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Comment: Material Boys (and Girls)

Wed 2 Jul 2014 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

Help, I'm a six-packed professional gay stereotype with high disposable income! It would seem that the current New Zealand election campaign seems to be focusing significantly on material need questions, such as housing, unemployment, health and education. Where do we fit in within this context? It means that LGBT concerns might well be perceived as side-lined, compared to the above "substantive" issues. Or are they? Granted, anti-discrimination legislation offers protection against overt discrimination in employment provision, as well as accommodation, but only for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (although hopefully, SOP 432's planned transgender rights amendment to the Human Rights Act through the avenue of the Statues Amendment Bill No.4 will rectify this). While health policy is one significant area of interest and activism within HIV/AIDS prevention organisations and women's health groups alike, and comprehensive anti-bullying protection legislation and policy are included under the rubric of education policy, some have argued that LGBT politics is narrowly focused and that there is correspondingly less research is oriented toward "outlying" issues such as housing and shelter rights, as I found when I conducted an examination of housing issues within New Zealand LGBT communities and found little that was comprehensive or systematic. Part of this is attributable to the impending transition within LGBT politics from legislative reform to evidence-based research and "stakeholder" politics, in which LGBT communities undertake research into collective needs to provide for emergence, maintenance and delivery of specific LGBT-oriented social and medical services. This already happens in the field of HIV/AIDS in the context of the AIDS Foundation and the AIDS Epidemiology Group, and is also visible in the context of the Prostitutes Collective and the debate over backward, reprehensible attacks on Maori and Pacific Island transgender/fa'afafine/whakawahine street sex workers in the context of the Manukau City Council (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill. Transgender street sex workers undeniably have a stake in the development of amenable public policy and opposing destructive moves that would compromise their occupational health and safety. There are other conceivable options. For example, Family First threw a temper tantrum when the Auckland Council provided five hundred dollars to a discussion session on polyamorous spousal relationships, as did the Taxpayers Union. Given the amount of money that has been spent by the Auckland Council on attacking the occupational health and safety of street sex workers in Manukau City, their selective focus is fascinating. But what about other initiatives? In June 2014, Metro magazine ran a recent article on the enduring problem of P/crystal meth, in which one of the protagonists was a gay man. By some miracle, that gay man's P addiction didn't result in HIV+ status, although he acknowledges that unsafe sex occurred "under the influence." In the same context, several heterosexual respondents reported similar unsafe sexual behaviour in their own lives. Whatever political bloc wins the forthcoming election, there needs to be a joint call for increased funding of research into the social, health and other consequences of P/crystal meth intake, especially when it comes to HIV exposure in the case of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. One imagines that Family First probably wouldn't object to that line of funding. Once upon a time, lesbians could depend on downward mobility in this context for street cred. Unfortunately, however, that was a recession ago. In many western societies, benefit cuts, higher unemployment and more stringent NGO funding criteria meant that lesbians needed to upskill themselves. And, given the fact that some childless lesbians don't experience the obstacles to upward career mobility that straight women and lesbians with children do, they were able to take advantage of equal employment opportunity policies and antidiscrimination laws. As a result, lesbians are also not immune to higher end outfits, bling and power dressing these days and fewer work in social services than was the case in the eighties and nineties. "Commodity lesbianism" appeared a long time ago and these days, there are even lesbian MPs within centre-right political parties in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, which would have been anathema thirty years or so ago. However, there are caveats to all this. The above social changes have happened at a rapid pace and older lesbians and gay men have a lot of repressed pain and experience of oppression to deal with and work out. Hence we often use psychotherapy and counselling to deal with such issues and help us to communicate better with LGBT youth, who haven't had to deal with such destructive experiences. Sometimes, this results in intergenerational hostilities and misunderstandings. Something similar happens within transgender communities, although at a slower pace, because the transgender community is still working through issues like antidiscrimination law reform and public funding of hormone treatment and reassignment surgery. Added to which, issues like economic inequality and maldistribution of wealth affect Maori and Pacific Island takatapui, whakwahine, tangata ira tane, fa'afafine and faikaleite in specific ways, as well as pakeha/palagi working-class LGBT individuals and social networks. Recommended: Matt Black: "Cops, Cooks and Crime" Metro (June 2014) Jeff Adams, Virginia Brown and Tim McCreanor: “Warning Voices in A Policy Vacuum: Professional Accounts of Gay Male Health in New Zealand” Social Policy Journal of New Zealand: 5: March 2007: 199-215. Danae Clark: "Commodity Lesbianism" in Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin, eds. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1993.  Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 2nd July 2014    

Credit: Politics and religion commentator Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 2nd July 2014 - 10:43am

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