Every year GayNZ.com Daily News staff look back and honour those who have particularly impressed us during the year for their commitment to improving the lives of glbti people. In no particular order we this year honour:
Five years ago the NZAF was in a bad way. During the drawn out process of giving it much-needed refocus and rigour something had started to go wrong. Change had morphed into frustration, frustration morphed into resentment and the wheels started falling off in all directions. The NZAF board, all from memory gay men, took the 'interesting' step of appointing a straight man, Shaun Robinson, to run the outfit. He turned out to be personable with excellent people skills, a quiet determination to both see the process of change through and to re-build the esprit de cour necessary for a comparatively small health NGO to get back on top of its big job. The remarkable thing was not that he got the job done but that as a straight man with initially little knowledge of our communities and cultures he didn't somehow make it worse. His personality, personal and professional skills and determination seemed to impress nearly all those who could easily have been his strongest critics or most implacable enemies.
Our gay and bisexual male communities in particular owe a debt of gratitude to Robinson for his five constructive and refreshing years as the NZAF's Executive Director. And if the job of convincingly reversing the continuing upward trend of new HIV infections amongst us has had to be picked up by his predecessor, it doesn't bear thinking about what might have been the situation had Robinson not been the right man for the job... and then some.
No Pride In Prisons must be one of the most intensely polarising groups within the glbti communities. Some love them, some despise them, a few shake their heads in bemusement... but it's impossible to ignore them. Primarily focused on the plight of transgender people in our prison system they have shaken up and shone a spotlight on the iniquities faced by trans people the length and breadth of the country. For too long our trans brothers, sisters and others have been left behind, benefiting from such improvements as Homosexual Law Reform and Human Rights legislation but still struggling with issues of bureaucracy, identity, public acceptance, access to medical and surgical support.
There has been precious little real improvement in the two years or so NPIP has been agitating but that is not totally their fault. It's primarily the fault of government agencies who stubbornly refuse to make progress. It's partly the fault of those glbti people who are blind to the problems of trans people and who haven't lifted a finger to assist with their issues. And perhaps it's a little the fault of NPIP for, in their youthful angst, anger and inexperience rubbing some glbti folk up the wrong way. But at least they are doing something and, in the face of opposition and lack of interest, they are keeping trans issues in front of us all.
Wiremu Demchick is another who knows an injustice when he sees it. He has had to keep battling political and bureaucratic inertia and obstruction on behalf of those men who to this day carry the stigma of being convicted criminals because they got between the sheets with another willing gay man.
Overseas jurisdictions have seen the light and in varying ways found ways to annul the convictions of gay and bi men convicted before 1986 of having homosexual sex. To this day they must declare their convictions to prospective employers, for travel documents and in other areas of life, effectively forced to out themselves. It must stop and, in the face of, let's be honest, generally luke-warm engagement from our glbti communities and blatant stonewalling from the powers that be, Demchick has quietly plugged away at it to the point that there may, just may, at last finally be some official movement on the issue.
Mark Fisher, a gay but not HIV-positive Australian who ended up in NZ after a long stint in Canada crunching the numbers on that country's HIV epidemics, has fitted into his job as General Manager of Body Positive, the HIV-positive men's (primarily) advocacy and support organisation extremely well, way better than some cynics originally exected.
But that alone would not have been enough to see him honoured here. Fisher had no sooner started to come to grips with the job, which included filling the boots of his much-lauded and long-serving predecessor, than a significant and vocal section of BP's membership declared war on the the board which appointed him and some of the objectives he had been appointed to carry out. It was an unpleasant, heated and drawn-out affair and could easily have destabilised the organisation to the point of endangering its funding and therefore its very existence.
Fisher largely kept his head down and somehow, even through a period when there was temporarily no actual board and therefore no authority to make progress or even sign cheques, he managed to keep his head down, keep the place ticking over. He rose above the fray and provided much-needed stability, continuity and calm.
Elizabeth Kerekere seems to have been around for ages and in a variety of roles and it's that endurance and multi-faceted involvement which we have this year chosen to honour.
