New Zealand Labour Party

Remarks by Grant Robertson to the 30th Anniversary Service celebrating the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act

Earlier in the year I attended a screening of TV clips from the homosexual law reform campaign in 1986.  For me what was remarkable was how long they let the politicians talk for!  But with me were some people way too young to remember how things were then.  After watching them, one young person remarked how she could not believe how much hate there was being expressed. Certainly the sight of Norm Jones or Graeme Lee ranting and raving about sodomy and moral turpitude was a frightening reminder of the vitriol that flowed. 

There were nasty and frightening times for the LGBT community and their allies.   The words and insults captured in Gareth Farr's intense piece you heard today were a regular part of that for many.  It is remarkable to look from a 2016 standpoint to think that people were criminals on the basis of who they loved.  

But while hate was on the minds and the lips of some who opposed homosexual law reform, it is also true is that the many thousands who signed the petition against decriminalisation that dominated so much of the debate were not peddling hate.  

They were fearful, not hateful.  Fearful of difference; fearful of the unknown; fearful of change.   

I know this, because I remember it.  My Sundays in 1986 had some similarities to the one I had today.  I got up early, in those days to deliver the weekend community newspaper (yes they had one) down in Dunedin before rushing home to wash the ink off my hands and then down to St Clair Presbyterian Church. The people I knew there, my parents friends, their children who were my friends at Youth Group were good people.  

But their fears got whipped up.  I remember the petition circulating at church picnics and youth groups.  It was simply expected that people would sign.  Not signing put you in a difficult, isolated position.  

Good people can have their fears exploited.  Just ask the economically struggling communities in the UK during the EU referendum.  If there is uncertainty in your life, if you feel forgotten , then it is easy to buy into messages of fear and hate- of an attack on the "other"  Migrants in the UK today, Muslims in America or LGBT people here in New Zealand thirty years ago or in Orlando just weeks ago.

As a teenager coming to terms with being gay in 1986 - that environment of fear and hate effected me.  We must never forget that for young LGBT people, then, as now, they feel their difference, they absorb the insults, they hide the hurt. 

What helped me then was that the peddlers of hate did not win.  Love won over hate.  Hope won over fear.  People from all over the community stood up for the fundamental human rights of the LGBT community.  

That is what we must always remember.  Is that it is natural to be uncertain about difference, to question the unknown to be worried about change.  But we can not let fear dominate our response. If we are guided by love, understanding and acceptance we will respond with open hearts.

As we are told in Corinthians, love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And there were people from communities of faith like St Andrews on the Terrace who stood up for real Christian values of inclusion, acceptance and understanding.  And over the following thirty years it is communities like St Andrews that have given me, and our LGBT community hope, and for that I thank you. 

In the 30 years since law reform perseverance has delivered many other legislative advances.  Discrimination at work and in most aspects of life has been eliminated; the rights to formally recognize the relationships of same sex couples began with Civil Unions and culminated in Marriage Equality in 2013. Much of the legislative agenda has been achieved, though there is still some legislative work to do in terms of the rights of trans people.  

But legislation is only one part of the picture.  

The shifting of attitudes in our communities is slower.  It relies on emotions, not words written in statute. It relies on us opening our hearts as much as our minds.  And it relies on a kindness.  In our world today I think kindness is never given the attention it deserves when it comes to what success looks like in our communities.

We talk about the value of growth, and the cost spending.   But what about the value of kindness and inclusion, and the cost of exclusion and fear? 

Today I honour and celebrate everyone who stood up to be counted thirty years ago.  To Fran Wilde.  To everyone who organised, who worked, who broke ground.  I remember and celebrate those who fought the good fight but are not with us today.  I remember and honour those who lived their lives under the shadow of criminality and never felt the freedom to be confident about who they were.  

I honour those who live in countries where they are still criminalized because of who they love, and I think this morning of our Australian LGBT community who wake up today unsure if there right to have their relationships recognized will be subject to a potentially divisive and hurtful plebiscite.

I honour the young people today who still struggle to come to terms with who they are, and who find the search for acceptance and understanding still tough.

As a community we must give them the hope that I found in this momentous decision thirty years ago. 

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today.   If there is one thing I believe we can learn from what happened thirty years ago, and what has happened since in the advances we have seen,  it is the lesson that love, hope and kindness can triumph, but only if we are persistent, brave and courageous enough to let them.