Striving for a more acceptable future

2:55 pm on 8 July 2017

Opinion - As a young gay man living in Aotearoa in 2017, what was it like to hear the government officially apologise to men persecuted and prosecuted for consensual homosexual activity before 1986?

LGBT flag

Photo: RNZ

The apology on Thursday came as the country celebrated Team New Zealand's America's Cup victory and held its breath for the All Blacks' Lions series win.

It'll be extended by a bill to expunge those men's convictions, which is currently before a select committee.

It is all too easy to hear this apology yet feel disconnected, almost baffled, when attempting to comprehend a time when expressing who you were or your feelings towards another male was tantamount to a criminal conviction.

It was a time when police raided bars to look for suspected homosexual men and when entrapment of gay men was all too common throughout the country.

Many of the men who were prosecuted for being homosexual soon became those leading the marches in support of what became the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Act, while many other men and women also put themselves at risk by being involved with these marches.

These men and women ensured that future generations of New Zealanders, like mine, were able express themselves and be who they wanted to be without fear of legal reprisal.

This is a generation who fought for law changes and ultimately the rights of the queer community.

They paved the way for civil unions and same-sex marriage. They paved the way for me to be openly gay and comfortable with my family, friends, workmates and rugby team.

I personally will be forever grateful for the sacrifices they made.

The future for the queer community in Aotearoa, meanwhile, is bright but is not without its challenges.

Many people, young and old, in this country still struggle with their gender or sexuality, causing significant inner turmoil, which can have devastating results.

Young queer people are drastically over-represented in mental health and suicide statistics - and this needs to change.

For those within the queer communities that identify as trans, the battle for their rights and for them to be respected is moving forward but needs support for that momentum to continue.

Gay and bisexual men face a very real threat in the form of increasing HIV rates, with a more conscious effort required to halt new infections.

Those of us within queer communities have to learn to be kinder to one another; too often we have been quick to feel discriminated against, when towards our own queer brothers and sisters we been guilty of similar harsh judgements.

Overall, Aotearoa has been among global leaders in progressive queer rights. Many countries overseas continue to persecute people based on their sexual orientation.

Yet, as this week's apology from the government demonstrates, it was not long ago that we were also guilty of this persecution as a country.

As a country we cannot simply sit back and take for granted what we have.

We must continue to strive for the rights of all communities, and show the world that change is possible when we acknowledge the past and look towards a more accepting future.

*Jeremy Brankin is a loyal Crusaders supporter living in Wellington with his partner while completing the final year of his medical degree. He has a keen interest in queer issues, mental health and working to improve Aotearoa for those most in need.

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