Bill is a person many in our communities know, or know of. He has been a visible and hard-working man on many issues that today we somewhat take for granted.
He was one of the founding members of the group that became the New Zealand AIDS Foundation. He put many, many hours of time and energy into the fight for homosexual law reform. I could go on and on.
He is a very vocal man who, like many of my role models, isn’t afraid to confront anyone — individuals, organisations, MPs, and anyone else — if he believes that what he is saying needs to be heard.
You’ll often see Bill, for example, at the New Zealand AIDS Foundation’s community forums where he won’t hesitate to make himself heard, tearing down anyone who tries to answer his questions by flitting around serious issues or coughing up drivel.
Now Bill works as a counsellor, among other things. He’s well versed on the many issues we, as humans, face. He is especially well versed on GLBT issues and is such a valuable resource for our community.
Out of all my role models, Bill is one of those that I feel has the most to offer our community, at a grass roots level. His knowledge and experience and skills can, and do, benefit many, many people.
ANDY: Tell us about yourself.
BILL: I’m 62 years old. I spent the 1970s married and came out in the early 1980s in my early 30s. I had been a revolutionary activist, primarily in Australia and the United Kingdom, but came back and taught political science for a while at Victoria University. I then had a bookshop for a while, which was fun, but there wasn’t a sufficient market for the books I wanted to sell. I worked full-time on AIDS and homosexual law reform through the mid-1980s, and by the time that was through I was more or less unemployable and supported myself as a freelance professional funeral celebrant for a number of years, before training as a counsellor, which is mostly how I earn my living now. I still see myself as a revolutionary activist.
My partner, Rangimoana Taylor, is a year or so younger than me and is an actor and internationally known storyteller, who has a job for between jobs at Te Papa. We live with our cat in Mount Victoria, five minutes’ walk from Courtney Place.
What do you do now?
Private practice as a counsellor, supervisor and celebrant. Manage the counselling service of the Wellington People’s Centre. Training officer of the Wellington Gay Welfare Group. Chair of the Drugs, Health and Development Project Trust Board which runs the needle exchanges in the lower North Island.
Political talking, sorting-things-out, trying to make people think, and stirring — in the interests of both incremental and fundamental change.
What is your history in the GLBT community (please don’t be shy/modest)?
Member of the Wellington Gay Welfare Group and its predecessors 1981-2010+.
Initial coordinator of the Aids Support Network Wellington Branch (1984).
Founding deputy chair of the Aids Support Network Trust Board, and the Aids Foundation which it became.
Coordinator and spokesperson for the Gay Taskforce Wellington during the homosexual law reform campaign (1985-86).
How important are GLBT role-models for young, queer people who are coming out and/or new to the GLBT world?
I remember a very ancient bloke when I was coming out and in my early years of gay activism, called Owen Evans. This was a time when most older gay men felt the need to hide from their gayness, and quite often seemed a bit broken. Actually Owen was about the age I am now. He kept an eye on me. He was good to talk to. He’d look after my shop when I was doing something on law reform, or trying to arrange housing for someone who’d got aids and had been kicked out of the family home. Owen had lived through alcoholism and some tough times, but he was proof that it was possible to survive more or less in one piece, and to be a contributing member of the community.
Incidentally role model will never be perfect, and Owen certainly wasn’t. He was a human being who wouldn’t want anyone idealising him, though I’m sure he also liked to think that the world was a better place for his contributions. If anyone seeks more than that they aren’t going to be much good as a model.
But young people need a range to chose from. Someone who is a great role model for one young person will be entirely uninspiring to others.
Are visible, successful role-models utilised enough in the well-being of our community?
It might be good if role models were more available … but there needs to be a balance. Old farts can get boring.
It might be an unusual way of looking at it, but young people can also be role models for older people, too, demonstrating opportunities for unashamed open gay lifestyles which some in my generation have been slow to experiment with.
Do we look up to our role-models enough?
Looking up to our role models won’t do much good. It is nice to think that younger people are sometimes conscious, though, of a sense in which they stand on the shoulders of earlier generations. Sometimes they can therefore see further.
Are there any GLBT role-models in the media (NZ, internationally, movies/media, etc) that you think are valuable? Who are they? And why?
I’m not so much into media, movies and so on.
And I have fundamental differences of perspective with every one of the following names, but they have all been pioneers. And they have all shown us some ways to live in the world.
Historically and internationally:
Oscar Wilde, of course for his wit, and coping with standing alone.
Georgi Chicherin, the early Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs, for not choosing an easy life, and, like all of these, for the courage to be different.
Samuel Steward/Phil Andros the pornographer, for his ethical teachings.
Harry Hay the activist and thinker for his mediations between Marxism and sexuality
In New Zealand:
Bruce Burnett (who died in 1985), Tony Hughes and Warren Lindberg for their leadership on Aids.
A bunch of those I love.
Who do you look up to?
Looking up is not good for you. What is good is respect. And there are far too many to name.
You can find out more about Bill at his website, www.bl.co.nz.
- Gay role models: Grant Robertson MP
- Gay role models: Tim Barnett
- Gay role models: David Hindley
- Gay role models
- Gay role models: Malcolm Kennedy-Vaughan