Every queer and their dog was there at the HLR30 Celebration at the Auckland Town Hall. It was a strong crowd of ‘fabulosity’ as the MC had alluded to, but at what cost? Decorating our table was an array of rainbow coloured cupcakes (specifically the delectable banana cake interior) and a selection of Council-approved nibbles. It was rather fitting that we were given morsels to choose from, just like our rights have come to us over the years (and still need to be coming mind you). We had been greeted by the friendly staff, after having been ticked off the list and ushered in.
Passing the rainbow flag strung up to embrace us in queerdom. The Council had also provided commemorative wine glasses sporting the flag and the dedicatory script ’30 Years Homosexual Law Reform’, it was a nice touch. Entering the room I quickly scanned the floor, decorations were modest for such an occasion, there was a giant flower-filled Pride flag in one corner and the opposing projector screen with a larger-scale printed Pride flag. It felt rainbow enough, but lacked the occasion as I saw it. I noticed several friends and acquaintances, Lexi Matheson and her family, Cissy Rock and the Charlotte Museum alongside a few notable politicians (Louisa Wall, especially). Conversation was brief before the event got underway. I had met two men who were slightly older than myself, as I sat with some friends, it was a friendly environment for a Council affair.
What opened was fantastic, an address fully versed in Te Reo our indigenous language, and what followed was ‘not a translation, but an explanation’ to the address. I saw this as most-fitting, particularly as we have just finished Māori Language Week. It was uplifting to then be welcomed through a series of waiata.
Following this we went into a discussion of the queer-royalty in attendance. It was the usual suspects such as Nikki Kaye, sans Jacinda (no DJing unfortunately) and the Hon. Len Brown via a video-message. The Mayor was in Singapore, looking after our civic concerns, he looked relaxed. Despite his terminology, Mr. Brown captured the spirit of the night appropriately and indeed pushed for a greater movement in queer rights which was very fitting against some of the other presenters in the evening who seemed to forget the journey ahead in some instances. Whilst Mr. Brown was not in attendance, we had the lovely Penny Hulse as Acting-Duty Mayor in his stead. This was a delight, she spoke firmly about the challenges needed to be faced against the backdrop of our celebrations. In short, she should be running for Mayor in all honesty.
Ensuing was a short video of the times, demonstrating various news reports, speeches and footage of the anti-Bill petition. It was electric seeing this first-hand content, some of it was quite funny, the rest quite sobering. It fell short of shouting at one debate featured, being mentioned afterwards as a ‘tame’ descent into discussions. We also were shown a secondary reel of two young lesbians singing to a crowd about being lesbian and proud of it, they were received with raucous applause then and now in the Town Hall, holding hands at the end it was rather sweet.
Of course, this would not have been a night to celebrate without the ally-of-allies, Fran Wilde. Looking fantastic in red, Fran had driven the campaign publicly as the Whips’ office. Accompanied by an honourable team, she had overturned the petition against the law change which had employed certain methods such as blanket-signing by school children (ingeniously, some of whom had signed under aliases, such as a Mr. K. Marx). What was especially touching, is that she had risen to the challenge based on her ideals of a more open New Zealand where she couldn’t understand how we could have 10% of our population being illegal. I found it quite sweet how she quickly pointed out that it was more than she ever realised when taking it on; and how this was no single-pony race, she had needed the help of her team at the Whips’ office alongside the combined efforts of the National Party voters (most notably the female MP’s and hhherine O’Regan i who apparently was the swing-vote). It was astonishing to see her command the stage, she was quite the firecracker.
