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Sunday 12 April 2015


Editorial: Mourning more than lives lost

Posted in: Health & HIV, Features
By Jay Bennie - 20th May 2012

Law_reform_protest_1987.jpg
Glbti protest, 1987 style. (Pic: Ian Mackley)
This evening, during the Candlelight Memorial functions held around the country to commemorate those hundreds of gay and bi New Zealand men who died in the first phase of the HIV epidemic, we should be mourning something wonderful which they bequeathed to us and which we have all but lost.

In the 1980s and early 90s, to fight the spread of HIV, to live an infected life with some dignity, to lay the basis for a lasting movement to improve the lot of glbti people, many of those men worked individually and with their brothers and sisters who had similar goals to confront bigotry, criminality, unfairness, homophobia and anything else which could contribute to the misery faced by too many glbti people purely because of their non-hetero sexuality.

Goal by goal they assembled piece-meal approaches into a national strategy with many threads. They committed themselves and their resources and they confronted. Wow, did they ever confront!

They cared about others and they could see the fine details of injustice and the wider picture of liberation. Even as they struggled with failing health, with many of them facing imminent death, they continued the fight for decency and equality for all of us.

And here's the rub: against the kind of odds which are almost unimaginable today they were incredibly successful. They got laws changed, society awakened, organisations created and results achieved. They built networks and resources and projects and saw them through to exilharating and well-earned success.

In the new millennium most of the lessons they taught us by their heroic examples are forgotten by, or unknown to, most glbti people. In isolated pockets their spirit remains but largely our now less cohesive New Zealand glbti communities have lost the spirit and commitment which bequeathed to us the better lives we can now lead. We are, frankly, complacent.

How else to explain the ongoing financial struggles which those groups trying to assist at-risk glbti people of all kinds still face? How else to explain the lack of voiced outrage over a gay man getting his throat slit for merely looking at another man's crotch. And other violence against glbti people which rarely raises more than a Facebook posting or a Twittered whine or two.

Or the total lack of interest in the comment proffered on a nationally broadcast gay(!) radio host's programme that something was "so gay I got AIDS from it!" Not one gay or HIV organisation even objected. And when the Broadcasting Standards Authority accepted that 'gay' in this context really does mean 'homosexual' and then proclaimed the un-challenged and calculatedly demeaning statement to be quite acceptable no one from our ranks seemed to care much either way. Yawn.

The still-pressing need of differently gendered or transgendered people to have official recognition of their sexuality is not moving many of us. Nor is the gaping chasm between the Adoption Act 1955 and present day reality for glbti parents generating much more than a half-curious glance. Does anyone beyond a handful of intensely aware individuals really want to get behind the problems of ageing glbti people or addiction and other ills which disproportionately beset us?

When the Prime Minister said there is "no clamour" for same-sex marriage which would put the final nail in the coffin of that particular bit of insidious inequality, he was pretty much right on the money. Nothing can be achieved without grass roots energy and visible action. Without clamour. Our clamour.


Years ago our activist predecessors, many of them HIV-positive and who subsequently died from their HIV and AIDS-induced illnesses, would have rallied, motivated, strategised, committed and seen these things through. If they did not themselves join committees and attend meetings and do coal-face lobbying they at least made a point of providing tangible support for those who did that work.

So let's take a minute to recognise that many of the men we commemorate today died while making the world better for most of us. Then let's ask ourselves what are we, as individuals and groups of all kinds, actually doing now, in 2012, to make life better for those who still need our wider support to achieve their own liberation from repression, doubt and state- and society-sanctioned bigotry.

Are we already so fragmented, isolationist, or self-absorbed, or blinkered, or complacent that the answer for most glbti New Zealanders is: 'Fuck all'?

And if that is your belief, what are you going to do about it? Same answer?


- Jay Bennie

You can discuss this New Zealand gay community editorial in the GayNZ.com Forum.

Jay Bennie - 20th May 2012

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