Pasifika, Political, and Proud: Three Reasons Pasifika People Should Vote Out Key

So Three News had a story today June 10th on “Pacific voters” turning out for John Key in Mangere. They included a quote by National candidate Misa-Fia Turner, saying that Gay Marriage is one of the main reasons for Pasifika voters turning from Labour to National. Misa-Fia Turner says

“that’s important to us because that’s really against our moral values”.

For a start, the same-sex marriage bill has already passed in April last year. It was a conscience vote, meaning MPs could vote as they saw fit, not along party lines. It passed by 77 votes to 44, which included 27 National MPs voting for it. John Key voted for it. Misa-Fia Turner was really misrepresenting her own party.

Secondly, when National candidate Misa-Fia Turner says gay marriage is “against our moral values”, I wonder how she has managed to miss out on so much Pasifika gay and fa’afafine awesomeness, like this incredible art and cultural project.

I am a Pasifika voter. I am queer/ bisexual. I am accepted by my family and community. My past partners have been accepted by my family. Get over it. It’s certainly not a voting issue.

Pasifika peoples are pretty diverse, and of course you can’t really presume we have the same values and beliefs. But there are some issues that are significant to Pasifika peoples. Here are my top three reasons for Pasifika people to vote out National by voting Labour or left of Labour (Greens party, Mana and Internet party) based on actual issues facing Pasifika communities, and the things we collectively value.

1) We love our kids. Pasifika people know that we are all responsible for the next generation. We think in terms of our communities. Pasifika peoples in New Zealand are a youthful population, meaning that we have a lot of young people. Under the National government, child poverty has increased. We’ve seen how the children of beneficiaries have been made to suffer through Paula Bennett’s approach to welfare. We’ve seen how many young families are not meeting the cost of living even when there is a full-time earner, because wages are too low and the cost of living is too high.

Labour has policies aimed at increasing employment and minimum wage. Both the Greens and Mana/ the Internet party go even further towards stopping child poverty, by having policy aimed at better supporting beneficiary families. The current government is making things worse. It’s a no brainer.

2) We care about the health and well-being of our communities. Our communities are facing a lot of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. After adjusting for inflation, the National government is spending less on health across 2015. In real terms, that means cutting services and probably increasing waiting times.

Both Labour and the Greens have health policy aimed at improving health by spending more. The Greens have policy specifically aimed at improving the health of populations with low health status, like Pasifika peoples. Mana is focusing on tobacco restrictions, and would introduce free after-hours medical care for children under 16 years and for senior citizens.

3) We care about the Pacific, the Pacific ocean, and its peoples. Where we come from is so important to us. We are connected to vanua. We are connected to the sea around us. The islands of Kiribati are facing potentially becoming uninhabitable in the next 30-60 years because of the impact of climate change, which is already causing salt water contamination of fresh water and crop soil. People having been talking about being ‘climate voters’ which is bipartisan, but from my perspective the only party significantly engaged with climate change is the Greens.

 

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Karangahape Road:The Need to Protect Queer, Trans, Migrant, Poor and Vulnerable Presence in the City

I’m nervous about discussing the dry and rectangular world of city planning, and more fluid, mutable worlds of spirit, community and creativity in one blog-post. And yet, I am called to action by my fierce loyalty towards Karangahape Road.

Wayne Thompson (no relation) wrote an article in the Herald on friday about the changes afoot for Karangahape Rd.

Auckland City Council is seeking feedback on their draft K’Road plan by 14th May, and are having a public drop-in feedback session with the council’s planning team this Monday 5 May 11am-2pm, Methodist Church, Pitt Street (It’s the last of four but I only found this out sorry).

Struggling through the policy-speak of draft plan (lots of vague words like ‘colourful’, a word I will come back to), the Council knows that Karangahape Road area is going to be a vital site because of it’s centrality to the future city rail link. Think lots of moving bodies. They also know as the city population grows, Karangahape Rd is going to need to accommodate a bigger population; think more businesses, more accommodation, more people wanting to have fun. They have already consulted with Karangahape Business Association, but to my mind there are other vital stakeholders whose views are obscured or missing from the current draft, and a risk that the jargon of planners will lead to Karangahape Rd being banal and soul-less.

