Tuesday, January 02, 2007

There are times

There are times when life just hands “compare and contrast” opportunities. We mind our own business, then whomp, the opportunity arrives.

Yesterday I said how openly-gay MP Chris Carter being NZ’s official representative at Gerald Ford’s funeral represented one of the things I really like about New Zealand.

Then today I read (courtesy of Adam at This Boy Elroy) that the only (known) gay Republican US Representative, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, gave a warning to fellow Republicans as he prepares to retire from Congress: Move to the centre or face being out of power.

Kolbe was firmly closeted until 1996 when he was outed because he voted in favour of the notorious anti-gay “Defense of Marriage Act”. Now, according to 365Gay.com, he says “he wishes the act had included a provision that marriage belongs in the hands of the states and that couples in states where same-sex marriage or civil unions are legal could have access to federal benefits accorded opposite-sex married couples.”

Give me a break. He had the opportunity to argue that at the time, and he didn’t. Instead, he arguably made things worse for LGBT people, and he helped set the stage for the theocons’ war against any recognition of same-sex relationships.

So pardon me for not giving a stuff what Jim Kolbe has to say about anything. He wasn’t there when we needed him most and he came out only when he was forced out—revealed as a hypocrite is perhaps a better way of putting it. He had zero influence in the Republican Party then and his advice now will fall on stone deaf ears.

That’s where the opportunity to compare and contrast arrived.

Kolbe ends his career with zero influence in the Republican Party. The Democrats aren’t really any better—they’re too afraid of alienating the conservative voters they’re trying to win over.

In New Zealand, we have an openly gay cabinet minister. Another gay MP, Tim Barnett, is believed to be the first openly gay person elected to a first term in any national legislature (all others, including Chris Carter, came out after election, though Carter wasn’t trying too hard to be closeted in that first campaign). Both have had influence within the Labour Party caucus. Barnett steered prostitution reform through Parliament, as well as working on the Civil Unions Bill and other legislation. NZ had the world’s first transgendered MP, Georgina Beyer (soon to retire). We now have other gay and lesbian MPs, including even within the conservative National Party.

I simply can’t imagine LGBT people having that much influence in America.

I’ve said before that it’s dangerous to compare and contrast the US with any country. Americans don’t take it well when the country is revealed to be lacking when compared to another country. That doesn’t change a simple truth: For LGBT people, some places simply are better and safer than America, and some countries respect the contributions of LGBT people more than America does.

Jim Kolbe’s warnings now, when they can’t possibly do any good, won’t change that in the least. I still believe that it’s ordinary people who can and will—if they will.

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