NZ and gay-o-politics

New Zealand's foreign policy in relation to the LGBT rights shows double standards; cold war stereotypes and political correctness win over practicality and efficiency


Gay rights have replaced religion and ideology as a new dividing point between East and West, developed and developing countries. Western democracies are moving towards equality, ensuring legal protection and full integration of its LGBT citizens into society. However in totalitarian states, often controlled by nationalists and clerics, citizens enjoy less personal freedoms and any deviation from mainstream sexuality is perceived as a threat to the national security and identity, dangerous imports from the decadent West. Intolerance to the very idea of gay identity and gay rights is something that brings together otherwise diverse countries of Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, getting reflected in their homophobic legislation.

While Western democracies face important tasks of encouraging universal acceptance of gay rights, they seem to show double standards in their policies and their actions are inconsistent and questionable, often causing the opposite effect. And in my opinion, New Zealand's foreign policy in relation to the LGBT rights follows the same pattern.

The new geopolitical split between the West and the East became particularly visible in the Ukraine, where significant part of the population supports integration with the West, while many others call for closer ties with Russia, the country they see as opponents to the Western values and morals. In this explosive situation gay rights became the joker card in the wicked game of politics.

First, to get the populist vote, Ukraine’s Parliament passed ‘anti-gay propaganda law’ a year ahead of Russia, but had to drop it later under the pressure from the European Union. EU then stipulated that Ukraine had to pass legislation to protect LGBT minority as a condition for further integration and visa free regime. This did not go down well in a deeply religions and homophobic country and was further exploited by pro-Russian media that claimed Ukraine would end up accepting gay marriage to get into the EU. Thousands Orthodox protestors went into the streets with slogans like “No to Sodom!” “Don't enter Europe through the asshole!”

In this atmosphere of homophobic hysteria Ukrainian LGBT organizations supporting integration with the EU, chose to keep a very low profile and restrain from displaying LGBT symbols in pro-EU rallies. They further accused the former government in staging fake gay parades and employing thugs, junkies and the homeless to pose as gays marching with rainbow flags and pro-EU slogans in order to alienate people and discredit the movement.

Once pro-EU forces toppled the pro-Russian government, the predominant Russian autonomous republic of Crimea swiftly voted to rejoin Russia. Notably Crimea has just become the first region in Russia to put a preventative ban on gay marriages. Russian LGBT organizations actively backed up by Western Embassies and assisted by Western sponsors, have also got caught into politics opposing Russian interference in Ukraine. With 93 per cent of polled Russians supporting the annexation of Crimea, this minority report and association with the West just further isolates and stigmatizes gays within the society, making them look treacherous, weak and foreign.

New Zealand in the meantime became the only nation in the world where Parliament voted to support gay rights in Russia in January this year and then last month it chose to pay the highest price for opposition to annexation of Crimea by withdrawing from a nearly signed free trade agreement with Russia.

It is plausible that New Zealand supports human rights, particularly GLBT rights. It is however intriguing that New Zealand selectively picked up on Russian 'gay propaganda to minors' legislation but in no way mentioned 'kill the gays' bill signed in Uganda or similar recent legislation passed by a range of African countries. Neither did NZ react to the introduction of sharia law in Brunei with its death penalty for homosexuality. It appears that LGBT rights are looked at selectively and randomly, with foreign policies still following old stereotypes of politic-correctness rather than practicality and effectiveness. And while Western support had so far seemingly an opposite effect on LGBT communities in both Russia and Ukraine, the same actions applied in another region would be more likely to succeed.

With India re-criminalizing gay sex in December last year there are now 77 countries in the world where consensual same sex activity is illegal. Notably, 42 of these countries are fellow members of the Commonwealth and their shameful legislation is legacy of their colonial rule, imposed by the British centuries ago against local customs and practices. Ironically, Britain itself has moved a long way since then, embracing same-sex marriage last month.

Countries of Oceania are overrepresented on this list- Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Palau, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands. New Zealand, vocal supporter of LGBT rights across the world and initiator of UN's pledges to decriminalise homosexuality, happens to have special relationships with all of these countries, and some are major recipients of NZ aid. One of them, the Cook Islands happens to be within the realm of New Zealand.

With a population under of 20,000 people, this country in a free association with NZ is scheduled to receive $29mln aid from NZ in 2013/2014. With no Cook Island citizenship as such all Cook islanders are citizens of New Zealand. Naturally, they enjoy all the benefits of New Zealand citizenship, including education and health care. The Cook Island’s Prime Minister Henry Puna studied law in the University of Auckland and when last September he had suspected angina, he was flown to Auckland to be admitted to Middlemore hospital and then transferred to Auckland hospital for tests.

Within New Zealand, the Cook Island community is estimated to be about 60,000 and around 80,000 New Zealanders travel to the islands every year, making up around 70per cent of all arrivals and contributing to the main source of the island's income. Considered to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, Cook Islands make a popular wedding destination. But romantic marriage ceremony in this paradise is out of question for LGBT New Zealanders with or without Cook island residency.

Opposing New Zealand's civil partnership act, Cook Islands redefined in it 2007 the Marriage as union between partners of the opposite sex. Indeed, the country in free association with New Zealand is free to apply what it feel suits for its resident New Zealand citizens. So LGBT New Zealanders as well as LGBT Cook islanders who wishing to execute their right to marry in a tropical paradise location, would have to head to rivaling islands Hawaii, Tahiti or New Caledonia, places actively promoting gay tourism and since last year embracing gay marriage.

At the same time in the Cooks it is not possible to encourage LGBT tourism at all as its legislations specifically forbids 'keeping place of resort for homosexual acts' which can get the property manager jailed for 10 years. Even heavily criticized by NZ Military regime in Fiji seems to be far ahead of the Cook Islands in terms of LGBT rights - homosexuality has been legalised there back in 2010, last year the first pacific LGBT short film festival was held there and tourism ministry of Fiji 'has no objection to portray it as LGBT friendly destination'.

Well, even Iran beats the Cooks in recognition of the rights of transsexuals as unlike operated Iranians, operated Cook islanders cannot get sex change recognised legally and still are bound by law to be only able to marry the opposite gender from what they have on their birth certificate.

So it sounds like double standards when NZ chooses to criticize legislation of countries like Russia where homosexuality is legal since 1991 but turns a blind eye on anti-gay laws of its closest neighbour where gays and lesbians have no anti-discrimination protection and consensual sex between adult males can be punishable with 7 years’ imprisonment.

Cook Island’s foreign affairs and defense still fall under the New Zealand's responsibility and New Zealand represents Cook Islands in countries with no Cook Islands representative. In view of Cook Islands not being a member nation in UN, is New Zealand effectively responsible for defending Cook’s Islands LGBT rights violations?

Within the Realm of New Zealand, New Zealand Government has expectation of a common approach on key issues of international policy and respect for international human rights. UN's Human Right's Council has called all nations to decriminalize consensual homosexuality, enforce anti-discrimination laws on the base of sexual preference and to legally recognize transsexuals.

I believe New Zealand, a sponsor of the UN resolution, has both a right and a moral obligation to make its position clear to the Cook Islands. It is commendable when Foreign Ministry express concern with the lack of gay rights in faraway countries like Russia where NZ has little to no influence on domestic affairs but I believe it would be more efficient to check LGBT record of our closest neighbors’ who look up to New Zealand and depend on it and its policies. And if the New Zealand’s government is truly committed to LGBT rights being recognized as human rights around the world and would like to make it a fair playing field for the GLBT community internationally, should it probably start by clearing its own backyard first?

Alexander Lowë


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