Wayne Thompson writes:

“Karangahape Rd has long been known for its character – which includes everything from quirky stores and trendy cafes to a vibrant nightlife and prostitution.

For some, that mix is what makes the area unique and appealing. For others it’s a mix that needs to change. A road that needs to be cleaned up.”

His article usefully draws attention to the tensions expressed by Karangahape Road Business Association, who want to see the road cleaned up, and yet retain its current atmosphere. Thompson quotes Waitemata Local Board Member, Vernon Tava, who says:

“The problem is how to keep the colour and yet make it a safer place for business”

This statement is really the heart of it.

What bothers me most is that making it “a safer place for business” is not the same thing as making it a safer place for people, and even then, we need to think about which bodies we are protecting, and from whom. Making Karangahape Rd “a safer place for business” is not really about safety at all – it is about protecting capital, wealth and assets, for private business owners. Safety for people is a different matter all together. It is about the absence of harm or violence, respect, dignity and compassion. Some businesses the Herald article spoke to complained about “binge drinkers” and “sex workers” in their carparks and doorways; and one businessman complained about “the street people”.

I want the City Council Plan to protect city dwellers who live rough, sex workers and other vulnerable users from the micro-agressions inflicted on them by business owners. In fact, that’s only scraping the surface of what I would dream for Karangahape Rd.

I am reminded of the work done by queer theorist, Michael Warner (2002) who has described how attempts to “clean up” edgy parts of the city, privatises sex, and marginalises queer, gay, lesbian and trans visibility and culture. Warner described the rezoning of New York City in the 1990s, where these actions led to the loss of public expressions of gay culture, and a public space that was more mainstream, and heteronormative.

I want to tell you my own history of Karangahape Rd.

In 1997, I was 17 and had my first lesbian love affair with a girl who lived in a dingy flat above shops on K’road. She might have been 18 or 19. She had long dreads. Grunge was still in, and I can remember her wearing op-shop cardigans, smoking roll-your-owns and wearing doc marten boots. At the time it felt worlds away from the chaos that was unfolding in my conservative family. We could walk down K’road holding hands and feel safe, and ‘at home’. We could sneak into nightclubs like Legends, or the Staircase. Once I remember a girl took a photo of us at a party; she had never seen ‘beautiful’ lesbians before. Quite simply, Karangahape Rd was a Queer St. A street of glitter covered drag queens, of gay men in tight tee-shirts ,or else wearing leather and handle-bar moustaches. It was overtly sexual. It was the place you escaped to from the suburbs.

Now, I know that over 20 years gay politics have changed. Last year’s recognition of marriage equality would have been entirely unimaginable to my 17-year-old self. There’s been a shift from a politics of radical visibility, to a politics of seeking equal recognition. There’s no question that for many gays and lesbians, sexuality is no longer that important because of the high level of mainstream acceptance.

But I have a few concerns.

Firstly, when the current draft of the Karangahape Rd plan mentions “colourful”, or refers obscurely to it’s “character”, it doesn’t mention the significance of GBLT community. When it talks about preserving “culture” and “vibrant history” it doesn’t mention preserving the relationship between Karangahape rd and sexual and gender diversity. It’s frustrating that queer community has provided the bodies, the energy and creativity, but then are not explicitly consulted about it’s future, and our stake in it.

While there have been tremendous gains made for some members of the GBLT community over the last 20 years, there are still those of us that do not have the privileges of Pakeha middle-class gays and lesbians, and who have some way to go before they experience gender or sexual justice in their lives. Particularly young queer folk, including those who may be trans or gender-queer. I want Karangahape Rd to retain it’s character as a queer hub through the presence, safety and comfort of queer people. Currently, Karangahape houses Rainbow Youth, an organisation for GBLT young people. Community organisations like Rainbow Youth are enormously susceptible to the pressure of market rents. We need to future for Karangahape rd that maintains it’s connections to queer young folk.

