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Sunday 12 April 2015


Bill Logan Pt2: The change in NZ culture

Posted in: Our Communities, True Stories
By Jay Bennie - 25th July 2011

In 1985 as the battle for Homosexual Law Reform gained momentum alliances had to be built outside of, as well as within, the glbt communities.

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Bill Logan in 1985 (Pic: Out! magazine)
It's easy to assume that the major churches, usuallt considered fairly conservative on social issues such as homosexuality, were united within each denomination against law reform. But Bill Logan, who was one of the most prominent members of the organisatilons formed around the country to push for law reform, says this wasn't the case and the promoters of the bill were able to draw on the support of pro-gay factions within most of the churches.

“We very carefully split every church that we could. Lloyd Geering,” a noted and sometimes controversial theologian, “played an enormously valuable role. We identified the moderates and got them to spread leaflets and sign petitions against their more conservatiove brethren in the churches. And a lot of them gave submissions in Parliament on our side.

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Parliament was another arena in which a wide range of views were held. It was important to swing as many MPs as possible behind the bill. For Logan and the gay organisations throughout the county it was a relatively straight forward process drawing on proven techniques of lobying.

Logan explains: “We made a list of members of Parliament. There had been various surveys done so we had notes on each member and where they stood or if they were in the middle. Then we got people in their electorates to go visit them. We tried to get matched people, the right people for each MP. We'd send nuns, liberal nuns - Sister Paula Bretkelly did some very good work - to talk to some of the Catholic MPs. And we sent Peter Sumner who was a gay former Army Lieutenant Colonel to go to the MPs who had a military background, and so on and so forth. We'd send parents or religious leaders... it depended on where we thought their interests lay or figured their soft spots were. And of course we sent as many constituents as possible. And we'd take advice from one MP about another MP."

TAPPING INTO NETWORKS

Clearly there was a lot of organisation and coordination required as well as information to be shared around the country as quickly as possible. This was in the days before Facebook and email, a time when the two main gay publications,
Out! magazine and Pink Triangle newspaper came out every second month.

“Well, we had telephones!” Logan laughs. “And there were fairly established networks of people. We had contacts in every town... people would hand on their contacts. And there was so much press and so on that I would get telephone calls... people could find you in the telephone book... I was in the book, the Gay Task Force had a telephone number and so on. Everyone spoke to everyone we knew in every town and worked out who were the more political ones and the more useful ones. And there were several conferences and big events in Wellington and other centres to get people together to work out how we would move forward and to try to engender a highger level or morale and excitement and ideas on how to mobilise and what to do.”

And it was all achieved in the face of a hugely-funded anti-law reform campaign and misinformtion and deeply hurtful verbal attacks. Was morale hard to maintain?

“I don't remember it getting really bad,” Logan says. “But there were some tough moments when you'd hear about suicides and that was horrible. You see, this campaign was creating a very tense social climate which some people weren't coping with... and there was even a sense that we were responsible for this... so it was hard...

“It was ok for some of us in the cities where most of us could connect with other gay people fairly easily but if you heard the barrage of ghastly nastiness which was spewing out of the mouths of the fundamentalists and bigots... it was abuse attached to the fundamental characteristics of our existence... it was very hard to deal with.”

Support, for those who needed it and were able to make contact, and for those who wanted to become involved, was available outside the main cities. “There were organisations in smaller centres around the place like Timaru and Palmerston North and Hamilton, and in some smaller towns. And very often groups that called themselves HUG, which we always called HAG, Heterosexuals Unafraid of Gays, was a hugely important part of it. For many people it was a transitional organisation as they came out. That was often the organisation in the provinces as well as the cities. There were probably more branches of HUg than openly gay or lesbian organisations. In Wellington Des Smith was, more than anyone else, responsible for HUG. I remember at one stage saying to Des 'And what are you getting out of this?' He was a mate of mine and he said 'Well, I think I might be gay.'

