Monday, June 06, 2016

Queen’s Birthday

Today is the Queen’s Birthday pubic holiday in New Zealand, which is notable for two things. First, it’s the last public holiday until the end of October—a very, very long stretch without a public holiday. Second, there’s the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, and this year it showed why New Zealand is different from many other countries.

The New Zealand government honours citizens twice a year, at New Year’s and again now. Whoever is leading government tends to acknowledge those most aligned with their party—Labour honours academics, unionists, and those working to better their communities, while National tends to honour business people, sports people, and some people working to better their communities.

It’s the latter category in particular that’s the most interesting, and not just because both major parties extend awards to people in that area. It’s also because most of the recipients are people who we might not hear about otherwise, people working away often with little or no acknowledgement or thanks to make this a better country.

This year, two people stood out for me, both because they were worthy, but also because such people tend to go completely unacknowledged in my homeland.

First up is Lexie Matheson, who was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to performing arts, education and LGBTIQ rights. She has a remarkable story, and her lived experience underscores why specific trans protections are required in New Zealand’s human rights legislation.

The other is Cissy Rock, who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities. She has been a tireless worker to make society better, and I know many people who speak highly of her.

Both Lexie and Cissy are part of Auckland Council’s Rainbow advisory panel, to help elected members better understand and meet the needs of Auckland LGBTQI communities, so they’re actively involved in making Auckland better.

There are those who might think it odd that a conservative government would honour LGBTQI individuals, but they wouldn’t be people who know New Zealand very well. There are deep and profound differences between the left bloc and right bloc in New Zealand politics, but respect for diversity is a given—even if priorities and agendas vary.

And that’s one of the things that I love about New Zealand: We can fight hammer and tongs over public policy—what we should do and when we should do it, for example—but when it comes to recognising unsung heroes for all they do to make ours a better society, we put aside our partisan differences.

Which is not to suggest that there aren’t bigoted people in New Zealand—of course there are! But here, at least, no one panders to the worst among us. Instead, we all try and pull in more or less the same direction, and sometimes we even succeed.

I haven’t heard of most of the honourees on this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, but that’s kind of the point: We honour those who get little thanks. Sure, sometimes I, too, may not be too sure of some of the choices, but, on balance, I’m just glad that we do this at all.

“Thanks” is such an easy word to say, but apparently the hardest, too. I’m glad we have a mechanism through which the government of the day can extend the thanks of us all.

The image above is my own, and includes my own photo of a 1987 New Zealand 50 cent coin. The coin was replaced by a smaller version in 2006—which I actually blogged about at the time—so the photo is of a coin that is no longer legal tender. Which is why I feel safe using it. Plus, I like the rainbow-ish effect going on there…

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