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After gay-friendly Sukhi, what?

Tue 28 Sep 2004 In: Features

Sukhi Turner For the past nine years, Dunedin has been an oasis of diversity in the conservative South under Mayor Sukhi Turner, but is that all about to change? Turner has decided not to run this year, and her decision to endorse Malcolm Farry (a candidate labeled by some as a member of the "old boys club") over some of the more progressive female candidates have led to cries of "sellout". Turner has been outspoken in her support for the gay and lesbian community over her time as mayor, opening Pride Week every year, speaking out against homophobia and generally being an ambassador for diversity. Her ascent to the mayoralty in 1995 came as something of a seachange following 18 years of right-wing administrations, presided over by Turner's predecessor Richard Walls, and his forerunner Sir Clifford Skeggs. Concerns about Turner's flip-flopping have been magnified by not only her endorsement of Farry, but her decision to appear in an ad campaign headlined “Dunedin Mayors Support Malcolm Farry” alongside Walls and Skeggs. The two frontrunners in Dunedin's mayoralty race are Farry and Peter Chin. Both say they're committed to continuing Dunedin's image as a diverse, safe and inclusive city, and both say they'd turn up at Pride Week. But how far does their tolerance stretch? When asked about his views on the Civil Union Bill, Chin would not answer, saying it was not a matter relating to the local body elections. “My views on that, I will take that as my own views, and not discuss them publicly,” he says. Although the question isn't a specific local body issue, neither are many questions asked of candidates in the run-up to an election. People do like to know who they're voting for, but Chin would not put his opinion on the record. Chin also seemed reluctant to embrace the gay and lesbian community, seeing them merely as part of the whole and not a segment of the population with their own particular concerns. When asked if his picture of a diverse Dunedin included gays and lesbians, rather than simply replying "yes", he qualified his answer: "It includes the whole community; I would not single out the gay and lesbian community as a group that's different from the community in general." Farry was more upfront about discussing some things he may share in common with gays and lesbians. "I know about marginalisation, I grew up in a society as an ethnic minority…we were very aware and have been very aware up to more recent times of prejudice, bigotry and so on related to ethnic minorities. So I understand that, and I know that, and I'm totally intolerant of it in any form whatsoever," he says. He has no problem with legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships, although has concerns about the Civil Union Bill providing an extra option for heterosexual couples. "Anything that supports the family I'm for, maybe its neutral on the family, I'm not quite sure, but maybe it undermines the family, and I've still got an open mind on it at this stage," he says. Turner believes Dunedin's future as a progressive city is still bright, citing recent protests against the Destiny Church and its political offshoot in Dunedin as examples. "There isn't a conservative backlash there's a liberal backlash I think, because of course the destiny church that has been meeting actually had quite a lot of vocal people against what they actually stand for, and I think Dunedin has been leading the way in having demonstrations against that kind of narrow-mindedness." We asked Mrs Turner via email why she had decided to endorse Malcolm Farry over the other candidates, and for her response to accustions of selling out, but she had not responded at the time of publication. Chris Banks - 28th September 2004    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Tuesday, 28th September 2004 - 12:00pm

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