Martine Rolls: Tolerance is good

By Martine Rolls

When we asked our followers on Facebook last week what they thought about John Key being under fire for using the word "gay" to describe a shirt worn by an interviewer, not one seemed to be too distressed over it.

Although plenty of people said they thought it was out of order for the PM to say something like that, most people called it "not newsworthy" and "spilt milk syndrome."

Someone said: "Who cares. What happened to the days of New Zealand being a strong hard country? It's too soft and PC these days."

So do we have a country full of girls' blouses?

Or are we, perhaps, an intolerant nation afterall?

My first impression of Kiwi guys was that they like to be seen as hard men.

I couldn't help thinking that it must be pretty tough growing up in this rugby mad society for the more sensitive boys, and the ones that don't have much of a competitive streak.

A few months ago, while out in town with the girls, they made a great joke out of telling random people at the pub that I was a lesbian.

Did that bother me? No.

Did I think it was funny? Not particularly.

Yes, I have definitely experienced homophobia, sexism, and racism here in New Zealand.

Even though people often bring it as a joke, it still worries me.

Even my kids say things like: "Ew, He's gay."

They sure didn't learn that from me.

I tell my two boys that people should be appreciated for and judged on their character, not the colour of their skin, how pretty they are, or their choice of partner.

But is that going to work in today's society?

Back in my homeland, a young man took his own life earlier this month because he had been bullied over his sexuality.

Tim Ribberink was only 20-years-old when he died, and his parents published their son's suicide note in a regional newspaper, along with his funeral notice.

It said: "Dear Mom and Dad, I've spent my whole life mocked, harassed, bullied and detested. You are fantastic. I hope you are not angry at me. Goodbye, Tim."

Their reason to publish his final note to them was to help raise awareness "so this will never happen again".

This tragic situation raised controversial questions about bullying cases in The Netherlands and sparked heated debates on the internet. It led to a storm of comment on Facebook and Twitter.

Ribberink, who was training to be a teacher, had reportedly been mocked on the internet.

Two fake messages were published in his name on a restaurant review site. The first one dates back to 2010, and a second one was posted during summer 2011. It said: "I am a loser and a homo."

Apparently, no one close to Tim was aware that he was being bullied. That he got so tired of the harassment and saw no other way out other than suicide surprised everyone.

Then Metro, a free paper distributed throughout The Netherlands on the public transport network, published a column by Luuk Koelman about Tim's death, in which the writer attacked a known anti-gay activist.

It created even more uproar.

But in my view, many people completely misunderstood the columnist.

A column is an opinion piece, not a newspaper article, and it's clearly labelled as such.

Readers are free to agree or disagree with the writer, but it is still an opinion, not stated as fact.

This column was soon removed from the newspaper's website, but that was at the family's request.

The editor called it satire.

I'm sure the people who anonymously bullied Tim Ribberink on the net will probably also say, "It was just a joke."

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It was a drastic move for Tim Ribberink to end his life over it, but the noise made afterwards did achieve something. The whole situation, from start to finish, has helped raise awareness.

Yes, columns can be distasteful at times, or too much for people's liking. No matter what it is about, there will always be people who disagree, or misunderstand.

Just like there will be plenty of people who will, after reading this column, think that I am gay.

Tolerance is a good thing. Acceptance is better.

As for me, I don't need a stamp on my forehead to label me.

I've been called all kind of things, from carrot top to Pakeha b**** and over the years and I've learned to live with it.

My choices are my choices. No matter who disapproves of what I do or disagrees with what I say, I know I won't lose any sleep over it.



As promised last week, a new photo

- Bay of Plenty Times

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