Grant Robertson is gay. And he likes rugby. And he drinks beer. All of these things are true - so can we now get on with it?
Phil Quin put a post up yesterday chiding Grant Robertson for what he sees as an overly cautious approach to political messaging and urging him to be more warlike in his phraseology because New Zealanders clearly have a deep, deep aversion to politicians who present as pleasant and relaxed individuals who are competent at their job and won't pursue any policies that are too radical because at the end of the day most New Zealanders actually are pretty sensible about these sorts of things. Or something.
Now, I'm not a member of the Labour Party, so ultimately it's not my choice as to who they select to lead them. And I am a bit of a Grant fanboi going back some two-and-a-half decades now, which does somewhat bias my views on the topic. However, there's one bit of Quin's post that seems downright wrong to me:
This [risk-aversion] is consistent with Robertson’s highly defensive approach towards the sexuality question since last year’s leadership contest, including the bizarre contention that people should be less bothered by his gayness because he watches rugby and drinks beer (Toby Manhire’s skewering on that point is superb).
I have a bit of an issue with how this whole "rugby and beer" meme has been developed. Here's the actual bit from the interview that Quin is referring to:
Labour leadership hopeful Grant Robertson is relaxed about David Cunliffe supporters raising the issue of him being gay but he does not believe it will be a factor in their vote.
"There may well be some people who raise that. That's fine. But that's not where I think I'll be judged.
"I'll be judged, I'm sure, on my ability to reflect Labour values," he said last night.
He said he was not defined by his sexuality.
"It's an aspect of who I am just as I like rugby and drink beer and a few other things."
Was this, in Quin's words, "muddled pandering on the gay question"? I think not, for two reasons.
The first is that Grant really likes rugby. And when I say he really likes rugby, I mean he really likes rugby. He played it (with more enthusiasm than natural talent, but there you are) for years. He's watched it in the rain and the cold winds of Carisbrook, then in the rain and the cold winds of the Caketin, for even more years. Check out his twitter feed, for crying out loud - he's not "pandering" there, he's writing about something he genuinely enjoys.
The second is that Grant really can drink beer. And when I say he really can drink beer, I mean he really can drink beer. I won't tarnish the reputation of the University of Otago by revealing the basis for my knowledge on this subject, but let's just say that in an inter-flat keg race he provided roughly the equivalent team advantage to Jonah Lomu at the '95 World Cup. And while his appetites have mellowed with time, with craft beers replacing the dreck that we used to get from McDuff's, every time we meet up it will be over a pint of something or other.
These are a part of who Grant is and the life that he leads. So I'm not quite sure what Quinn thinks Grant did wrong in this interview. Should he have denied the fact that he likes things like rugby and drinking beer because to mention them would appear to be just appealing to what he thinks others might think he thinks others might like about him? Or should he have played to some stereotype of what "proper" gay people are like - because that would somehow be more honest than saying what he really is? Or should he have stood up straight and proud and said "yes - I am a gay man and that is what really matters here, so ignore the rest of my personality, interests and ambitions"?
Well, I guess that would escape Quin's "risk-averse" tag. But why on earth should Grant have to do so? Because as Quin says:
There is no valid reason to believe New Zealanders would block an otherwise qualified and compelling contender from becoming Prime Minister on the basis of his or her sexual orientation.
In which case, why are we talking about his sexuality at all? After all, is anyone asking John Key whether his being straight makes him a better Prime Minister, or more suitable to lead the country, or the like? What would we even make of a journalist who thought to ask such a thing? And if we can accept that John Key's sexuality is just an aspect of who he is, just as is the fact that Johnny English is his favourite movie and Adele his favourite band, then why can't we do the same for Grant Robertson?