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Tuesday 10 April 2012

Reeves remembered as a community friend

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News
By Daily News staff - 14th August 2011

Sir Paul Reeves
The gay and HIV communities are acknowledging the close support they received from ex-Governor General Sir Paul Reeves who died this morning due to cancer.

A senior and moderate figure in the Anglican church at the time of the mid-1980s final push for decriminalisation of homosexuality, Reeves helped counter anti-gay elements in that church and other conservative denominations. Soon after he became Governor General he signed into law the groundbreaking legislation decriminalising homosexuality.

Reeves also became the first patron of the NZ AIDS Foundation, bestowing much mana on that organisation at the height of the terrifying first appearance of the then-deadly virus which was decimating the gay community.

By becoming the organisation's patron Reeves drew attention to the fact that, although HIV/AIDS was overwhelmingly affecting gay men, it was an issue which the whole population needed to be concerned about, says the NZAF's Executive Director at the time, Warren Lindberg. “We needed to organise as a gay community to fight HIV and we couldn't have done it without the support of the wider society,” remembers Lindberg. He says Reeves was not content to just lend his name to the cause, he was prepared to be actively involved. “He was always available when we wanted his advice and was generous with his time.”

HIV activist and early NZAF Board member Bruce Kilmister says Reeves was “out there” in his support for initiative supporting people with HIV. “He was right there at the beginning of World AIDS Day and the decision to use it as a fuindraiser for the Wellness Fund supporting financially stresse people struggling with the virus.”

And in embracing positive people and the NZAF's fight to stop the epidemic “Sir Paul helped enormously with the destigmatisation of the virus and of the people with it or at risk of contracting it, nearly all of whom were gay men."

Kilmister says Reeves also helped provide political and bureaucratic stability to underpin governmental backing of the battle against HIV and its effects. "There were people within the corridors of political power lobbying strongly against the use of public money to counter HIV," says Kilmister. “But once Sir Paul as Governor General lent his name and the prestige of his office to the cause that particular part of the fight was effectively over.”

However, Reeves was supportive of the gay community's fight against HIV even before becoming Governor General says a noted gay rights activist and early NZAF trust board member. Bill Logan says the NZAF was set up just as Reeves was coming into office as Governor-General. "We had sorted him out, Bruce Burnett and I, as a potential trustee of the AIDS Foundation, and he accepted. And I heard from contacts in the Government that this was an outstandingly sensible and fortuitous choice for us to have made," Logan recalls.

"Then I heard that he was to become Governor-General and the Board got this message that unfortunately he couldn't now join the Board. And everyone was devastated. And I said: 'Look, he's about to become Governor-General'. And so it was sort of automatic that he became patron."

"But he wasn't just a passive patron,” says Logan. “There were points at which there were conflicts within the Foundation, the kind of conflicts that happen in every organisation in New Zealand between Auckland and Wellington - you know, Queen St is full of people walking up and down the streets kicking the parking meters swearing about their Wellington branch, and Lambton Quay is full of people walking up and down swearing about their Auckland branch. There was one of those kind of conflicts and it was quite unable to be resolved. I was in the Wellington branch and not on the Board at this later stage and we had these disagreements and the Board just wasn't being at all helpful. It would never meet or talk or anything. And eventually I suggested we go to the Patron. We bowled up at Government House and he said 'Yes', he'd intervene. He wrote a letter essentially saying: 'Be sensible, talk to these guys', and it sorted things out completely."

Logan says that was a very unusual thing for a Patron to do, pointing out that Reeves did not take sides but was active in a way that you wouldn't expect a Patron who was the Governor-General to be active in sorting out disputes.

Of Reeve's important part in our history when he signed the Homosexual Law Reform Bill into law "I don't think he had any difficulty doing that at all," Logan says. "He was on our side."

Logan says Reeves was very down to earth, as is his wife Beverley, Lady Reeves. "I think he was more human than most people that get to that position. And he kept that humanity in a way which is admirable."

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