Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Chris Carter’s Valedictory Statement

In the video above, Chris Carter, New Zealand’s first openly gay Member of Parliament and, later, Cabinet Minister, delivers his Valedictory Statement to the House yesterday as he prepares to leave to take up a United Nations post in Kabul (not a place I’d choose to go…).

Such speeches are all about the Member who is leaving, their chance to sort of wrap their Parliamentary career in a pretty bow. There’s usually a fair amount of self-congratulation because that’s the nature of the beast.

Carter became extremely unpopular among Labour supporters when he was revealed to be plotting to topple Phil Goff as party leader. This was after Goff defended Carter amid heated criticism over Carter allegedly having engaged in “lavish” spending while he was a minister. He was expelled from the Labour caucus in Parliament and has served as an officially independent MP for about a year.

Perhaps because of that, I saw several progressive types mocking Carter on Twitter while he was making his speech (these people actually watch Parliament TV; I’m not the only one who does). I wasn’t watching the speech and only heard and saw it today. I now think they were being grossly unfair.

I can overlook the self-congratulations since all the ones I’ve heard have done the same thing. That’s a non-issue. But whatever disrepute he brought on himself toward the end of his career, it is still true that he was New Zealand’s first openly gay MP, and that’s significant.

Carter was elected in 1993, but didn’t talk about being gay until his maiden speech after that election. He lost the 1996 election, but then won election again in 1999 and has held the seat of Te Atatu ever since, a total of 15 years. His election and his having been a cabinet minister was especially important for the symbolism. Not even his fall from grace changes that.

So, I appreciate Chris Carter and the work he did. He was clearly not perfect; toward the end of his career he was very imperfect, indeed. But he helped change New Zealand for the better. It is now no big deal that there are openly gay Members of Parliament or openly gay cabinet ministers. People can actually imagine there being a gay prime minister some day, and not in the distant future.

That, in itself, is not a bad legacy.

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