Amy Jane Bedwell talks to James (Jim) Peters, Homosexual Law Reform forerunner and author of the only dedicated personal history of the HLR Era, Fire and Brimstone.
Gay Task Force member James Peters was one of the pioneering faces of queer rights in New Zealand. Alongside other forerunners like Bruce Kilmister, Bill Logan, and Fran Wilde, James lobbied tirelessly for the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in the mid-eighties.
Fire and Brimstone is a personal history of this fight from the eyes of one of it’s most significant proponents. Exploring diaries, images, notes and manuscripts from the time as well as a wealth of first hand experience, Peters delves deep into a brief moment in time in which the future of queer politics and society changed forever.
“Often over the decades I have been asked by young folk what was it like to have lived through those times, through that long campaign” says Peters on why he chose to write Fire and Brimstone. “I started researching information and discovered apart from a few pages of articles which dealt largely with the last weeks of the campaign there was little I could refer these young people to.”
It was this lack of recorded history and therefore lack of knowledge accessible to younger generations which opened the door to his literary journey. James went on to say that “when relaying verbally certain events they generally were shocked and surprised at the force the opponents of the bill attempted to stop its success.”
James also made sure that his book was one of celebration. “I also wanted genuinely to mention many of the unsung heroes who volunteered to assist in the progress of the bill, both straight and gay factions. Important too, I wanted a document that illustrated what a sterling person Fran Wilde was in taking on a major challenge for gay rights. Without her courage I doubt if the bill would have succeeded.
It goes without saying my fellow members of the Auckland Task Force deserve recognition too. We are all marching to the front of the line in terms of age now and had I not attempted this journal it may come to pass it would be too late to understand the wider ramifications of how important an achievement it was. Important too I considered to record the many people who deserve a historical reference.”
Peters says that his personal history during this time was something that had been largely stowed away until an inquisitive mind opened dialogue concerning it. It comes at the perfect time as New Zealand unites to celebrate the thirty-year anniversary of the Homosexual Law Reform.
“I had kept the diaries and notes in tattered form for some thirty years in a discarded box” says Peters, “It was a young man, our surrogate son Ben actually, who one evening some time ago asked me why I did not collate these scraps, diary notes into a journal. It got me thinking.”
In a publication focused significantly on personal history, Peters says that putting everything down on paper acted both as a way of expression and a means of educating the younger generations who can not entirely comprehend the realities of the time.
“As I [wrote] there were days I had to stop writing and punctuate the process with a good walk or meet up with friends for a laugh to keep my spirits up. Towards the last chapter or two I recall writing and being quite exhilarated by the momentum that the campaign was taking and delighted at recalling many names and faces that had become obscured over the decades. When the last word was written I felt a quiet sense of calm.”
He says that the book is not intended to be an academic read, but it does cover a lot of what happened at a ground level from the memory of someone who experienced it all. He says that he hopes for a follow up by Fran Wilde to fill in the gaps in his own written history.
“It’s an up-front personal perspective” he says. Needless to say readers may be confronted with the harshness of the reality of pre-HLR days, but Peters says that knowing about this time is important to the future of the GLBT community.
“There are gay men and women out there doing their best but it is not easy to get publishing houses to take a financial gamble on distributing a book directed in the main towards the GLBT community.”
Fire and Brimstone will be available to the public following the thirty-year anniversary of the Homosexual Law Reform on 9 July 2016 at all good booksellers.