Voting

The New Zealand 2017 General Election officially falls on Saturday, 23 September 2017, but early voting is already taking place. Noel and I decided to vote early this election cycle as the polling station in Northwood is no longer around — it was really nice to be able to walk down and vote — and it was one less thing to do on a precious Saturday.

When I was a senior in high school, there was a big movement to register younger voters and encourage them to vote. MTV even had “Rock the Vote” going during that time. I vividly remember Jamie Royal coming to my classroom (Sociology, I think), and she registered me to vote in the hallway across from my locker. I was so nervous and scared and excited at the same time.
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“Look for the Helpers…”

Being 11 September here in New Zealand — even though the infamous 9/11 happened on 12 September 2001 here — some of my news feeds are showing images and sharing articles about the anniversary of 9/11.

Every year, I feel something different. Having been through our own set of natural disasters — the initial quake occurring a week before the 9th anniversary of 9/11 — something struck me quite strongly today as I saw this image:
Read Look for the Helpers…

A Facebook Post about Pulse Orlando

So I’m usually one of the first people to say something about a tragedy like the one at Pulse in Orlando, but it has left me shocked, and upset, and flabbergasted. There’s a fatigue that’s overwhelming me. America, we keep having this conversation, but there’s never a proper conclusion to it. How many more deaths do there need to be until the lawmakers finally do something? The worst mass shooting in America, in the LGBTI community nonetheless, but will something finally be done to curb or, dare I hope, stop these insane mass shootings from continuing? When will a “live-and-let-live”, tolerant attitude prevail over this “them-versus-us”, eye-for-an-eye, backward-thinking, blind hatred? I pray a solution, and common sense, prevail. I pray for peace and tolerance. I pray for Orlando and America. And I pray for all those injured and killed, and their families and loved ones. Life is short; be happy and love! ‪#‎PrayforOrlando‬

My 93 Year Old Grandma Thinks I Should Be Allowed to Marry; Why Don’t You?

Today, there are major battles occurring in New Zealand, the USA, France, and many other countries.  It’s a civil war of sorts, another civil rights movement, and this time, the question is:  Should we allow gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) couples legally marry?  (Not civil unionise.  Marry.  As one of the Supreme Court justices said, it’s the difference between a skim-milk marriage and a full marriage.)

We’ve heard every excuse in the book from the anti-marriage crowd.

“Marriage is for procreation.”  Really?  How can two straight people in their 50s get married if marriage is for procreation?

“God / Allah / Jesus / [Insert Your God Here] wants marriage between a man and a woman.”  I don’t think you or I can say anything about what God (or whatever god you believe in) thinks.  Besides, marriage has been around for a lot longer than some of our gods, so no one religion can truly make a claim on the institution of marriage.  Also, holy books like the Bible say a lot of things like, “Don’t eat shellfish” and “Don’t wear clothes of two different fabrics” and “Women are not equal to men” and “You can have slaves” and “Don’t cut your hair” and “Don’t get tattoos or pierce your body” and (my favourite) “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, yet anti-marriage equality people seem to conveniently forget some or all of these parts.  And, while we’re arguing this point, LGBT couples are asking for the right to legally marry so we can have the same rights and privileges under the law (not your church) that straight couples have.

“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”  If you are dumb enough to believe that Adam and Eve were the only two people on the planet at the start, then you are dumb enough to spout garbage like this.  My Mom (a very smart woman) said to me one time: “I think Genesis in the Bible is how God tried to tell His people about these things in very simple terms, like explaining the Big Bang and evolution to a 5 year old.”  And it’s true.  Now, we’d say, “Imagine there was a boy named Adam, and a girl named Eve,” knowing that Adam represented men and Eve represented women.  And, even if you want to argue this point with me, go read some of the additional Biblical texts out there and let me know who Lilith is and how she fits into the picture if Adam and Eve are the only man and woman on the planet.  On the scientific front, homosexuality and even homosexual pairing is observed in many species on this planet.  So, God created gay ducks but He didn’t create gay people?  Right.

“Marriage is sacred.”  If it’s so sacred, why do we allow divorce?

“The fabric of society will unravel if we let gay and lesbian couples get married.”  Really?  Because we heard this argument with multiracial couples, and it totally happened when we allowed a black man to marry a white woman.  Oh wait.  It didn’t.  And see the point above.  If divorce, single parents, mixed marriages, etcetera, etcetera, haven’t destroyed the fabric of society (and they won’t), I doubt letting a few loving, caring, monogamous gay and lesbian couples getting married will unravel society either.

