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Monday 10 April 2017

From the RW Forum: Labour's Maryan Street

Posted in: Features
By Daily News staff - 1st August 2014

This week’s Rainbow Wellington pre-election gathering will be one of the few lgbti-focused forums before the election, so we’re taking a close look at what the candidates had to say. Labour MP Maryan Street focused on adoption, transgender issues and her passion for ensuring our kids are safe.

She also made a powerful plea about lgbti rights, which you can read here

Maryan Street addresses the Rainbow Wellington forum
Maryan Street is a former teacher and ex-President of the Labour Party. She has been an MP since 2007 and has held a variety of roles, including Housing and ACC Minister. She’s currently a passionate Rainbow Labour representative, advocate for Nelson’s Q-Youth and her party’s spokesperson for State Services, Tertiary Education, Disarmament & Arms Control, Foreign Affairs and Human Rights.

Speaking to the Rainbow Wellington forum at St Andrew’s on the Terrace this week, she looked back to Labour’s introduction of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, which passed in 1986, “when suddenly some of my closest friends were decriminalised, ceased to be criminals. And I enjoyed lobbying with them, at that time, for the progress of that bill.”

She said there was then progress at a ‘rapid trot’ which moved through to civil union legislation and ultimately marriage equality. “The contrast between 1986 and the poison that was unleashed on those of us in our communities, compared with the support, the kindness, the aroha, the awhi, that went with the marriage equality bill can never be overestimated. That change was enormous.

“And it is so encouraging, because it assures me that we are a growing, a maturing, a liberal, a progressive country when it comes fundamental issues of human rights, which is what the marriage equality bill was about. And having access under the law to equality, true equality, and the right to marry.”

Street told those gathered the other unfinished business is adoption. She said it remains high on Labour’s agenda.

Note: While gay couples who are married can now adopt, the long outdated adoption law means that unmarried gay couples cannot – while singles can. There has been a test case which has set a precedent for de facto straight couples to be allowed to adopt, but whether that would stand for gay couples is unclear.

Street is Labour’s human rights spokesperson, and said “this is where the rubber hits the road”.

“It is always and ever about human rights. When it comes to adoption, who is left out of the brief? Who is not allowed to adopt. That’s the question. A gay woman, a lesbian, can adopt on her own, but a lesbian couple cannot. There is an inequality, there is an injustice. That will be fixed.”

File Photo
Street told the audience an area of real importance to her personally is young people. The Nelson resident has worked with local queer and trans youth group Q-Youth for the seven years she has been in the city. She’s been impressed with its work in local high schools where queer-straight alliances now exist.

“Our brief, as always, is to provide a safe environment for young people to grow up. For young people who are queer, and we keep using that word in Nelson – that is the word of choice by the young people. Queer people, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex - we have a mission to make Nelson a safe place for them to grow up and explore their sexuality. They might just be questioning. They might not have landed at the age of 15,” Street said, nabbing laughs as she spoke about her own experience at that age. “In my case everyone else knew before I did!”

The Labour MP said creating a safe space at schools, in the community and the country in critically important. “I saw young people self-harming. I understand the statistics and the suicidality of young people who are so distressed about the reception they are likely to receive if they come out as anything other than heterosexual. And so that has remained for me, ever since a boy I taught at Green Bay High School in the 1980s, who was as camp as a row of tents, he and I recognised each other instantly. We never talked about it. He left school and at the age of 18 committed suicide. And I thought what could I have done differently? So that is a personal mission for me and it is a priority.”

Street said the Rainbow Desk should never have been taken away from the Ministry of Social Development. “It’s a low cost item and it should not have been taken away.” She said it could work with the Social Development and Education Ministries to equip schools to look after young people better, and provide more assistance for counsellors.

Youth worker Kassie Hartendorp spoke passionately about the plight of lgbti youth, prompting Street to say the health and welfare of lgbti communities is critically important to Rainbow Labour policy.

She said having a Rainbow Desk at Parliament meant there would be a “gate” for assessment of every policy that passed on young lgbti people. “The purpose of the desk was to have that watchdog effect and I think that’s really important. I think politicians can lead, we don’t just respond … it is incumbent on us to ensure everything we are doling has the health and welfare, mental health and physical wellbeing of children and young people, front and centre.”

Street said intervention up front and early that values, strengthens and supports individuals in difficult times, can drop the youth suicide rate  “which is a blot on our reputation”.

She added the ‘transgender agenda’ is unfinished business. “There are so many parallels with where the transgender community are, and where we were some time ago as gays and lesbians.”

The MP said the recommendations of the Transgender Inquiry To Be Who I am need to be implemented. “We need to provide appropriate healthcare for transgender communities. We need to provide more support for those who are travelling in the way towards surgical procedures. I cannot bear the number of those who are talking to me in my office that are thinking they have to go to Thailand for operations, without guarantees of all the safeties that we have in our own system.”

Street says the three concerns of adoption, lgbti youth safety and getting transgender issues sorted are high priorities.

“And while this is not our official Rainbow Labour launch, that’s kind of a sneak preview of what’s in our policy.”

Street acknowledges there remain a number of barriers in sport, and says we need to make sure our young people are safe in that arena too.

Street also spoke about the strength of the Rainbow Labour caucus, which had herself, Grant Robertson, Louisa Wall and Meka Whaitiri as MPs this term.

The party also has a number of lgbti candidates standing, including all of the above and Tamati Coffey, Tony Milne, Richard Hills and Kelly Ellis.

In a nutshell:

  • Labour will sort out adoption laws
  • It will make keeping our kids safe a high priority
  • It will implement all the Transgender Inquiry recommendations
  • It wants to bring back the Rainbow Desk

Full Rainbow Labour policy is still to come. Daily News staff - 1st August 2014

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