Of course we’re ready for a gay PM

August 27, 2013 in General

Grant Robertson is in a civil union with his partner, Alf

Media hype in recent days has focused on whether New Zealand is ready for a gay prime minister. This so-called controversy has emerged in the wake of the resignation of Labour leader David Shearer, with openly gay MP Grant Robertson throwing his hat into the ring as one of the contenders to replace him.

Critics have warned the Labour Party will face a backlash if it chooses a gay man to lead it into the election next year, and everyone from former party president Mike Williams to Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transgendered MP, have weighed in with negative comments. Beyer’s comments were particularly surprising – she warned about gay “baggage” Robertson could bring to parliament which could hurt his chances.

The reality is that most people don’t care. As former deputy PM Sir Michael Cullen said on the weekend, all the country really wants is someone who can think straight and talk straight (no pun intended). The rest is irrelevant. Sure, there will be the hard-line conservatives who cry it’s a sorry day for New Zealand, but those same people objected to the prospect of a part-Jewish John Key. And whether or not you agree with Key’s policies, you have to admit his being part-Jewish is irrelevant.

There are those naysayers who say an openly gay prime minister could hurt New Zealand’s international diplomatic standing. They ask questions about what would happen if he had to go to Russia, which recently passed a law forbidding the “promotion” of homosexuality. It’s a ridiculous argument, and there is little difference between sending a gay prime minister to Russia and the United States sending Hillary Clinton to Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are suppressed. (For the record, she rocked her visit there last year, AND dared to bare her ankles in front of the Saudi King.)

Johanna Sigurdardottir was elected PM of Iceland in 2009

Of course, Robertson wouldn’t be the openly gay elected leader in the world. That honour goes to Johanna Sigurdardottir, who was elected prime minister of Iceland in 2009. Sigurdardottir blazed a trail for rainbow folk as she travelled the world, taking her wife on official visits to countries such as China, where the LGBT community has traditionally been ignored. And what better way to empower an oppressed LGBT minority than having an openly gay world leader visit their country? Belgium has since followed Iceland’s example, electing openly gay Elio Di Rupo as prime minister in 2011.

Robertson’s abilities aside, there will be those who vote for or against him solely on the basis of his sexuality. That’s to be expected. However, I think it would be good if everyone could step back for a moment and acknowledge that he’s actually not that different to most of our other prime ministers. Grant Robertson is a white, middle-aged male, happily partnered, with two kids and a grandkid.

Who just happens to be gay.

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