In the plans there are a few references to public spaces that will be made “family-friendly”. Now, in general, of course I would want public areas to be family-friendly. But in the context of an area with a current and historic association with young, brown trans, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, and whakawahine sex workers, I don’t want the creation of “family-friendly” public space leading eventually to the pushing out of these street-based sex workers (who may be unable to get brothel work because of racism and transphobia) into areas that will make them more vulnerable.

Cities can have a creative presence that is difficult to pin down. It is something about the rub of different bodies, the movement, and the different textures that emerge from the juxtaposition of diverse worlds. A frission if you will. So Karangahape road has also been a home to artists and writers. The plan mentions consultation with creative industries, but I wonder whether the planners understand that the presence of artists and writers is also dependant on materialities (e.g. affordability of rent), exposure to diversity, cafe culture, and the ability to cultivate relationships with the eccentric, the non-productive and the under-employed. I can often be found drinking coffee and writing at either Alleyula in St Kevins, or at Revel. If it gets too commercialised, it will die.

Finally, lets talk about the relationship between Karangahape rd and people who live rough in the city. The draft plan for Karangahape Rd does mention the Homelessness Action Plan (I couldn’t find a live link to it on the council site) but from my limited understanding, it is a multi-agency strategy for assisting those people sleeping rough into long-term accommodation. This occurs on a case-by-case basis via support workers who can help them those sleeping rough access services (via say, WINZ and Housing New Zealand). Obviously I haven’t looked at the plan in full, but in terms of where rough sleeping intersects with Karangahape Rd, I still think there could be a more meaningful acknowledgment of the relationship between cities and rough sleeping, and an approach of explicitly acknowledging the safety  and well-being needs of the rough sleeper population and recognises they are likely to be a continuing aspect of the city. I imagine that plans to move people into long-term accommodation often have some kind of lag while bureaucratic wheels turn, and that there might be gap in meeting the short-term and immediate needs of the city-based people who are vulnerable.

I thought about how in Tory St in Wellington’s inner city, there is the is the amazing soup kitchen at the Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre. Firstly, before people get worked up about the suggestion, Tory St is still a thriving and popular street which houses trendy cafes, graphic design companies and the like. The Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre is an accepted and welcome part of Wellington inner city at least partially because the soup kitchen has been there (albeit in different forms and at different venues) for over 110 years. It has become part of the public culture of Wellington. Despite this, of course, it is only possible because of a group of nuns, and probably, private church wealth and low property prices.

In 2014, in a highly, secular culture, it doesn’t seem appropriate that we leave the role of public compassion to the work done by church organisations. There is no equivalent social body to say, buy inner city property to create soup kitchens (certainly not with the same level of public uptake). Which brings us back to the Karangahape rd plan of the Auckland Council. How could the needs of the most vulnerable street users be made more central?

Please get involved and give the council feedback by May 14. I want to leave you with an anecdote about a recent Karangahape rd experience. I drinking coffee and writing on my laptop at Alleyula in St Kevin’s Arcade a few weeks ago, and a kid came up to me. He must have been 12-14, but his skinny frame and oversized jumper made it difficult to tell. His skin was pale but the rims of his eyes were very red, and he had a very slight tremor. He asked me for two dollars so that he could catch a bus “to get home”. I looked at him and knew it wasn’t for bus money. I said, “Sure, dude” lightly, and reached into my purse to get change. He continued talking, “The other people won’t help me because they think I’m just a bum, like one of those K’road bums? But I’m not a bum”. I could see that he was trying to represent himself  – via an imaginary bus ride to an imaginary home – as someone I would help and speak kindly to. That we are often prepared to help those we are ‘like’; a kid who has plausibly forgotten their bus money, but not the same kid who has been living rough and using drugs to survive overwhelming distress. So I gave him a couple of dollars, but said, “Yeah, but you know, no one is really bum. They’re just people who are having really rough times”. He thanked me and moved on to asking other tables, evidence that he did not just need a trip home. But he turned and waved to me when he was leaving, giving a grateful smile.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was a teenaged lesbian and when lesbians were still outsiders, Karangahape rd taught me about safety, joy and community you get from other outsiders, no matter how much of an outsider you are. Please lets protect Karangahape rd’s relationship to outsiders, queer folk of all stripes, migrants, artists, poor folk. If it has to be a “safe” place, let it be a safe place to be different and vulnerable.

