Campaigning on LGBTI human rights in their many aspects has become a key element in RW’s work, and it is clear that we have built up a good reputation for this over the years. We have contributed in two main ways:
Firstly, we offer continuity. Because we have been here for quite a while, easy to contact and ready to comment, we have become one of the very few continuing LGBTI groups who are around to respond instantly to events. The media has become accustomed to this, and we are contacted to comment on a number of “hot issues”. I suspect many of you recall the visiting American homophobic pastor. We are known to have a longer-term interest in other issues, such as blood donation, so are similarly approached for comment when these topics are in the news. Other groups in NZ have normally been created for single campaigns, such as marriage equality. They have often been very effective in their area, but will then tend not still to be around when another issue arises 6 months later.
Secondly, because of this continuity, we are able to sustain long-term campaigns. Indeed we have specialised in issues which we know will require a long-term commitment. Blood donation is clearly one of these, but we have also been campaigning on and off on issues relating to homophobic bullying in schools, and have campaigned on a number of trans* issues ever since the Human Rights Commission report came out in 2007. Our special skills have been knowledge of Parliament, Government, international human rights and legislation, so obviously we have concentrated mostly there, but as other issues, such as the situation for elderly LGBTI present themselves, we are happy and keen to take these on also (always of course provided we have the resources to do so). Only a few of these have come to a real conclusion, such as the abolition of the Partial Defence of Provocation, but we believe that chipping away at these issues can bring long-term improvements in the lives of LGBTI people, so it is worth persevering.
Blood Donation Campaign
In New Zealand, as in many (though not all) western countries, there is a blanket ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) donating blood. This dates back to the 1980s, when AIDS appeared on the scene, and was initially seen as the only way to safeguard the blood supplies. As science progressed, and blood tests became more and more accurate, this position was softened somewhat, from a lifetime ban to the current ban of one year only. However, it is still a blanket ban, based on group rather than individual risk assessment.
RW has campaigned now for several years to move towards individual risk assessment, arguing that the current policy discriminates on the grounds of sexual orientation. We first got involved when the NZ Blood Service asked for comments on the proposed reduction of the ban from 10 years to 5. At that time, one member volunteered himself as an individual case which could then go before the Human Rights Commission. This process was begun at the time, but not taken further. At the time we met with much support within our communities for our stand, but also some opposition from those who wished to support the status quo.
In 2014, we again responded to consultation to reduce the exclusion period from 5 years to one year. We were the only group in Wellington to meet with the advisory committee, whose arguments we found increasingly unconvincing. Developments in other countries, with strong support for our position from politicians and groups like the American Medical Association, has meant that we have met with little opposition within our communities. But there is little other organised support here (though we know quite a lot on an individual level) for our continuing campaign, despite what we see as the increasing weakness of the official line. This includes the absence of any real support from Parliamentary political parties, which stands in stark contrast to developments in countries such as the UK (which now also has a similar one-year ban).
We are considering new options as to how to take this campaign forward in the future.
Since the Human Rights Commission report “To be who I am” was published in 2007, we have been campaigning for the implementation of its recommendations. We have mostly concentrated on those reforms requiring legislative change, as they relate in particular to birth certificates, citizenship, and discrimination under the Human Rights Act. We have written to a number of Government Ministers over the years on these issues. Although there has been considerable success in a number of areas involving administrative change, legislative change has been more difficult to achieve.
It recently became clear that, as far as the trans* community are concerned, the HRC report is being overtaken by events, and that simply concentrating on its recommendations is probably no longer the best way forward. We have been in discussion with Green MP Jan Logie, who has pointed in particular to a recent Maltese Bill which appears to cover all the main legislative issues relating to trans* rights, and could serve as a useful template for reform here.
We have supported Jan’s attempt to build up a cross-party support group in Parliament on this and other issues, a group which is now in existence. It contains several of our current and former Vice-Patrons.
Homophobic bullying in schools
Opposing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools has been another long-term issue for us. We have mostly supported others, such as Schools Out, in their endeavours, leaving direct action by RW again mostly to writing to Government Ministers from time to time.
We have supported and publicised the two reports by Murray Riches, produced by the Green Party, on queer youth, and in particular his recent report How safe are our schools?, which sets out the widely differing practices and policies on such bullying across our education sector, and the inadequate response of the Education Review Office to this state of affairs. We are awaiting advice in the best way to proceed, but again doing all we can to encourage cross-party support for action within Parliament on this issue, mostly through our Vice-Patrons, who now include representatives all the main Parliamentary parties.
New Zealand Bill of Rights
The “Constitution Conversation”, set up by the Government in the last Parliament to look at a wide range of issues, gave us the opportunity to push for a strengthening of the NZ Bill of Rights Act and the related Human Rights Act. The CC report largely supported our views. There is a little support for such a move within the current Government, but growing support elsewhere, which we will continue to contribute to as and when we can.
Submissions to Parliamentary Select Committees
We have made a number of submissions to select committees in recent years. The full list can be seen by going to http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/sc/documents/evidence , and then searching for “rainbow wellington” (as a phrase) under keyword search.
This list includes our successful submissions on the Provocation Appeal and Marriage Equality, as well as submissions on Bills relating to employment relations and education which we considered contained issues of relevance to our communities.
Our submission on the Civil Union Bill and associated legislation predated this system of electronic storage of submissions on the Parliament website.