Smith would subsequently come out and for for many years has lived with partner John Jolliff, the pair being warmly embraced as de-facto 'grandads' of the Wellington gay community.

THE PUBLIC DEBATE

The media, newspapers, radio and television played a vital role in the public debate over the pros and cons of law reform. Logan feels the mainstream media did a fairly good job. “I think that within the limits of their understanding they tried to play the role of honest brokers. And it did us no harm that they tried to represent the anti-homosexual point of view. They tried to correct any misstatements of fact on any side - but there weren't many on ours - but they did try to represent both sides and from our point of view we could get nothing but advantage by a fair debate on this issue because we were right. Because there is no objective case against homosexual law reform and so the fact that they would allow us to debate it was fine."


Logan suspects that the heated public debate, which never let up week after week was, in a way only politicians could embrace, useful to the Government. "You have to remember that there were all of these right wing economic reforms going on and one of the functions of the debate from a Labour government's point of view was to create a noise that took attentiuon away from the economic changes that the it was trying to introduce - which were absolutely counterposed to the government's traditional left-wing constituency. Also, here was a reform that was going to cost them nothing which was a sop to throw to a large part of that constituency."

The traditional Labour core constituency, based on the trade unions representing workers in factories and freezing works and railways and shipping and so forth were more liberal on the law reform issue than their blue collar roots might suggest. “Many trade unions did in fact support the change,” recalls Logan. There had been this huge advance in the political power of women, particularly through the Labour party. In a way the women of the Labour party kept our core constituency within the party in line. That's one of the reasons why our stategies had to embrace lesbians. Although the relationship between gay men and lesbins was complicated they could easily have undermined suppport for the bill through their connections with women's organisations.

“And also they had connections to women in the electorates too. So it wasn't just the women MPs that were important, it was the women in all of the constituencies of the Labour party's electorates. You had to have a sense of a strategy which embraced women or it would have failed."

UNDERSTANDING THE VOTE

In the final two vital parliamentary votes, one to delay the final vote by a much-needed week and then the ultimate vote on law reform, the house was pretty much split down party lines, despite Homosexual Law Reform being a conscience vote. Was Logan surprised?


“We had hoped to get more National party support than we did. But the constituencies of  some National MPs were quire right-wing. Some of them were able to personally think through the implications of their view rather better than they thought their constituents could... and so there were a number of MPs who said 'Yes, we would vote for this but we can't because our constituencies don't like it and we'd be voted out. And a number even said 'We will vote for it if necessary. We'll vote aginst it unless it's going to go down and then we'll cross the floor.' Extrordinary really.”

Almost all the Government MPs voted for the Bill but some stand out in Logan's memory for their staunch support for the work that had to be  done in the eighteen months leading up to the final vote.

“Ruth Dyson wasn't in Parliament yet but she was very important as a researcher in Fran Wilde's office... she was there all the time. And she was part of that Labour women's movement. Judy Keall was a new and junior member of parliament who had several gay close family members and was a strong supporter. Some supporters didn't play a heavy role because they had all sorts of other responsibilities because the Labour party was in government at the time. David Caygill was probably more important than he will ever be given credit for... he did everything behind the scenes... I suspect he was the real numbers man though Trevor Mallard played a very important numbers game. To this day I think Trevor was wonderful in the leading role he played."

In the end the Government MPs were consistently marshalled behind the bill. “Almost all of them voted for it and that was for a whole lot of reasons,” says Logan, "not least of which was that if it had been voted down it would have been such a victory for the right that it would have hurt the Labour party.

Although the day the bill came into force as the law of the land was an important milestone, for Logan it was the passage of the bill that was significant. “I wasn't even aware of what day it came into force. That wasn't a significant day in my life. It was the passage of the bill that really mattered. It's very difficult to separate out the intense activity of the campaign and being involved in it on a daily basis for sometimes eighteen hours a day or something for sixteen months, to separate out that from what the law change meant."

