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Comment
Surveillance and Sexuality
By Craig Young
4th April 2009 - 12:18 pm

When Green Party MP Keith Locke recently protested at his continued surveillance, I was set to thinking about the roles that surveillance has played in the lives of New Zealand LGBTs.

I'm certainly glad that Mr Locke is no longer undersecurity surveillance, and I was appalled to discover that this was the case with law abiding environmental and animal rights organisations. Now, I do accept that there is a role for security surveillance of radical Islamist organisations from overseas that try to seduce New Zealand Muslims into following their agenda. However, we haven't adopted the extreme rhetoric and policies of Australia and the United States, which prompt social exclusion and stigmatisation, and led to the creation of a constituency for Islamist incursions into those countries and others. I hope we never do.

I also accept that some animal rights groups have gone beyond the pale when it comes to harassment, intimidation, vandalism and attacks on research facilities. Those are also unconscionable, although again, New Zealand animal rights organisations aren't that extreme.

However, insofar as monitoring and surveillance of political organisations goes, I'm somewhat surprised to note that the extreme right wasn't under active surveillance. I'm not talking about militant fundamentalists- since the cessation of (anti-abortion) Operation Rescue in the early nineties, their antics remain legal. But what about the really extreme right- neofascists?

This might sound like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. I accept that the National Front is clumsy, unpopular and abhorrent to most mainstream New Zealanders through its apparent association with individuals that advocate organised racist violence. However, it is noteworthy that the United Kingdom does take this threat seriously, especially in the case of their counterparts, the British National Party. Moreover, there are certainly other neofascist/white supremacist organisations in the United Kingdom and elsewhere that actively espouse the use of violence.

Are New Zealand neofascists seeking to emulate these organisations? Do they correspond with them, or meet their representatives overseas? Shouldn't we know if they do? Police and security surveillance would be quite justifiable in this context, as it already is within the United Kingdom. However, where is it within New Zealand?

What about LGBT communities? According to community historian Chris Brickell, we never went through the same moral panics against lesbian and gay personnel within the armed forces and public service that occurred in Australia, Britain, the United States and Canada. However, surveillance took another form during that period- there was increased police apprehension of gay men due to the fact that male homosexuality was still prohibited within the Crimes Act. Lesbianism wasn't, but I suspect that the SIS probably kept files on certain lesbian anti-racists and other feminists during the nadir of human rights and civil liberties here, the Muldoon administration of the mid-seventies and early eighties.

Then, Labour came to power, and male homosexuality was decriminalised in 1i986. While it wasn't illegal to have gay male sex anymore though, it was illegal to engage in public sex according to the Summary Offences Act 1981 and Crimes Act 1961's provisions. still, surveillance pulled back to public lavatories, and pulled in men who had sex with men within those contexts. At the same time, though, New Zealand censorship policy became substantially more liberal, which ended outright surveillance of gay male erotic media relative to that targeted at heterosexual men.

As for lesbians, surveillance and exclusion took a different form when it came to child custody cases. Lesbians experienced their lives being placed under surveillance, and judged relative to Family Court heterosexual norms.

LGBT sex workers had their own problems due to the continued criminalisation of sex work until 2003 and the advent of the Prostitution Law Reform Act that year. There are still periodic calls for the restoration of criminality, but the current Prime Minister has apparently ruled out that contingency.

Apart from public sex, then, surveillance is a dead issue for us, or so it might seem. Still, it doesn't mean that we're unconditionally immune from its reach. Moreover, it also doesn't necessarily mean that it's unequivocally bad. CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras may be a nuisance to men who have public sex with other men, but they have also assisted tracking down queerbashers in British metropolitan areas.

Human rights and civil liberties law should limit the applicability of surveillance. Nevertheless, in cases of legitimate security interests and violent antisocial behaviour, it does have a legitimate role in security and intelligence services and law enforcement.

Recommended:

John Greyson: Urinal and Other Stories: Art Metropole: Montreal: 1993.

Gary Kinsman "Constructing Gay Men and Lesbians as National Security Risks, 1950 - 1970" in G. Kinsman, D. Buse and M. Stedman, eds. Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies Between the Lines, 2000, 143-153.

Gary Kinsman "National Security as Moral Regulation: Making the Normal and the Deviant in the Security Campaigns Against Gay Men and Lesbians" in Deborah Brock Making Normal: Social Regulation in Canada Nelson, 2003, pp. 121-145.



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