In a touching ceremony held at the NZAF headquarters, Shaun Robinson was today farewelled from his role as Executive Director of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation after five years of service.
Proceedings begun with a powhiri welcoming all guests into venue followed by a traditional Māori greeting.
Shaun Robinson sat with current board members on the right of the room until the group was asked to rise. With hongi and hesitation, Shaun was guided onto the other side of the room where his wife, brother, and family awaited him in a symbolic representation of his resignation from the organization.
Speeches began with David Friar, Chair of the Board, who delivered a touching dialogue celebrating Shaun’s tireless efforts, his contribution to NZAF and the wider community, and his commendable listening skills.
Members of the board followed with similar tributes. Vaughn Meneses gave a touching thanks, and each speaker highlighted Robinson’s ability to communicate with anyone, and the worry experienced by NZAF staff members when Robinson came on board as Executive Director and a heterosexual man. However, every speaker was quickly to say their fears diminished quickly, and Shaun was heralded as one of the driving forces behind making NZAF the institution it is today.
Members of the community also spoke including Cartier Bereavement Charitable Trust founder Karen Ritchie, GABA President Heather Carneige, Urge Bar owner Paul Heard, and OUTLine General Manager Trevor Easton to name a few. Praises poured from countless individuals who thanked Shaun for his five years of work, and expressed sadness that he was leaving.
Robinson was notably emotional when he raised to speak, beginning a heartfelt speech as a response to being a heterosexual in an organization of predominately homosexual males.
“When I first arrived here, there were definitely some thresholds” he begins, “before I even got here, the Chair at the time said ‘now you have to be pretty robust here, we talk about f**king up the arse as a technical term.” He lightened the mood by recalling an embarrassing incident in which he closely inspected a tee-shirt displaying an image of a circle of guys fisting each other. He put the group, highly charged with emotion particularly among the staff, at ease.
“It’s been an incredible journey for me” he comments “I’ve really learned a lot. Just the privilege of being given the opportunity to stand alongside or amongst people whose community I’m not naturally a part of.”
“One of my profound memories is going to the Transgender Remembrance Ceremony the first time and being suddenly aware of that world in a way that I never had been before. I was struck with the struggle” he says.
He thanks the community for inviting him in to their unique communities. “I’m invited into a world which is so fantastic.”
“For me, it has been such a privilege to be accepted and allowed to walk alongside people on this journey over the last five years. That’s changed me. It has absolutely changed me. And I will take that with me wherever I go.”
Shaun sung the praises of his team members and said that having a team of passionate people has made all of the difference. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a group of people who are so diversely and fantastically talented” he says.
Winding up, Robinson says that the reality of his resignation will not truly hit him until he he wakes up on a beach in Samoa on Monday.
“Thank you so much. I look forward from going from being colleges to friends” he ends, remaining standing as the crowd honoured him with a Māori song, and he was presented with a pounamu in the shape of a twist which is meant to represent the coming together of the gay and straight communities through Robinson and his work.
The ceremony was followed by the sharing of food and drink in a sign of unity. Shaun told express that the decision to accept the Executive position at the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation was one he struggled with, and there were many occasions when he considered not accepting the role and remaining with NZAF.
The NZAF have not yet confirmed an individual to fill Shaun Robinson’s outgoing role.