finger-wagging. He would support and encourage others in their toxic and damaging homophobia. And at best, if he had had his way, gay men's lives would have been all too easily ruined, they would have been denied jobs, jeered at in the street, jailed, disowned and disgraced just for expressing their love in that most human way, physical intimacy. As a new MP Banks voted against the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986, clearly preferring to see all gay men remain regarded as nascent criminals, being jailed, medically assaulted and publicly as well as officially degraded. As a maturing MP and the then-Minister of Police he very publicly campaigned to deny basic human rights to gay men, perpetuating unfavourable stereotypes and stoking the fires of gay-bashing of every kind. This culminated in his July 1993 vote against the Human Rights Act, a then-controversial piece of landmark legislation which went on to underpin the fight against deadly HIV and the slow but inexorable improvements in the lives of glbti New Zealanders - and others. Banks wanted none of that. And even though he put up a good front in voting for legal marriage to be available to glbti people there was the distinct sense that he was swallowing a political dead rat, having bizarrely become the leader of the failing but libertarian ACT party. He and ACT were fighting to maintain political position and relevance, ACT's natural constituency demanded he vote against his natural inclinations. To misquote a real statesman, Winston Churchill, Banks would surely have voted with the devil if it meant shoring up his and his party's last fragile shreds of power and influence. And along the way, in his political down-times, he time and again took to the radio talkback airwaves to supervise a conveyor belt of anti-gay hatred, denigration and brutality. What has driven the pogrom of abuse of gay people which has characterised John Banks' public and political lives is uncertain. Like all of us he is a complex character. But unlike most of us he surrendered to the darker aspects of humanity, giving voice to suspicion, intolerance, chauvinism and bullying. To give him his due he was, face to face, rarely less than civil to individual gay people, be they employees or reporters. He also fronted up to pre-election forums held by the gay community. And like Norm Jones and others before him he unintentionally, perversely, exposed and gave tangible form to hatred and bigotry which probably worked in our favour from time to time. But the lives of glbti New Zealanders are frankly not one tiny bit better for the political and public career of John Banks. What is being called his 40 years of public service were not in our service and if given free reign he would time and time again have preferred to see us live miserable and impoverished lives. To see us forever judged and always found wanting. Farewell 'Banksie'. - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 8th June 2014    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Sunday, 8th June 2014 - 11:47pm

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