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Thursday 09 April 2009

Charles Chauvel: National's mask slips

Posted in: Features
By Daily News Staff - 17th October 2008

Rainbow Labour MP Charles Chauvel

Jonathan Young wants to be a National MP in the Parliament that you will elect in 3 weeks' time. He is a fairly typical member of the National Party. He's a fervent Christian (he was Senior Minister of the City Church in West Auckland for 18 years). He was born and raised in rural New Zealand, and is standing in a provincial seat (New Plymouth). He's straight, white, and older than average (50). Like other National Party candidates, he has been told to avoid public comment on policy. This is because the National Party doesn't want you to remember that, behind the mask that is John Key's bland smile, the same old bigots seek to congregate around the Cabinet Table.

But on 14 October, that mask slipped –just a little. reported that Jonathan Young told his local newspaper:

"One of my associates was an ex-lesbian. She discovered through her own journey and talking to others that a lot of things happened to her in her childhood that affected her deeply and caused her to become [homosexual]. One of the things I do strongly object to in terms of the people who have made this choice is the presentation of it as a normal alternative" (emphasis added).

So there it is. Jonathan Young thinks that we choose to be what we are. Worse, we then have the temerity to ask to be treated as "normal".

Regrettably, the evidence indicates that Young's views are fairly mainstream for a member of the modern National Party. This is the same party that, in 1986, could muster only 2 MPs to vote in favour of Homosexual Law Reform. Six years later, John Banks, Bill Birch and Graeme Lee made sure that "sexual orientation" and "disability" did not appear in the Human Rights Bill on its introduction to Parliament. When that Act did eventually pass, Nick Smith, who wants to be Minister for the Environment on 9 November, explained to his local newspaper that he voted against including sexual orientation because he thought there were enough paedophiles in New Zealand already.

Those for whom the early 1990s seem like ancient history might like to remember that, just four years ago, only three National MPs voted to pass civil unions into law. Not one member of their current front bench was a member of that brave trio. John Key wasn't one of them. Bill English certainly wasn't. Two of the three have retired from Parliament. Sad to say, this is better than the National Party's record on most of the other legislation put forward over the past nine years to dismantle anti-GLBT discrimination. In most instances, its entire caucus voted against it.

The sad thing about Jonathan Young is that he is one of the nine children of Venn Young, the long-serving National Party politician who championed homosexual law reform in 1975. There was once a liberal tradition in the National Party. Jonathan Young helps show how withered and lifeless it has become. So does John Key's failure to immediately repudiate Jonathan Young's views. Shame on him.

But perhaps we should be grateful to Jonathan Young for disobeying instructions from central casting. He has been caught telling the truth. It's a bit like when Maurice Williamson revealed the plan for $50 per week tolls on Auckland roads, or when Bill English let slip the medium term plan to sell off Kiwibank. Let's imagine for a moment what life would probably be like for GLBT people under a National Government stacked with people like Jonathan Young. We might just get to keep civil unions and relationship equality. But an understanding of our entitlement to participate on an equal basis in society? Safety in schools? Respectful treatment from the uniformed services on our streets, or at the border? Support for long range planning around our retirement housing needs? Hard to see any of it being willingly given to people who just aren't, after all, well...normal.

I have never pretended that Labour is perfect in this, or any other, area of endeavour. No political party is. But on GLBT issues, we are entitled to be judged by rainbow voters on our record. Our rainbow MPs - Chris Carter, Maryan Street, Tim Barnett, Louisa Wall and I - have worked for years with Helen Clark - as have our 2008 Rainbow candidates Grant Robertson, Jordan Carter, Jills Angus-Burney and Farida Sultana - to make sure that it is a good one. We know that there is a lot more work to do. But it won't get done if you give the Treasury Benches to Jonathan Young and his mates.

Please use your vote on 8 November wisely. Demonstrate that in contemporary New Zealand, "normal" means tolerant, liberal, diverse and interesting. Show that it does not mean old-fashioned, bigoted, narrow-minded and out-of-touch. And tell your friends and family that you expect them to do the same. Daily News Staff - 17th October 2008