Gandalf lashes John Key over “gay red top” remarks

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

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Sir Ian McKellen: "Careless talk damages lives"

Prime minister might be a powerful job in New Zealand. But not as powerful as Gandalf.

And John Key is left looking like a foolish little Hobbit this morning by the man who plays the Tolkien wizard in the Peter Jackson films, Sir Ian McKellen.

McKellen, who has just about reached national treasure status in New Zealand, owing to his work for various charitable causes, rather good acting and all-round likeability, has published a short blog post gently and calmly upbraiding the PM over those “gay red top” remarks.

McKellen writes:

New Zealand has an undeserved reputation (amongst those who have never visited) as living a little in the past, not quite up-to-date with the world elsewhere. As a regular visitor, I’ve often pointed out how, on social issues, the Kiwis have lead the world – first country to give women the vote, a nuclear-free stronghold and in the vanguard of civil rights for gay people.

Which brings me to John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand. Recently in a light-hearted radio interview he referred to his host wearing a “gay red top,” by which he meant, apparently, “a weird red shirt.” Defending himself later, he said he was using the word in the sense that his children used it and not in any way to disparage gay people. Anyway, he said, the word was in the dictionary. So of course are many other words that can give offence.

Nevertheless, Mr Key should watch his language. I’m currently touring secondary schools in UK, attacking homophobia in the playground and discouraging kids from the careless use of “gay” which might make their gay friends (and teachers) feel less about themselves. So even as he supports the proposal to introduce same-gender marriages in New Zealand, I do hope John Key listens to his critics and appreciates their concern. Careless talk damages lives.

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9 Responses to “Gandalf lashes John Key over “gay red top” remarks”

  1. raymond Nov 7 2012, 4:18pm

    In response to Max Healey: A phobia is defined in psychiatry and pysychology not simply as a "fear of" something, but an "irrational fear of, or an irrational aversion" towards something. Your post is a classic demonstration of the latter in the case of homosexuality, ie an irrational aversion towards it.
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  2. tripbeetle Nov 6 2012, 6:25pm

    Charlie Goodwin wrote: "I wonder if the people who used it to describe happiness were as upset as Sir Ian when its meaning was changed the first time?"

    Answer: No, the people who used it to describe happiness have no reason to be upset because happiness is not an identity, it is a state of mind. Being homosexual isn't something changeable, and furthermore it often invites ridicule and abuse. Using "gay" as a byword for "ridiculous" is just another incidence of abuse.
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  3. best-name-ever Nov 6 2012, 4:50pm

    Janis Markie, I agree with you completely. Key used the word 'gay' to be synonymous to 'weird' - what sort of attitude does this give off about gay people? That being gay is weird? Coming from someone who's "hardly homophobic"... who "led the charge on it", who is "voting for gay marriage" - tripe. He casts his vote to help extinguish homophobia in our country, but then he says something ignorant and homophobic himself.

    And then he has the audacity to say he picked up the term from his (teenage) children. Gay is a very common part of the teenage vernacular - I'm a teenager myself, I know this, and I know most teenagers say a lot of other extremely stupid things. Why the leader of our country finds it appropriate to mindlessly repeat what his children say is beyond me.

    "A hell of a lot of people would use it... Young people use it all the time." Young people my age also call people "Jews" and "fags" and "queers" and "retards" and "c**ts", all intended to be perjorative. I hope, John, you don't hear these colourful words from your children and start using them as well.
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  4. mintydan Nov 6 2012, 3:59pm

    Charlie, I don't think Sir Ian is out of touch with language at all, and fully understands how the comment was meant by our PM -- but how Key meant it is not where the problem is.

    Two things to think about: how does the listener know what sense of the word Key meant; and where do you think the use of the word to mean 'naff' comes from?
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  5. Janis Markie Nov 6 2012, 3:53pm

    Since we were discussing whether or not it's ok to call something you don't like gay. I didn't say your opinion doesn't count, but obviously you don't mind. Why would you? It doesn't impact you or your life. I just wanted to make you aware of how your opinion and people's choice of words might affect other people in more serious ways than you might think.
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  6. Charlie Goodwin Nov 6 2012, 1:53pm

    Janis - Since when were "straight opinions" invalid?
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  7. Janis Markie Nov 6 2012, 1:18pm

    Yay go Sir Ian!
    @Charlie Goodwin: Obviously a straight opinion there. Sir Ian is not complaining about the word being used wrongly. He is complaining about homophobia. Realise that using the word gay to insult something or someone implies that you think there is something wrong with being homosexual. That is the issue here.
    LGBTQ kids have a much higher chance of being bullied or depressed or committing suicide. It's not enough to say 'toughen up', especially here in NZ where we have one of the world highest teen suicide rates.
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  8. dee2 Nov 6 2012, 12:47pm

    Except, of course, there was no insulting connotation when appropriating the word 'gay' to mean 'homosexual'.

    John Key's use was meant to express a negative opinion about the shirt in question. So it is not simply evolving language, it is taking a term to mean something derogatory that otherwise doesn't.
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  9. Charlie Goodwin Nov 6 2012, 12:15pm

    Interesting how language changes isn't it?
    Sir Ian is complaining that a word is being used wrongly. That word used to mean happy, but over time came to mean homosexual. To my kids, it means that, but also has taken on a similar meaning to "Naff" which is I suspect how Key used it.
    I wonder if the people who used it to describe happiness were as upset as Sir Ian when its meaning was changed the first time?
    Sir Ian is being prescious and out of touch with our evolving language.
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