A CHANGE IN NZ CULTURE

Logan pauses for a moment then offers the view that “I don't even know that the law change was the point! By far the most important thing that came out of it was the change in New Zealand culture. There were a whole lot of Heylen polls done right through... when the bill was introduced I think already slightly over 50% of the population supported the bill. But by the end of the campaign well over 60% supported the bill and that's a significant change. And that was because, more than anything else, of the public debate and the fact that we were on the front spages of every newspaper most days and on the television all the time.


“But associated with that public debate were hundreds and thousands of personal debates and discussions and conversations where lesbians and gay men came out to their families and their workmates and in the pubs and clubs and what have you. And people all over the country  realised that they do know some gay people and that they don't have a horn in the middle of their foreheads and they're people they've known and liked for years and years and years.

“So there's two things going on. There's a process of gay men and women developing a self-confidence in their interaction with the outside world and there's a huge increase of acceptance of us in the outside world. And more interesting than that in a way is that a year after the law change there was another Heylen poll that showed that as much as, I think it was, 90% of the population would not like the debate re-opened. So that was an immense change in New Zealand culture and I think that's far more important than the law change, although the law change was necessary to achieve that. But it was the conversations around the law change which made it all possible."

THE MOST HELPFUL ENEMY

Now that the fight for law reform is fading into history Logan, when asked if any anti-law reform campaigners stand out immediately recalls Invercargill's National MP Norm Jones, who freely admitted that he was a bigot and was publicly proud of the fact.

“Norm Jones had this ability to use very, very colourful language,” chuckles Logan. “'Go back to the sewers!' was one of his catch cries. He was in some ways one of our best weapons.”

It was Jones who unwittingly co-created one of the seminal and uplifting incidents in the campaign for law reform. “Very early on in the campaign the 'antis' had rented a church hall as part of their campaigning against change, so all of the politicians were there who were against it, including the Salvation Army and so on, recalls Logan. “And of course we went along and they were saying such filthy nasty stuff that inevitably our guys were getting really angry and the press were there and I thought 'this is going to get nasty... our people are going to be infuriated and they are going to get bad press and the newspapers will see that we had stopped people having a fair public meeting and disrupted democracy and all that.'

“I could see that it was perfectly reasonable to heckle and shout and so on and I could see how this was going to come out next day in the newspapers. And up on the stage Norman Jones sees that he has an oppportunity here to paint these gay people as awful people who disrupt public meetings, and he said "We paid for the rent of this hall and if you want to speak at this thing, you disruptive unruly horde, then you've got to pay the $150.' And I jumped up and said 'Done!'

"I never did find out if they really had paid $150, but I was stunned because I didn't have any money on me. And he said 'You've got to pay now.' So I said 'That's ok, guys give us some money would you...' I put my sportscoat on the floor and everyone came rushing up giving money and we counted it out! It was wonderful theatre and the press had a field day. It was Alison Laurie who then got up and spoke for us from the stage.

“It was one of those really neat moments where we took the spotlight and defused a possible disaster. But Norman Jones always refused to debate me on television and so on. The media would try again and again to line up a debate between Norman and me and he kept saying 'No.' His argument was: “it is better for us if you are not given too much prominence as the spokesperson for homosexual law reform and if I debate you I'll give you too much press."

But eventually the Willesee TV current affairs programme in Australia arranged a debate on condition that it was never shown in New Zealand. "It was done in a little hotel in Wellington and he went on and on about sodomy. And eventually I said 'Look Mr Jones, you talk so much about sodomy, I never before met anyone as obsessed about sodomy as you are!' And he said: 'It's a magnificent obsession!' Somehow it didn't quite make sense," Logan laughs.

Jones died not long after the bill passed “and Phil Parkinson would not allow me to send flowers to his funeral because he felt it would have been tasteless!"




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Jay Bennie - 25th July 2011