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Rainbow election dinner

  • August 24th, 2008

GAP (now called Rainbow) election forum dinners  in 2002 and 2005 were enjoyable affairs.  So I expected good table conversation and crisp questioning to make last Thursday’s affair equally worth attending.

It was worthwhile, though it was much smaller than previously. The opinion at our table was that falling attendance reflects a fall-off in "embattled community" solidarity among GLITB people. Community acceptance apparently reduces younger peoples’ need to look for mutual support to others for whom sexual orientation is a primary identity.

If so Labour may derive increasingly uncertain dividends from wedge politicking with gay* interests and concerns.

As before the dinner was dominated by the old left, despite a smattering across the political spectrum.

Wellington Central’s Labour candidate clearly thought it was his home crowd.  I’ll post separately on his answer to a typical question – whether the law should regulate blood service caution about about gay donors. I had not realised what an issue he thought it is.

National’s Katherine Rich, attending for what may be one of her last Parliamentary social duties, mentioned to me that despite her votes for causes dear to gay activists (sometimes without many allies in National) she had never in her years in Parliament been lobbied personally by any of them.

She was sad that they had never asked for advice on persuading colleagues, or supporting those in her caucus who were on the progressive liberal end of the issues.

It was consistent with my experience starting with the Relationships (Property) Bill in my first year in Parliament. That bill was bad for all couples who deliberately choose not to commit, but some gay activists were persuaded that it was a touch-stone of gay-friendliness leading up to the future civil union debate. 

I was lobbied. Gay friends and supporters were helpful, and supported my eventual opposition to that bill. Then and later I took heartfelt pleas at face value,  but much of the email traffic was of the "punch em enough and they’ll come round" school of persuasion. Sneers and threats are no doubt satisfying for those who offer them.

Sophisticated lobbyists try to understand the concerns of those they would persuade, and the alliances that might be created. I can not recall ever being asked what changes would enable me to support the legislation, or what might move colleagues, and how they could be brought in to support.

Perhaps they felt they did not need to bother, with Labour using the whip on so-called "conscience votes". And the measures went through so they’ll feel the  lack of facilitative lobbying did not matter in the end.

Trouble is, measures that are planned and cynically used to divide and identify "friend from foe", instead of  building on the common consensus, can feel fragile. "We won, you lost, eat that" just invites the losers to plan changes to the recipe.

Several among last week’s forum diners seemed terribly over-anxious about that possibility. 

I’ve heard of no plans to revisit any of the touchstone issues yet the questioning seemed determined to construct a continuing threat. 

Perhaps it is related to the need to have a uniting external enemy. Some perhaps are nostalgic for  the warmth inside circled wagons where all outside were classified as inveterate hostiles, or unwitting allies of them.

I understand that, but it is one of New Zealand’s strengths that our politics has not been dominated by it. On the theory that it is harder to demonise those you’ve met I usually accept invitations to tough events, because I want to preserve a politics where most of us know we share more than may divide us.

I’ve never been at risk of being the forum’s favoured candidate but I ‘ve always thought I should be there – (one commentator delivers the sorry news that I did not make the grade this time either). Fortunately the duty has not been onerous.

*When the word "queer" has unequivocally captured the generic territory once covered by "gay" I’ll use that term to cover GLITB, but I’ll wait until invited by less political gay friends. I remember when it was a hurtful school-yard insult, so until they’re comfortable I’ll let others make it generic..

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