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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Editorial: Thanks for two jobs well done

Posted in: HIV
By Jay Bennie - 9th April 2008

It's not often that we at pen an editorial on the departure of an employee from a gay community organisation. A news story, yes. Maybe even an 'exit interview' giving the person a chance to publicly reflect on their time in the job.

It's also not often that we do an editorial which may cut across that person's wishes to exit quietly. But Chris Banks deserves more than a quiet departure from his role as Communications Coordinator for the NZ AIDS Foundation. He deserves a rousing send off commensurate with the contributions he has made to New Zealand's glbt and HIV communities.

In 2004, as started to beef up our news and reporting content, Chris Banks emerged as a totally inexperienced person with every skill in hand to do the job better than most trained journalists. As a reporter he was literate, intelligent and a stickler for detail and accuracy. Chris has an uncanny ability to marshal facts and impressions and to see through to the heart of the matter. He was particularly passionate about exposing and countering those whose ignorance, intolerance and bigotry were directed at glbt people.

Amongst his impressive body of work for, Chris tackled two particularly irksome and difficult subjects with skills and insight rarely seen outside the major media. The stealthy attempts by Christian fundamentalists to blacken the character of glbt people and organisations needed exposing and Chris was just the person to follow the smudgy trails of innuendo and double-talk that were poisoning minds against us. The Parliamentary allegations that a contributor and advisor to a political party had a shady background in the USA as a distributor and writer of what amounted to 'kiddie porn' was a potential minefield for to report on. Without Chris's ability to independently investigate, analyse and report concisely on this complex and distasteful series of allegations, the truth of the matter, or as much of it as could be humanly uncovered, would have remained hidden.

When the request came from the NZAF for Chris to help out by a 'secondment' to the NZAF for a few months we could not refuse. It was an opportunity for him to broaden his skills and, more importantly, use those skills in the service of one of the gay community's most important and professional organisations. It was no surprise, and a great loss to, that Chris was the most capable applicant and won the job. He may have been lost to but at least he was still working within, and for, our communities.

During his time at the NZAF Chris damped down the flames of bigotry, liaised with local and overseas media, and presented information and backgrounders with great skill and professionalism. His was a highly public role, he was frequently attacked for being the NZAF's 'lackey' or apologist, especially when he had the delicate task of trying to work with, and sometimes against, some particularly obsessive and anti-NZAF voices in our community.

During his time as Communications Coordinator he was required to explain and facilitate gay media access during the Trust Board quota debacle and its explosive aftermath. He and NZAF Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier spent long hours dealing with the months and months of fallout from the NZAF's on-going programme of revitalisation and re-building, particularly in its Gay Men's Health area. The more recent allegations of unsafe sex against one of the men featured in the Foundation's current Poster Boys campaign, subsequently revealed to be untrue, must have kept Chris behind his desk for untold hours which could have been more constructively spent promoting safe sexual practices against a background of a resurgent HIV epidemic amongst men who have sex with men in New Zealand.

Through it all, Chris remained professional, passionate and insightful. But, as is the nature of the communications profession, and the high level of burn-out it unfortunately afflicts on intensely committed people like Chris, he eventually needed to call it quits and get back to a life less driven by deadlines, demanding reporters, community conflicts, long hours and a million other pressures.

His departure is great a loss to the AIDS Foundation and the glbt media, but he has set standards which we must all continue to strive to achieve. We can only hope that more men and women with his willingness and skills come forward to do the vital work which benefits all glbt New Zealanders - whether or not they realise it, or care.

As Chris Banks' first employer in the gay community, and as a glbt news and communication organisation which subsequently worked with him an an appropriately wary yet helpful relationship, we wish Chris and his partner Dean well in their future endeavours.

- Jay Bennie content editor

Jay Bennie - 9th April 2008