The Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill is a proposed New Zealand law that if passed will ban conversion practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
This week, the bill passed its second reading, which means that it can now go back to Parliament for any final amendments before a third and final reading.
Only seven MP’s voted against it, all of them from the conservative National Party – Simon Bridges, Simeon Brown, Simeon O’Connor, Shane Reti, Louise Upton, Michael Woodhouse, and Melissa Lee.
I’m not entirely surprised by these names. Five of them voted against marriage equality in 2013, and Simeon Brown opposed it even though he wasn’t an MP at the time. As for Shane Reti, yes I’m surprised, but I don’t really know him, so I don’t have an opinion.
But, I definitely do have an opinion about the ‘no’ vote by Melissa Lee. I’m not surprised by it though, it’s in keeping with her history of showing absolute contempt for queer people.
Let me explain.
I first met Melissa Lee in the late 1990s. She was the producer and presenter on a TV show called Asia Downunder, while I was a presenter on another show called Queer Nation. Both were broadcast on TVNZ and funded by NZ On Air under a ‘special interest’ category. Lee’s show was for the Asian community, mine was for the queers. They were funded because there was a general consensus that mainstream television didn’t cater to minority groups.
Over the years, I saw Lee at functions, occasionally we would meet for coffee or even dinner, swap anecdotes, and have a few laughs. I think we got on quite well.
She knew a lot of gay people, a hell of a lot. She seemed to support the LGBTQ community and turned up to a few events.
After the cancellation of Queer Nation in 2004, I didn’t see much of her, but we would occasionally stay in touch. I even invited her to my home when I moved in with my husband. She brought a couple of gifts, and it was a nice evening.
Fourteen years ago she was elected to parliament as a list MP.
In 2012, MP Louisa Wall introduced a private members bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry. On the 17th of April 2013, the bill passed by 77 votes to 44. One of the MPs who voted against the legislation was Melissa Lee.
I was absolutely furious with her, but again I wasn’t surprised. A few months prior, I had bumped into her at a function. She was ‘hanging out’ with a group of gay people we both knew. She’d already made it known she ‘couldn’t’ vote for marriage equality.
At the function, I had quite an ‘intense’ discussion with her about it. I wanted to know why she of all people, with many gay and lesbian friends, who seemed to platonically flirt with gay men, and cosy up with the community, could possibly not vote on such a pressing human rights issue.
She literally whined to me, saying she was caught in the middle. She claimed that as she was the only MP of Korean descent in our parliament, she had to vote according to their wishes, and, she insisted, the Korean community was 100% against marriage equality.
I pointed out to her that actually, she was a list MP and that as such she represented me in parliament too. My other arguments included the fact that public opinion should not interfere with a conscience vote on civil rights, and that she as an immigrant and woman, had benefited from the march of civil rights.
Yes, that was on the nose, but it’s true. Frankly, I was angry, confused, and hurt.
The weak defense of her own position felt like a cop-out, a politically calculated decision that she hoped would not offend the gays, but keep her on side with her own people.
For the record, I don’t believe that 100% of any population would be against homosexuality or marriage equality. But for Lee, that exaggeration no doubt helped her justify her cowardice.
Essentially what she was saying to me and to all LGBTQ people is ‘I don’t give a fuck about you’. Sure, she’ll come to our parties, and swan around, but she doesn’t want to be seen to be supporting us. After all, we are only a minority.
So, the vote against marriage equality was bad enough, but the following February, she had the temerity to walk in the Auckland Pride parade with other National Party MP’s down Ponsonby Road.
Yes, you read that right. After kicking us in the guts by voting to keep us marginalised, the bitch came to our party.
From that moment, in the words of a famous supermodel, she was dead to me!
Since then, she has never given a satisfactory explanation, nor an apology for her actions.
Nine years later, she votes against the conversion therapy bill. I had hoped in the intervening years, she might have developed a sense of decency and had an epiphany about the value of human rights. Heck, even Nick Smith and Bill English said that voting against marriage equality was a mistake.
No such luck, Lee votes ‘no’ again.
I wonder why? Perhaps she’s uncomfortable with some aspects of the proposed law. That’s fine, there are even some in the Rainbow Community that want changes. But you do that by voting for it to continue in parliament and then try to bring change when it returns to the House in committee.
So what’s my view on her vote?
Well, the complete lack of empathy or understanding she showed when I was discussing the issue of marriage equality back in 2013 indicates to me that she doesn’t really give a dam. Clearly, same-sex relationships have no value in her eyes.
Twice she has actively voted against measures that would give LGBTQ people rights or protections. The lack of insight around voting no, and then marching in a pride parade indicates the contempt she has for us all.
It’s not quite over yet though. As I mentioned the bill returns to parliament soon for more scrutiny and a final reading. It’s likely to pass with or without Melissa Lee’s vote.
But, standing up for the marginalised in this world is important. So, Melissa Lee, if you are reading this, you now have a chance to prove me wrong. You can show courage and compassion for another minority. If you do, it’s possible you’ll no longer be dead to me.
UPDATE – The New Zealand parliament passed the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill into law on the 15th February 2022. Once signed by the Governor-General, it will be illegal to try and force someone to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. Predictably, Melissa Lee was one of eight MPs who voted no to the bill in its final reading.