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John Tamihere comes out: speech 29th July 2004

John Tamihere It is time Kiwi men stood up for themselves and addressed some serious problems facing New Zealand's young men, Youth Affairs Minister John Tamihere says.


Kia ora and good evening, and thank you for joining us here tonight. St Peter's College is a place that had a very strong influence on providing me with the right values and views in my formative years. The fact that I did not always live up to these very good values is my lasting regret.

Tonight I have got an announcement to make that might come as a bit of a shock to you: I am coming out of the closet.

I am coming out of the closet to declare that I am a proud Kiwi male.

I am also proud that I am a father.

I have a woman, and I am proud of her.

I have young sons and daughters and I am proud of them.

I believe that the pendulum of political correctness has swung too far. I am sick and tired of hearing about the deficit model, where, as red-blooded heterosexual men, we are supposedly the creators of all that is bad and evil in this world.

A number of attitudes prevalent in our society are in fact highly dangerous to our wellbeing, and are particularly dangerous to the wellbeing of our young men.

I am concerned as a Kiwi male myself, and as a political leader, and perhaps I am most concerned because I am the father of young sons.

How pressing are our difficulties? How urgent are the needs of our sons?

These are just some of the very worrying symptoms that suggest that our menfolk are not doing well at all.

These are not just aberrations or one-offs; they are part of a consistent trend - and it is that trend that I want to turn around.

If any other segment of our society demonstrated the difficulties I have just listed (and there are plenty more) all hell would break loose.

Our society has embraced the concept that girls can do anything - so what about boys?

The thinking is that we can look after ourselves, that there isn't a problem. Well there is a problem and I am speaking for Kiwi heterosexual men, simply because that is what I am, and we need to speak up for ourselves. We need to advocate for ourselves; we need to champion our rights.

This isn't about simply turning back the clock to what we may remember nostalgically as the heyday of the Kiwi bloke.

We of this generation do not have to face the trials, tribulations and catastrophes of our fathers and grandfathers as they fought world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. But we have a new threat and a new challenge that we must face.

The greatest single menace that threatens men is their own willingness to produce alibis for their own failures. To make excuses, in the most articulate fashion, for our mistakes.

In recent decades the greatest sanction on behaviour was the sanction of our parents, our peers and our community - not the police or criminal justice system, not the Children and Young Person's Service and not the welfare department.

When we take responsibility for our own conduct, rather than say that it is someone else's problem, we control the strongest sanction there is. We need to give men today an opportunity to not just take responsibility, but to define it.

Do men conduct themselves differently to others? Of course they do - and one way that is demonstrated is the way we show affection for those who mean most to us. The love we men have for our children is deep and it is enduring. At times it is understated, but it is as strong and as passionate and as deeply held as anyone else's.

Yet many men I know have walked away from their relationships and children to protect them from the trauma and the hurt that the breakdown of their parents' relationship inflicts on them. I have been there and I have contemplated that.

Men do not like talking about their problems. They console themselves by thinking through a solution and moving to act upon it. Men understate their problems, just as they understate their achievements.

Men like to come home from work and blob out on the couch and watch TV. They do not always want to talk and communicate. They want space. Their missus wants the reverse. These differences don't make them wrong - and I think it is time we stopped feeling like we have to apologise just for being who we are.

The role of men changed dramatically in the last 30 years, leaving some important questions unanswered.

What are the solutions to these difficulties? Firstly we have to acknowledge that we have a deep, serious and enduring problem. Before we can put in place any short, medium and long-term solutions to the problems expressed, we must have a set of values, standards, expectations and ethics.

We must have a conversation that helps us reclaim and reshape them for a new era. This conversation must make us strong enough to know when we are weak, and brave enough to face ourselves when we are fearful.

We know that with these values there is clear evidence that shows that competition, clear standards, clear lines of authority, clear discipline and clear expectations support our sons.

We now have evidence that perhaps the most important figure in a boy's life is his father - and I cannot think of anyone who influenced me more than my own father.

We know that one in three boys live apart from their natural fathers, and that less than 18 per cent of primary teachers are male.

Notwithstanding this, we know that our sons quest after heroes and role models. Under no circumstances can we make excuses for being absent; no longer can we make excuses for emotional or physical abuse. We cannot make excuses if young men do not have a father as a role model.

We must acknowledge that they do need role models - and male role models. Most men do want to be better fathers, but often society's attitudes and institutions can be barriers to them doing so.

I don't have all the answers, but I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate.

They must progress to one of the greatest accomplishments they can for their families, their community and their country - and that is to be good fathers.

I thank you again for the opportunity to contribute to this very important discussion tonight, and I also encourage you to also contribute yourselves. As I said, I don't have all the solutions - that is something we need to discuss and debate and work out together.

Men and boys count - it is time we stood up to be counted.