I could go on all day with some of the garbage that people say about the whole thing, but it comes down to this:

I was born gay; the only choice I made was to tell the truth and live my life true to my biology / genetics / whatever made me gay.  I pay the same taxes as everyone else.  I am supposedly equal in the eyes of the law.  But, as the law currently stands, I do not have the legal right to marry my partner Noel.  This automatically bars him and me from certain legal rights (like the ability to adopt as a couple) in New Zealand and thousands of legal rights, protections, and abilities in the USA.  This brings the argument back to that, therefore, as a gay man, I am not equal in the eyes of the law.

The USA is very good at doing this to groups of people, including African-Americans throughout US history and Japanese-Americans during World War II (at least).  Animal Farm has the perfect quote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

One of the stories my Grandpa used to tell us that stands out in my mind was when he had to go to the emergency room in a hospital in Chicago or Milwaukee sometime in the 1940s or 1950s; I wish I could remember the story exactly.  My Grandpa had scoliosis (a curvature of the spine) and so, I guess he was used to being a bit of an outsider in that regard, and he did the Christian thing and treated others as he would like to be treated.  At the hospital, Grandpa had to wait for a while to see a doctor.  The nurse came in, quite flustered, and apologised profusely.  Grandpa said he was in a bit of pain, and the nurse said, “Well, we do have a coloured doctor on duty.”  Grandpa told her he didn’t care what colour the guy was, send him in.

The doctor came in and kept asking Grandpa if he was sure he wanted an African-American doctor to help him.  Grandpa said, “You’re a doctor, aren’t you?”  The doctor confirmed he was, to which Grandpa replied (again) that he didn’t care what colour the doctor was as long as he could make him feel better.

And this is the attitude a lot of my family has to this day.  This was the amazing attitude Grandpa had towards everyone he met in life, and it’s something I try to emulate (hopefully somewhat successfully, because I, like he, am a minority).

Grandpa died in 2004, aged 83.  I still think about him every day.  At his wake, though, another amazing thing happened.

My Grandma was talking to one of her and Grandpa’s friends, a woman about the same age.  I was standing nearby and happened to overhear my Grandma: something she doesn’t know to this day.

My then-83 year old Grandma said, “Marty (my Grandpa) even got to see Scott before passing away.  Scott flew in from New Zealand; we all wish his husband Noel could be here with us, too.”

My grandparents, devout Catholics their entire lives, never cared that I was gay.  They never cared that I was in love with another man or wanted to marry him.  They thought I should have the same rights as everyone else.  They never judged me at all, because they loved me for who I am.

It took courage for my Grandpa to let an African-American doctor help him out in an era that that was frowned upon.  It took courage for my Grandma to say to her peers that her grandson was married to another man.  It took courage for my friends and family to stand behind Noel and me to love us for who we are and support us in our fight for marriage equality.

Every little step we take as individuals, for the freedom and equality of others, helps change society in a positive way.

Do you have the courage to stand with us, on the right side of history?

Don’t Worry; The Taxpayer Has Deep Pockets!

This week, with the second anniversary of the devastating 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake approaching, I’ll be blogging about several issues relevant to our situation here in Christchurch and natural disasters in general.

I have never been the biggest fan of bureaucracy.  Personally, I feel the definition of a bureaucrat is a person with far too few skills and little common sense who is paid way too much to sit behind a desk all day and try to be as obstructive and obtuse as he or she possibly can be.  (This does not define 100% of all public servants but a good chunk of them.)

The Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes have pretty much shattered any last little vestige of faith in bureaucracy and Government agencies in general that may have been cowering in some little dark corner of my mind.  Okay.  I admit that I do understand sometimes why it is in place: to protect us against those who would otherwise try to take advantage of Joe Public.  My understanding extends to bureaucracy attempting to stomp out dodgy traders and people, and setting up hurdles to stop people out from getting a quick buck from hurting people like your little old sweet Nana.  But sometimes the bureaucrats go a little (or maybe a lot) power crazy and stomp on the good people too.  They frustrate good people who have the best intentions or can even bring inspiration, wealth, knowledge and creativity to the community and, overall, hurt the economy and public rather than protect them at the expense of stopping the small minority of bad guys.

Read Don’t Worry; The Taxpayer has Deep Pockets

You Can Say “Happy 4th of July” But You Can’t Say “Happy Waitangi Day”?!?

Many countries have a national day, a day that’s a holiday but celebrates or recognizes their heritage, culture, and history.  In the USA, we have Independence Day, more commonly called “The Fourth of July”.  It’s a day where we acknowledge the country’s brave founders, men and women who declared their independence from the British Empire in a document called the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776.  The rest, they say, is history.

