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Did Air NZ drop the ball?

Mon 13 Dec 2010 In: Community View at Wayback View at NDHA

Air New Zealand's decision to pull a “gay non-kiss” scene from an in-flight safety video has divided the gay community, with some people asserting we should lighten up and others arguing the airline is right to wipe the segment. The airline deleted the scene where All Black pin-up boy Richard Kahui turns down a gay flight attendant's request for a kiss on the cheek, after receiving a number of complaints last week. Air New Zealand says there has also been concern from a university professor that the scene in "Crazy About Rugby" could lead to gay male suicide. The kiss denial comes just after Kahui is seen giving a female attendant a kiss on the cheek, posing for a picture she snaps on her cellphone camera. When a smiling gay male flight attendant taps his cheek for a kiss, the All Black centre shakes his hands in the air and walks off in mock horror. Air New Zealand says the video has been a phenomenal hit. It says when it created the video and discussed it with key stakeholders, including a number of the gay community, it received none of the feedback it has in the past week. The national carrier decided to ‘opt on the side of caution' and pull the scene rather than doing further research, as it only has seven weeks left to run. Longtime Wellington-based gay rights campaigner David Hindley is surprised at Air New Zealand's decision, saying it's a sign of maturity that you can laugh at yourself. “And one of the things that you have to laugh at is the relationship that we have, between gay men and straight men. And just the tensions there. I think that's a really good field to get some humour out of.” Hindley says there is absolutely no ill-will in the ad. “I think the whole thing is designed to be funny and is good natured. I thin we've just got to grow up and be able to laugh at ourselves,” he says. “It's kind of disappointing that with these sort of things there's always somebody who seems to get upset by them and that's a bit of a pity.” The flight attendant who features in the clip William Coxhead is “absolutely gutted” and says the gay community needs to lighten up. Gay comedian and diversity expert Philip Patston agrees, saying while the scene is not a gay rights fantasy, it does depict a gay man playfully trying it on with a bastion of heterosexuality. “I think Kahui actually comes off looking unnecessarily prudish,” Patston says. “I hate the term "political correctness", but if this is PC, then it's gone bad now, not mad. There's an important opportunity lost in not showing this scene, because it demonstrates a way for straight men to non-violently deal with their homophobia - by turning away.” Out former Black Fern and Labour's new Manurewa candidate Louisa Wall is not personally offended by the scene, but says if others in the gay community have taken offence and have a legitimate reason, then that's up to them. “I found it cheeky – and he is a hunk,” she says of Kahui, agreeing. “They wish, it's almost like. And it's fine. And it's also fine for him to say ‘nah, that's not me'.” Wall believes it's positive when issues of sexuality are normalised. “It's ok to ask but it's also ok to say no. And in that cheeky way I also thought it was all positive to have that in a video like that, because it helps to normalise sexual expression – and in public places.” She wishes the scene had remained. “I think it does help to break down barriers and just make it part of a normal diet of ‘it happens in society'.” Wall points out that there have been cases in New Zealand where gay men have been killed because they have hit on a straight man, “So it was fine for Richard Kahui just to cheekily say ‘nah',” she says. Gay Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson, who is an avid rugby fan, says although he has viewed the video many times without taking offence, he commends the airline for acting responsibly. "I took it in the spirit of fun. But I can certainly understand some people might be concerned about it. Air New Zealand are behaving responsibly here. It is their decision," Robertson told the Dominion Post. Rainbow Youth Executive Director Tom Hamilton says while the scene is light-hearted, there needs to be positive reinforcement in the media. “For young people, if you've got constant, subtle homophobic and transphobic commentary coming at you all the time and then you see what is seemingly seen as a gay role model by Air New Zealand trying to grab a kiss from a rugby player and the All Black's reaction being disgust, it could be the final straw for them.” Hamilton questions why an ad with only one aspect of queer culture included can't have a positive result. “Can't it be a gay couple on a plane going on a honeymoon?” He believes Air New Zealand should have reacted more strongly to initial complaints when the video was released months ago, saying he knows of complaints which were dismissed by the airline. “Our young people are reacting to their identities not being recognised through these really intense things, like self-harm and overdosing and drug and alcohol issues. So large organisations who ignore our comments, or ignore the negative ones and only focus on the positive ones – that's not really helpful.” Hamilton says obviously Air New Zealand should have done more research in the first place as the members of the GLBT community it asked about the ad did not reflect the community's tremendous diversity. “The queer community's really, really diverse, so we need people like Air New Zealand to be really focused on finding ways to encompass that diversity.” Hamilton agrees the range of responses to the scene being pulled reflects that diverse range of opinions and people in queer New Zealand. “You're not just dealing with one perspective,” he says. “Basically I think that Air New Zealand didn't do a good enough job of clarifying that one joke. I don't think it's really fair to turn around and say ‘well it's the gay community's fault, lighten up',” he says. “My job is not to lighten up. Our jobs aren't to be too light about it because we see the other side.” Hamilton says aside from the reality of GLBT youth being overrepresented in suicide and self-harm statistics, something like telling your parents you are different can be made so much harder when there are constant jokes aimed at GLBT people in the media. “We see it all the time, on The Edge or other radio stations, always in the media there's a negative connotation to being queer. If you want to be supportive of the queer community – put a positive in there, that's all I'm suggesting.” Air New Zealand's decision has split readers, with some saying the scene was out of date and homophobic and had to go, while others can't see what the fuss is all about. is running a poll on whether Air NZ should have pulled the scene or not. You can find it on the homepage. What do you think? Did Air NZ need to wipe this scene? Discuss this gay New Zealand news story on the Forum     Jacqui Stanford - 13th December 2010

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Monday, 13th December 2010 - 2:56pm

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