 

 

 

 

Beach Weather: Thoughts on direction and where to focus my energy.

Wreck Beach is next to University of British Columbia campus. In the sunlight it is completely transformed; lots of pale blue sky makes the long stretch of stones less pensive. There are a mix of older sun wizened hippie types and gay men, and UBC students trying out their heteromasculinities by drinking beer and playing frisbee (still wearing shorts interestingly). I’ve been looking at the sky and ocean and thinking about where I want to focus my energy. I am reflective because the joy of being relaxed on a clothing optional beach reminds me of Palm Beach, on Waiheke Island which is my favourite ‘local’ beach in Aotearoa, and I am struggling to remember why I ever moved off and didn’t return to the Island (Oh yeah. The exorbitant ferry fares while being a student.)

Being on the beach grounds me, and reminds me how vitally important the environment is to me. Since being overseas, I have been getting a more finely tuned sense of what is important to me. I see myself more clearly. I have a stronger sense of where I end and where my communities begin.

Ironically, it’s a feeling that draws me home to the Pacific. I keep coming up with ideas for social activism in Aotearoa. I feel I have more to do in Epeli Hau’ofa’s ‘sea of islands’.

980 Views: Reflecting on the Susan Devoy Poem

Last week I wrote a poem about Susan Devoy’s appointment as Race Relations Commissioner in New Zealand here.

My blog reflects my queer Pacific migrant experience, and is a mix of social justice issues alongside book reviews and everyday life. It generates around 50 views a post. It’s a shared conversation between small activist communities, so I can live with that.

Not so with the Susan Devoy poem. Over the last few days it has had 980 views. And yep, in the blogosphere that’s not a lot…but for a poem from a relatively obscure Pacific migrant writer about racism in New Zealand? A POEM. Yeah, there’s something going on with that. The more statistically-inclined amongst you might be interested to know that I had shared it with friends on Facebook, and eight of my friends shared it on. Someone with maths-smarts can explain to me how that gets to 980 views.

I’ve been reflecting on how my poem came to represent a tiny cultural zeitgeist, where  several hundred people felt moved by an expression of anger about racism in Aotearoa  – enough to share it on. Which made me think it resonated with how people are actually feeling about Susan Devoy’s appointment. It rang true.

The people that contacted me about the poem were  – probably left-leaning, sure – but pretty diverse in terms of cultural background. And some Pakeha thanked me too. It can be hard to not feel defensive when racism is brought up, so their willingness to show appreciation moved me.

What really humbled me this week, was that Marama Davidson was inspired to send out a call for more poems about it in a  “Race Relations Commissioner (dis)appointment” poetry competition. She has created a Tumbler page called Susan Stand Down. She has over 30 poems. You can send your poem to susanstanddown@gmail.com

Someone asked me on Facebook what the point of voicing concern about Susan Devoy as Race Relations Commissioner is.  For me, even if the only outcome of these poems is that Maori and migrant communities know that there are alternative voices, that is enough. What it represents is a growing counter public of people who don’t accept the everyday racism that is so commonplace in New Zealand.

And before anyone even goes there, don’t even try the “you-should-be-supporting-a-woman” line with me. Susan Devoy as Race Relations Commissioner will make the lives of Maori women and migrant women harder. That’s because the role of the Race Relations Commissioner in Aotearoa involves needing to champion race relations work.

