Tamati Coffey should stop claiming gay rights as a Labour accomplishment

During Auckland's Pride celebrations, Labour Party up-and-comer and former TV weatherman, Tamati Coffey, surprised many by quoting from a 30 year old diatribe from Norm Jones, a former Invercargill MP and incorrigible homophobic racist misogynist. Coffey cited Jones, presumably, as a way to diminish the presence of National Party MPs at the March; to apply a kind of retroactive culpability to politicians like Nikki Kaye, who was 6 years old when Jones gave the speech in question. 

Homosexual Law Reform passed in 1986, a time when attitudes towards men like me and Coffey were vastly different than they are now. The advances we have made have been the result of the passionate activism of thousands of gay men and women — along with the support and love of countless straight allies who refused to accept our criminalisation at the hands of the state and vilification throughout society at large.

When Jones made his AIDS remarks, such fear and loathing directed towards gay people was sadly commonplace among men of his generation and background. And, yes, there were a large number of National Party members of parliament who voted against Fran Wilde's Bill in 1986. But it was a conscience vote, and several Labour members voted nay, including senior Ministers Peter Tapsell and Stan Rodger, along with God-botherers like John Terris, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan and Fraser Coleman and the impious but straightforwardly bigoted Geoff Braybrooke. My own local MP at the time, Gerry Wall (Porirua), a staunch old-school Catholic, was another firm opponent but was not in the chamber at the time. Rewinding a dozen years, Labour icon Norm Kirk himself opposed a liberalisation proposal offered up by National's Venn Young. Bigotry against gays and lesbians was a bipartisan pursuit for most of our nation's history. Support for our community also came from both sides. 

In 1986, Labour tended to hold electorates in urban areas where support for law reform was strong; National MPs more often came from rural and provincial areas where hostility towards LGBT people was considerably more pronounced, amplified by the HIV-AIDS crisis. (It would be another nine years before ARV cocktails began to contain the epidemic). 

Homophobia, like racism and xenophobia, have been welcome on all sides of politics at various times in history. The Chinese surname saga, all Labour's doing, happened only last year. 

Coffey is not helping his LGBT brothers and sisters by trying to reopen a wedge on gay rights between New Zealand's major parties. We should treasure and do whatever we can to preserve the broadest possible coalition of support.  Digging up the dusty speeches of a vile old backbench bigot doesn't help anyone, least of all Coffey himself, since this will surely (and rightly) call into question his political judgment.