Of course there was LGBTI+ Parliamentary heavy-weight Louisa Wall on hand to inspire us further. Having secured the Marriage Equality Act very recently, she assumed the accomplishment made possible only by those who had gone before. It was lovely hearing her account of pushing this change on behalf of all New Zealanders much as Fran had decades earlier. What was pertinent however, was the mentioning of New Zealand’s current situation including the many homeless LGBTI+ Youth and our mental health and national suicide rates. This was sobering discussion, but unfortunately it felt waved-over by the audience attending and ensuing presenters. Nikki Kaye was next, she admitted it was difficult to say anything different from Louisa which makes her comments about how it is a cross-party initiative, echoing Louisa, that much more effective. It cut through to the message at hand, it is definitely a move we need to emphasise where all parties have a place to contribute- regardless of stripe. Nikki also positioned the youth of today as needing more assistance and support, notably based on mental health and homelessness as being the Youth Minister she was keen to make people understand in light of celebrating that we still have work to do.
What followed was honourable mentions to those others in the role for combatting the times’ government, numerous arrests later and the contextualisation of HIV/AIDS arriving in the 80s it really drove home the significance of the campaign where many of the individuals involved outed themselves in an effort to demonstrate how everyday New Zealanders were affected, that it was a community-based initiative. This made implicit the idea of having a husband, father, son or brother who was affected by this law change and thus drove the campaign forward (for males, nonetheless). In a way, it is historically positioned, but left out many other groups from the discussion. There was a mention of the radical lesbian movement (under the Feminist push) but it was very cursory, unlike the cheers from the apparent ‘Power Table’ of previous radicals. I did my best to combat TERF sentiments, I think I even got a few genuine smiles sorted from the thin veneers of civility. Little steps for this Lesbian dressed in her finest plaid (who happens to be Trans).
Before long, we were treated to a performance by the Cook Island group Paradise and the Diamonds. Paradise herself was stunning and represented the Youth perspective for the evening. It was a journey not so much of discovery, but of expression. From here, we really did see the youth perspective with hopes for the future which was touching- we need to be more explicit rather than implicit however, and so I felt that the initiative for education via dance performance is a novel way to construct connections in a community that is struggling to get at the table. The performance following was ecstatic, beautiful and traditional. It firmly cemented the mode of education being offered, separating itself from the drag performance an hour earlier in the evening which had complimented our diversity.
We ended the presentations with a final performance from GALS (Gay and Lesbian Singers). They were fantastic, serenading the crowd with a rendition of Heather Small’s ‘Proud’ made popular by TV shows and Pride Parades globally. It was a fitting end to an event which looked back thoughtfully on a historic moment in New Zealand’s history, led by a brave band of individuals and a greater attempt at making New Zealand a greater community as a whole.
This was a good evening, however there were a few things left desired. It was mainly focused on the cis, gay males of the period, which although is important historically, in reality we need wider focus and ongoing support given to those who aren’t living in an as-structured queer world. It was difficult to escape this perspective when the MC was pushing this as a quiet aside, it certainly ruffled a few feathers. Lesbian groups were mentioned, which was exciting, but given a lot of credence compared to other minorities still facing incredible hardship such as the trans community and especially Intersex folks. Louisa did champion this aspect fortunately, but again, it was a nominal glance at the wider issues which needed to be said by many more that night. Ultimately, I am heavily in debt to the efforts of those who have gone before me to secure a braver and brighter New Zealand. I had felt immense pride for not only being brought into this New Zealand under such changes, but also as a lesbian myself.
It is important that we remember the sacrifice of our forebears some of whom championed their sexuality against all odds (specificallyMarilyn Waring who was outed in a completely unacceptable way and the consequences thereafter). We need to become more united, less complacent with the achievements at hand and more determined to integrate and amplify the community in all of its diversity. We can see this today through the work of groups such as Rainbow Youth or Equasian, putting youth first – inheritors to this changed New Zealand. But it is not enough, we still have transgender rights to fight for, who do not fall under the Human Rights Act still. So yes, celebrate what we have achieved- I certainly am grateful for it, it has made my life easier and more visual, yet we cannot end here. We need to build upon these achievements, to make a safer and greater New Zealand. Queerness shall live.
Note: Express apologises for publishing the unedited copy of this article. The piece has been updated.