The Tragic and Preventable Death of a Lesbian Asylum Seeker to the UK Highlights the Need for Global Queer Activism

Ugandan woman Jackie Nanyonjo came to the United Kingdom five years ago. She had escaped from a forced marriage. Her husband had tortured her when he discovered she was lesbian. I imagine her feeling the heavy weight of relief and loss as she participated in campaigns for gay rights and asylum rights in her new home. I hope she had moments of uncontainable joy in living openly as a lesbian, and being loved by another woman. I hope friends told her how incredibly brave she was – to survive her torture and escape – during the dark hours.

On January 10, the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) told her she was to be deported back to Uganda. Despite evidence from her lesbian partner and others in the GBLT community, UKBA refused to believe she was lesbian. They turned down her application for asylum.

She was beaten brutally by the four security guards who accompanied her on her flight back. After she was held by Ugandan authorities at the airport, her family rushed her to a medical clinic. Unfortunately, her health declined over the next two months with insufficient medical treatment for her injuries, and she died on March 8.

A protest outside the home office called for Home Secretary, Theresa May to resign. You can read more about how to participate in protests here. There is also a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/movementforjustice

Jackie’s death highlights the flaws in the refugee system. Asylum seekers – those who most need our support and trust – are treated as criminals. Asylum seekers on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity still meet the institutionalised heteronormativity and structural racism of first world nations. What made Jackie seem “not gay enough” to the case officer assessing her application? How much did the fear of a shrinking public sector and need to lower costs – the inability to accept everybody – loom in the case officer’s mind?

Jackie’s death signals to us –  queer and migrant communities – that our allegiances to so-called “just” and homonormative nations are less salient then our allegiances to each other and those who are most vulnerable. We need to use our collective voices wisely and powerfully.

With the shrinking authority of the Commonwealth, Britain is much more reliant on public diplomacy – engagement with foreign publics – than ever before. Global public outrage about the needless death of Jackie Nanyonjo is perhaps the only thing likely to bring about much needed changes to the system for asylum seekers.

Deportation Porn

Okay so last Wednesday Canadian Border Security Agents (CBSA) raided construction sites in Vancouver for illegal migrants. They interrogated and handcuffed migrants and undocumented workers, and removed them in black unmarked SUVs (don’t even get me started on what black unmarked SUVs might feel like for refugees and other traumatized people from home countries with organized crime). Now some are facing deportation.

The unusual feature of this raid was that the CBSA was accompanied by TV cameras for a Canadian show called “Border Security” that airs on the National Geographic Channel. Some of the undocumented migrants signed the release forms, but in a context where many did not speak much English and were experiencing a terrifying event. If I’m ever being deported, nobody get me to sign anything.

Dianna Thomson (no relation) – the Canadian spouse of a man facing deportation to Honduras – and others affected have started a campaign demanding that the National Geographic Channel cancel the show “Border Security” immediately. Their point is that this show is exploitative and humiliates vulnerable people for entertainment. You can sign their petition here.

I agree – but the topic weighed on me heavier than that. It’s not just that this group of undocumented workers are exposed on Canadian television. It’s that we are given another uncomfortably familiar image of migrant Other bodies as fearful bodies that should be policed and controlled. Reality television is all about fear and security. Safely removed and mediated by screens, we can watch people different from ourselves become a site of fear, we can feel reassured that “we” are not like “those” people. And we can forget that the difference between “us” and “them” is only sustained by recent histories, colonialisms and erasures.

My father was an illegal immigrant. In New Zealand, during the 1970s Pacific people faced a period know as the Dawn Raids, which is marked on our cultural consciousness, and informs the work of every New Zealand Pacific writer, artist and scholar I know.

So one generation out from being “illegal” I find it both abhorrent and predictable that migrant bodies can become a site of spectacle and fear-mongering at thin neoliberal times, when all of us are facing the need to travel across multiple borders.

It’s even more discomforting for me because while I geek out about National Geographic documentaries about the natural world, it kind of brings forward the lingering ghost of the ethnographic gaze on non-white bodies. The way people from the Pacific, Africa and Asia were represented back to the white folk. No doubt so that they could feel the thrill of fearful bodies, much like ‘Border Security’ intends for it’s Canadian viewers.

Let’s stop Deportation Porn.