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Thursday 10 November 2016

GLBTI Lives: Grant Robertson

Posted in: Community
By - 8th January 2016

Rainbow Labour MP, Grant Robertson, is the next up for our summer series profiling the great LGBTI leaders and community personalities.

Hailing from Dunedin Robertson says for the most part growing up was pretty good. “I was a sports obsessed kid, and did pretty well at school, and had a great circle of friends,” he says.

“In my teenage years I did have some real struggles coming to terms with my sexuality, and it led me to a very dark place for a while.

“Not only was I not coping, but teenagers being as they are, neither were my friends. In many ways I was lucky to survive some high risk behaviour with alcohol, but I did. Towards the end of my school years I began telling friends that I was gay, and then once I got to university it became the normal thing as I met new people. Over the next year or two I told old friends and family, and of course, the reaction was uniformly positive.

“The one thing I probably didn't appreciate is that coming out never stops, especially when you have a public role!” he says.

The openly gay MP says the first significant thing he did in the LGBTI community itself was volunteer for the NZ Aids Foundation when he moved to Wellington in the mid 1990s. “This was as a result of a flatmate of mine at the time,” he says. “I eventually ended up on the NZAF Board, and involved in other campaigns such as Civil Unions and Marriage Equality.”

Continuing to advocate on behalf of the LGBTI community Robertson says that the move from tolerance to acceptance is a big issue for the New Zealand LGBTI community. “There is still prejudice to break down in day to day lives especially for people living in regional towns and communities.

“There are some terrific initiatives to support young people through Rainbow Youth and Inside Out and so on, and we need to continue and develop these to ensure schools are inclusive and supportive environments. There are still a host of issues for the trans community that need to be addressed, including recognition under the Human Rights Act, access to health services and policies of agencies such as Corrections.”

He says to make the changes to attitudes and to fulfil the "dignity agenda" the whole community needs to be involved.

“We have tremendous allies, right across the political spectrum, and particularly in parties like Labour and the Greens. For me personally, my good friend and colleague Jacinda Ardern does a great job in supporting our communities in Auckland.”

As well as being inspired by his fellow MP, Robertson says he is inspired every day by the range of New Zealanders he meets who spend their days serving their communities.

“One of the great things about being an MP is that you get to meet such a range of people,” he says. “Just now I have come from a meeting with the Mens Night Shelter here in Wellington- people who every day try to address the issues of homelessness. But if you are looking for one person who inspires me, and always has, is it my Mum!”

Looking back he says the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform in 1986 is, in his eyes, the greatest achievement of the LGBTI community. “It took such bravery and courage to lead that debate at that time,” he says.

“Being a part of the Civil Union and Marriage Equality campaigns we knew we were standing on the shoulders of giants, and that made it much easier. It will be great to celebrate the 30th anniversary next year.”

His Christmas wish for the future? “I want all LGBTI people to lead happy and fulfilling lives. I wish the same for all New Zealanders to be a part of society that accepts and welcomes diversity and gives the support and encouragement to allow everyone to fulfil their potential.”

“I want to see New Zealand as a land where everyone is included, valued and respected. I want everyone to share in our prosperity as a country. To get there we have to change the way we think about the economy, and put people first. To play my part in that my goal is to be Minister of Finance in a Labour Government. Bring on 2017!”

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- 8th January 2016