Fourth of July Fireworks near the Statue of Liberty
Photo from The Hot Sheet Blog – http://www.thehotsheetblog.com/2012/06/25/phoenix-fourth-of-july-celebrations-and-fireworks/

When I lived in the US, we would either gather with family or with friends (or a combination of both) and see the local parade before having a BBQ and maybe watch the village’s fireworks display that night.  It’s usually a day to hang out, celebrate, and enjoy your freedom.  The key word here is “celebrate”.

Most importantly, when you see friends and family or even people you don’t or may barely know, you say, “Happy 4th of July”.  It’s just kinda a normal thing to say.

New Zealand’s equivalent to Independence Day is Waitangi Day.  Originally not always recognized as a public holiday, Waitangi Day switched its name to New Zealand Day for a while until Muldoon’s government felt the name “New Zealand Day” detracted from the significance of the day:  the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British and Māori on 6 February 1840.  And so, the name reverted back to Waitangi Day.

The first Waitangi Day I spent here, I went around wishing everyone a “Happy Waitangi Day”.  People kinda looked at me like I was nuts; they were probably thinking I was some crazy Yank who had no clue what he was talking about.  Noel said that one really didn’t wish people a “Happy Waitangi Day” in New Zealand.  I knew there had been issues around the day, most significantly the injustices some Māori felt the British had created under the Treaty.  To be honest, the New Zealand Government has, for the most part, made big leaps and bounds in addressing these grievances in an attempt to help Māori achieve and succeed.  At least, I kept telling some people who’d go on about how poorly the British (and then New Zealand government) had treated Māori, they didn’t displace Māori from their land then place them on reservations or segregate them from the general public like other countries with indigenous people had done. *cough* America *cough* Australia *cough* Many African countries. *cough*

The Fourth of July in the US is a day of celebration and recognition.  More importantly, it’s a day of pride and patriotism for the country.

Waitangi Day is a public holiday.  Some people have BBQs, some just chill and hang out, some go shopping.  For more radical activists on both ends of the spectrum, it is a day of protest, activism, and division.

Protests at Waitangi Day Celebrations
Photo from Stuff. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/6370107/Waitangi-flagpole-protest-ends-quietly

Case in point from this year:  Titewhai Harawira threw her toys out of the cot because marae elders wanted another kuia (female elder) to lead Prime Minister John Key onto the Waitangi marae.  This is the same woman who told former Prime Minister Helen Clark she couldn’t speak on the marae due to Māori protocol not allowing women to speak on the marae yet doesn’t follow that same protocol herself.  She made Clark cry.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Helen Clark, but the woman was our Prime Minister; she deserved more respect from a woman who claims she’s full of mana.

It doesn’t end there, good people.  No, one of Titewhai’s offspring decided to disrupt a re-enactment.  One of her other sons, Mana party leader and MP Hone Harawira, who isn’t above courting controversy himself, stated that Waitangi Day is, “about focusing on issues that were important to Māori.” Two of Hone Harawira’s nephews assaulted the Prime Minister on Waitangi Day in 2009.

(Noel said yesterday, when the whole Titewhai bun-fighting over who would lead the PM onto the marae affair raised its ugly head, that he thought the entire family should be tied to a flagpole or banned entirely…)

Those from the other end of the spectrum probably have or will emerge to say that that Māori shouldn’t have any special rights above others and the Treaty of Waitangi should be scrapped, or Waitangi Day should be de-legitimized as a public holiday in place of another national day, like ANZAC Day.  Even former ACT MP Dr. Muriel Newman called Waitangi Day “Our national day of shame” and argues her reasons why it is.

I personally don’t feel these actions are solutions to the problems.  Sure, Māori may have legitimate grievances, but there are many other days throughout the year and many processes, including the Waitangi Tribunal, to address these.  Likewise, those non-Māori calling for the abolishment of Waitangi Day (and everything associated with it) should push harder to make it a day of celebration.

I think there’s a small fringe of radicals on either side of the political spectrum, jumping up and down, making a lot of noise.  Of course, to sell papers or raise ratings, the media latch on to this like a leech to its host.  This kinda stuff sells.  It might sell, but it’s divisive and destructive.

Even Labour leader David Shearer, a man I honestly don’t have a lot of time for, expressed his opinions supporting celebrating Waitangi Day in the Dominion Post today.

In the US, the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”, is important.  United, as a nation, we can do anything.  So, as our national day, the day on which our modern nation of New Zealand was essentially created, as an agreement between non-Māori and Māori alike to co-exist harmoniously, we need to think of ways to celebrate those things that make us different but, more importantly, those things that make us great as a nation.

Let’s go forward and use the day wisely, as a celebration of all things New Zealand, all things Kiwi, all things that makes this beautiful, wonderful country great.

Happy Waitangi Day!