Her vibrant rainbow-hued artwork
hangs in the Rainbow Room at Parliament, she speaks with passion at glbti events and on behalf of glbti
people and causes, her commitment to the Tiwhanawhana trust which she
chairs and her hands-on involvement in the crucial Hui Takataapui are exemplary,
and her dignified and unflinching energising of initiatives by and
for our takataapui of all persuasions is unrelentingly impressive.
She is an expert of note on the cultural and historical aspects of being takataapui and an academic of note in the area of health and well-being. Elizabeth Kerekere is one of those people who occasionally emerge from our glbti communities to stand head and shoulders the rest of us and for that we salute her.
It's no secret that the various incarnations of the Auckland Pride Festival Trust have not fared well in our previous New Year's Honours or, more particularly, Dishonours in recent years but this past year there has been a seismic shift in the way the board goes about liaising with and shaping itself to the realities of the glbti communities. We've decided not to single out any particular board member but the emerging maturity of the board, its willingness to now listen and observe rather than plot and dictate from behind closed doors and perhaps closed minds too, has gained it increasing respect. That founding Pride Parade director Jonathan Smith has agreed to return to the organisation, ditto founding Festival organiser Julian Cook, are very good signs that it's getting its act together. Both are exceedingly capable event professionals and the way the previous incarnations of the board burned them off so readily and even callously was frankly shameful.
But it's more than that. The current board members seem to now understand that they cannot isolate themselves from the multitude of passions and lifestyles of the glbti communities, that they are not just project managers but must be actively involved in our community debates and the processes of defining and representing ourselves that gives much hope for the future on New Zealand's biggest and most far-reaching glbti event.
And while we're at it, let's make honourable mentions of those who give of their time and talent to create the smaller but still vital Pride events around the country, particularly in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton. These events are part of the glue which is increasingly important in holding our disparate and sometimes fractious communities together. They are a tangible reminder that the concept of 'glbti community' must be a reality, not just a convenient, glib and empty grab-bag term.
Tucked away in a convivial but business-like meeting every two months or so a group of senior police officers and staff meet with representatives of glbti organisations to talk through issues and seek out solutions. Although the meetings are held in Auckland the results of the discussions send ripples out through the entire police force and enhance the contact glbti people have with the police.
This initiative is part of an overall
police policy of reaching out to, and working with, minority groups
throughout the country. The police officers who attend are gay,
lesbian and transgender, most are front-line sworn officers and some
are quite senior in rank, but support staff are represented too.
Difficult issues are discussed and strategies considered and
Every time you have an interaction with the NZ police and find yourself as a glbt or i person treated with equanimity, respect and on a par with anyone else in society you're likely experiencing the results of the work conducted at these meetings playing out in the real world. For this we honour the NZ Police senior management who embrace and and seem to give free rein to these staff and their objectives, and also the glbti police staff themsleves who are bridging the narrowing gap between the enforcers of law and glbti people.
When duplicitous evangelical Christian preacher Brian Tamaki, who is frankly no more duplicitous than any other church mouthpieces who hypocritically profess to both â€ślove the sinnersâ€ť and â€śhate the sinâ€ť, linked gay people to the sin that apparently caused the Christchurch, and even Kaikoura, earthquakes, thinking, sensible people everywhere called him out on it.
To all those who publicly stood up to this bible-bashing bully-boy on behalf of vulnerable glbti people, especially youth, who called his rant â€śridiculous,â€ť â€śstupid,â€ť â€śmadness,â€ť â€śdisgusting,â€ť â€śpathetic,â€ť â€śillogical,â€ť â€śludicrousâ€ť and more in that vein, we salute you.
must go to two gay national MPs who took themselves out of their usual
comfort zone. Paul Foster Bell outed himself publicly to slam Tamaki, calling him out as a "fraud and a crook." And gay Intelligence and Security Minister Chris Finlayson, who usually keeps his
head down on such issues, this time publicly (and figuratively)
face-slapped Tamaki with his usual pithy comment style, saying he's a "sick puppy" who needs counselling. Go Paul! Go Chris!
On Tuesday we'll present our '2017 New Year's Dishonours,' the evil twin of our Honours list... and we'll ponder a few folk who didn't quite make it onto either list for various reasons.