(This is part two of an interview with gay MP Paul Foster-Bell. You can read part one here.)
Paul Foster-Bell says being an openly gay MP in the National party is an â€śincredibly comfortableâ€ť experience.
â€śSome of my colleagues are rather conservative but they support me,â€ť he says. â€śMy welcome here was nothing but warm, we are after all a party of equal opportunity.â€ť He says the public reaction to his coming out, in order to publicly refute allegations by evangelical preacher Brian Tamaki that the sin of homosexuality was a cause of the Christchurch earthquakes, has been overwhelmingly positive. â€śSome [glbti] people have been bringing their stories to me and many of them have challenging lives with the battles that they face.â€ť
But he acknowledges that National â€śhasn't done much in the area of identity politics... I myself came into Parliament after the Marriage Equality bill went through but I recall that John Key told the National MPs they should support it if they wanted to.â€ť In the event 27 National MPs who were in the house for the third and final reading voted for it, 32 voted against. â€śNational is becoming more diverse in recent years, Foster-Bell observes.
He's part of the cross-party group of primarily glbti Mps who work together on Parliamentary and political aspects of issues facing glbti people. And he was a co-sponsor of the function held in Parliament earlier in the year to mark the 30th anniversary of Homosexual Law reform.
As a list MP Foster-Bell doesn't have to face the quandary of whether to vote in line with what he thinks is right and what an electorate thinks, which can be two very different things. As for the glbti issues still to be addressed he lists youth mental health and suicide, bullying and the waiting list and unavailability of gender reassignment surgery in New Zealand as some of â€śthe practical issues I feel I have a moral obligation to stand up for. â€śI have met some trans people and have become more aware of their situations,â€ť he says.
â€śThen there's the issues around HIV.â€ť It's becoming increasingly aware that HIV is slipping down the health bureaucrats' priority list. The Minister of Health has declined to fund vital attitudinal research, PrEP has yet to get the go-ahead â€“ although a small pilot scheme is very slowly being cobbled together â€“ and newly-diagnosed HIV-positive people don't as a matter of course immediately get access to the medications they need and international health organisations recommend. â€śI'm aware of the problems and am trying to work to help find solutions,â€ť he says.
The role of Corrections regarding transgender prisoners is another issues which is on his radar. â€śI'd rather see fewer people going into prison... but there are situations he describes as â€śinhumaneâ€ť and â€śhorrific... all people have a right to dignity.
Away from Parliament Foster-Bell is in an emerging relationship. â€śI've been seeing a guy for about nine months but he's intensely private.â€ť
As Parliament takes its Christmas/New Year break he'll be reading and watching â€śgood movies... I can never let a NZ movie go unseen.â€ť He'll be doing a bit more cooking - â€śI try to do healthy food when I canâ€ť and of course there's cricket. â€śI follow the NZ cricket team really closely, I really do still have a passion for cricket.â€ť