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Addressing a culture of gay-bashing violence

Thu 20 Aug 2009 In: Features View at NDHA

As Parliament began debating the first reading of the Government-sponsored Crimes (Provocation Repeal) Amendment Bill which seeks to strike down what has become known as 'gay panic defence,' Greens MP Kevin Hague stood up as a gay man to explain to the House why the old legislation must be changed. Kevin Hague MP "I stand tonight to honour Roy Jackson, Charles Aberhart, Ronald Anderson, Jim Curtis, Barry Hart, David McNee, and Ronald Brown. In 1960 Roy Jackson, a gay man from Auckland visiting his lover on the ship Whangaroa in the port of Napier, died after being assaulted by two seamen, who were charged with and acquitted of manslaughter. In this case the judge commented that their attack on Jackson was justified as the ship was "their home". "Charles Aberhart, a gay man from Blenheim, was kicked to death in Hagley Park in 1964 by six youths aged between 15 and 17, who were found not guilty despite evidence that they had gone to the park for a "spot of queer bashing". They claimed that Mr Aberhart had provoked them by making a sexual advance. "The killer of Ronald Anderson in Hawke’s Bay in 1994 also used the homosexual panic defence. His killer claimed provocation from Anderson, who had put his hand on the killer’s knee causing a frenzied attack, first with a poker, then with punching, and finally striking him at least six times with an axe. He, too, was convicted only of manslaughter. "In 1995 Jim Curtis was attacked and left brain damaged by Tai Tahi Masters after the two met in Napier. Masters hit Curtis using a glass decanter, again claiming homosexual panic after a sexual advance, and was acquitted of both attempted murder and assault. "My colleague [gay Labour MP] Charles Chauvel has recounted some of the details of the killing of Barry Hart in 2003. He was stabbed at least 5 times. "In 2003 David McNee was killed with at least 40 blows by Phillip Edwards, who claimed that a sex transaction had gone too far. Edwards, who had 56 previous convictions, claimed homosexual panic provocation and was consequently convicted of manslaughter and acquitted of murder. "Very recently—and I am mindful of Charles Chauvel’s caution around the pending sentencing—Ronald Brown was killed by Ferdinand Ambach, who was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. Mr Brown was beaten to death with a banjo, and was found with the banjo’s neck protruding from his throat. These are crimes that I am sure members will note are characterised by a particular savagery, which is part of a culture of hostility and gay-bashing violence. "I will speak exclusively tonight about the loathsome homosexual panic version of the provocation defence, in which the experience of a man receiving a sexual advance from another is seen as something so unacceptable to a reasonable person that responding by killing carries less gravity and is somehow more justifiable. "The Law Commission, which others have referred to tonight, argues persuasively that the partial defence is fatally flawed. The commission’s research indicates that roughly half of the cases it examined where the provocation defence had been successfully used had been in this category of homosexual panic. I note that there is no equivalent heterosexual panic defence. "The law is a powerful reflection on social attitudes, but it is also a shaper of attitudes. I have worked over many years on various measures to provide for equal treatment under the law on the basis of sexual orientation. There has been some success, but the Green Party’s policy is not to rest until full, equal treatment under the law is achieved. "The ongoing existence of this defence is a signal that violently taking the life of a gay man is of less consequence than of taking the life of another. That is obnoxious in the extreme. It increases the actual physical danger faced by gay men, and it signals in the most graphic way possible both to gay men and to everyone else that our lives do not have the same value as the lives of others. "The message sent to gay and bisexual men by the existence of this partial defence contributes substantially to a hostile and negative social environment that lowers self-esteem, and that we know contributes strongly to all sorts of negative effects in health, education, and other areas—a massive waste of human potential. "As Elisabeth McDonald has written this year in the Victoria University of Wellington Law Review: “The availability of the defence of provocation in cases of homosexual advances is therefore problematic, because of its ability to excuse those who have subjected gay men to extreme violence in situations where there is no equivalent for straight men. In this way, the operation of the defence reinforces the vulnerability of gay men as ‘dangerous outlaws’. When men who kill in response to homosexual advances are not convicted of murder, courts and juries reinforce the notion that gay men do not deserve the respect and protection of the criminal justice system.” "She goes on to say: “To the extent that a partial excuse is potentially available to men who kill as a consequence of any unwanted homosexual advance, however minor, it is difficult to explain this as anything except the condoning of homophobia. The script is that there is something seriously provocative about such an advance when made by a gay man to a straight man, when in any other context the provocation would be minimal or non-existent.” "Some will say that this law is an artefact of historic attitudes, now, thankfully, in the past. I draw members’ attention to the successful use of this defence this very year in the savage killing of Ronald Brown. This is a current issue, and it impacts right now on the way we live our lives. I choose not, however, to point the finger at past Governments that have not taken action to repeal this provision. "Instead, I acknowledge the work done on the issue by Tim Barnett previously, and by Lianne Dalziel and Charles Chauvel. I give my thanks to Minister Power and to his colleagues in his caucus for taking this action now. I am aware that there will be those who wish to argue that there are still valid reasons for retaining a provocation defence, and I know that these issues will be expressed at the select committee, including concerns that repeal will remove a legitimate defence for battered women and that the change will effectively shift the decision-making balance between judge and jury. But today, tonight, we take a stand for the intrinsic worth of all human beings and for the basic right of gay men to live and to love without discrimination." Watch Kevin Hague deliver his speech in Parliament below. Kevin Hague MP - 20th August 2009

Credit: Kevin Hague MP

First published: Thursday, 20th August 2009 - 3:03am

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