Labour’s problem with homophobia

The Labour Party has a number of openly homosexual MPs, and it has promoted pro-homosexual law. MP Louisa Wall currently has a bill in progress that looks likely to increase marriage equality by allowing homosexual partners to legally get married.

So it’s surprising to see anti homosexual comments from people in the party. Making critical and derogatory comments about homosexuals is often referred to as homophobic.

David Shearer has recently made a comment that I think is more likely a faux pas rather than acceopting of homophobia in the party in a recent radio interview:

Zac: Is there room for MPs with homophobic views in the Labour Party?

Shearer: Oh look yes, absolutely, there are some,

But there is a bit of history of Labour MPs being derogatory towards homosexuals. This is something that David Shearer needs to respond to and address, particularly as he is supporting and promoting John Tamihere’s return to the ranks of Labour MPs. A recent Dominion Post editorial discussed this:

If Labour Party leader David Shearer is hatching a cunning plan to re-enlist former MP John Tamihere in the party’s parliamentary ranks to court the blue-collar vote, he should drop it.

Mr Tamihere’s on-air tirade against a female reporter who dared to ask him if he was fattist, a misogynist or a homophobe, shows he is unsuited to again hold public office.

Coming just days after he was readmitted to the party, the tirade also shows he learnt nothing from the 2005 brouhaha that effectively ended his six-year parliamentary career.

Then, in an interview he thought was off-the-record, he variously described his Labour colleagues as “smarmy”, “queers” and tossers, said the prime minister, Helen Clark, was emotionally fragile, labelled her chief of staff “butch”, referred to women as “front-bums” and said he was “sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed”.

 

From Stuff in 2011:

Labour MP Damien O’Connor was forced to apologise to colleagues for remarking that his party’s list for the November election is dominated by “unionists and a gaggle of gays”.

And…

Labour’s Trevor Mallard says he shouldn’t have called Attorney-General Chris Finlayson “Tinkerbell” but denies there is problem with homophobia in the party.

ACT’s Wellington central candidate Stephen Whittington yesterday accused openly gay Labour MPs Grant Robertson and Charles Chauvel of covering up prejudice among their caucus.

Hutt South MP Mr Mallard likened Mr Finlayson to the Peter Pan fairy during a parliamentary debate in October 2009. Waimakariri MP Clayton Cosgrove twice called Mr Finlayson Tinkerbell in the House in July 2009.

Mr Mallard said last night: “I certainly don’t think I’m homophobic. It’s a comment that was probably unfortunate and if I’d thought carefully I wouldn’t have made it.”

It was “ridiculous” to suggest Mr Cosgrove was anti-gay, he said. Mr Cosgrove did not respond to a request for comment.

The allegations flew after a Rainbow meeting in Wellington on Wednesday night. Mr Whittington believes both Labour MPs were denying the Tinkerbell remarks were ever made.

“I felt that they had questioned my credibility in a public forum and denied there were aspects of their party who criticised and abused MPs for being homosexual,” he said. “I didn’t think that was acceptable.”

Both Mr Robertson and Mr Mallard believe Mr Whittington was trying to divert attention from homophobic comments made by ACT’s Epsom candidate John Banks a number of years ago.

“He was asked a question about John Banks. In his response, he said there are homophobic Labour MPs,” Mr Robertson said. “I don’t believe there are.”

He added: “Of course I don’t think it’s a good thing for Labour MPs to call Chris Finlayson Tinkerbell. It’s silly statement…With all due respect, [to] Stephen, I suspect I know more about homophobia than he does.”

Green MP Kevin Hague, who was also at the meeting, backed Mr Whittington’s version of events. “My sense was thatCharles and Grant were denying that Mallard and Cosgrove had abused Chris Finlayson in a homophobic way.

“The impression I had was that they were denying that he said it.”

Shearer may be tolerant of allowing people representing Labour to have differing views, and even expressing them colourfully.

But in light of his recent radio comment that appears to accept homophobia in the Labour cacucus I think Shearer has a duty to be open and clear about where he stands on this.

In particular he needs to clarify:

  • what he meant by his comments on 95bFM
  • what he expects of his MPs in relation to derogatory ‘homophobic’ statements

And questions need to be asked about Shearer’s participation in the Gay Pride parade in the weekend – was that just publicity seeking, using gays for some photo opportunities?  Then the next day say homophobia is fine in Labour?

If he doesn’t address this he will be added to the list of Labour MPs who have been openly ‘homophobic’, and the Labour Party will be inextricably linked to homophobia.

I have emailed David Shearer, Trevor Mallard, Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove asking for a statement on this.

1 Comment

  1. Well the trouble is that Labour was originally established to represent “labour” in parliament and nothing more. For this reason, most of its early members were cultural Tories; they were patriotic, sexist, and all the rest. It’s only since the 1990s that Labour as been actively in favour of gay rights, notably more so than the Tories. So there’s still a lot of old influence.

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