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Virtuous Circle?

Thu 23 Feb 2017 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

Suddenly, it seems as if Labour and National have woken up to the fact that LGBTI New Zealanders are active citizens, who vote, join political parties and have clear policy preferences. Great, but what brought this about? One possibility is National's dialogues with centre-right political parties outside New Zealand, particularly the British Conservative Party. Watching the Trump presidential shipwreck and contrasting it with British Prime Minister Theresa May's calm and methodical approach to succeeding David Cameron, as well as the Abbott/Turnbull Coalition debacle in Australia, may have have convinced English to similarly adopt a centrist strategy when it comes to cultivating a pluralist, broadbased centre-right political party. But isn't he supposed to be a conservative Catholic? Yes, but then gender and sexual politics have been changing over the last thirty years or so, leading to some normalisation of LGBTI political objectives, meaning that there is now a bidding war between the two major political blocs for our attention and prospective votes. National has a new 'rainbow' logo, Amy Adams has announced that the Ministry of Justice will preside over the erasure of pre-reform historic homosexual offences from public criminal records, and Prime Minister English attended Big Gay Out, where he asked some insightful and analytical questions about PrEP/Truvada at the New Zealand AIDS Foundation stall. This suggests that there may be a timed announcement that his government intends to subsidise access to PrEP/Truvada later this year. Not to be outdone, Labour leader Andrew Little countered this move through announcing that a Labour/Green coalition government will fund PrEP/Truvada, effectively showing his knowledge about the issue and its substantive significance to New Zealand LGBT communities. How far could this go? Unfortunately, a comprehensive anti-bullying bill is out of the question for the time being. We will need to watch and wait for Canada to make greater movement in this direction, but there shouldn't be any trouble. After all, the intention of such legislation is to prevent antisocial activities such as bullying and schoolyard harassment, and encourage the educational retention and employability of the former bullied, as well as rehabilitation and pro-social activities for the bullies instead of suspension and expulsion in the latter context. This leaves the two transgender rights concerns that I raised in my earlier commentary on what New Zealand LGBTI community objectives should be during the current interim period before election campaigning begins in earnest. The Department of Corrections has now proceeded toward satisfactory resolution of safe transgender prisoner management issues, and the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, deserves especial praise for her diligent and low-key attention to the issue of transgender youth health and safety in schools, as well as the issue of ablutionary facilities. However, this doesn't resolve the issues around trans-inclusive antidiscrimination laws and subsidising reassignment surgery, most probably through reciprocal arrangements with Thai surgeons, to dismantle the unwieldy edifice of the clogged Special High Cost Treatment Pool. Why has this proven such a relatively contentious concern? It may be because of the current government's neoliberal political philosophy, which centres on reduced government spending. From this perspective, it makes good fiscal sense to fund Truvada because its early and consistent adoption will reduce HIV exposure and enable reduced government expenditure without political risk that has already cost National some LGBTI votes due to the clogged pipeline for new HIV drug approvals and funding within Medsafe and Pharmac. The English administration also wants to encourage community welfare organisations to take up the slack caused by the absence or cessation of central government social services, so it therefore would welcome the erasure of historic homosexual offences (without compensation for those affected) to enable a small group of older gay men to be able to do so. On the other hand, when it comes to transgender rights, there are problems evident. Granted, Dakota Hemmingson's courageous intervention has meant that we know that the Clark era Solicitor General Michael Cullen's Crown Law Office opinion that 'reads' gender identity into the Human Rights Act's existing criteria of 'sex' is active law and applicable to anti-transgender employment discrimination. Unfortunately, no analogous cases have arisen in the context of accomodation and/or service provision discrimination to extend that promising premise. Because the Crown Law Office opinion therefore has the effect of statute law, this has meant that Attorney-General Chris Finlayson and successive Key and English Justice Ministers have felt entitled to refuse further amendment of the Human Rights Act 1993 to directly include gender identity, despite the fact that the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and (soon) Canada already have (or will have) done so. Unfortunately, Labour have not responded directly to this concern. I get that they don't want to be seen as 'obsessed with identity politics' , but the current inertia on this ground causes educational disruption, homelessness and alcohol and drug abuse problems among whakawahine and fa'afafine because of the uncertainty. A concrete commitment would be welcome. It is an issue of policy failure within the lifetime of the current government, and it is there for the Opposition's taking should it choose to do so. Recommended: Breanna Barraclough: "Labour promises to fund HIV PrEP pill"Newshub:12.02.2017:https://www. 2017/02/labour-promises-to- fund-hiv-prep-pill.html "NZ Government to quash historic gay sex convictions":New Zealand Herald:09.02.2017:http://www. article.cfm?c_id=1  

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 23rd February 2017 - 1:31pm

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