Brian Tamaki’s PR stunt was an epic fail for both him and his new-found LGBT allies, writes Levi Joule.
I’ll admit that when I arrived at Destiny Church’s HQ in South Auckland on Saturday night to cover Brian Tamaki’s anticipated apology to the gay community, I did so with a high level of cynicism.
I didn’t think it was possible to leave even more cynical, but Brian Tamaki certainly made sure that I did.
As we were ushered up to our front row seats, I ran into two members of the LGBT community, James Laverty and Jacqui Grant, I initially was unaware they would be addressing the crowd, which would explain why James looked horrified when I told him straight off the bat I thought Destiny Church was a cult.
The speeches Laverty and Grant delivered were emotional and their words considered. Sadly, there wasn’t much consideration put into how their speeches would look to the wider LGBT community.
Brian Tamaki is one of New Zealand’s most notorious homophobes. Less than two months ago, he was defending Israel Folau’s anti-gay remarks and saying ‘cry baby gays’ would go to hell. Those comments seem to contradict his claim that he had been considering an apology to the gay community for the past year.
But with a new Hannah Tamaki led political party launched, there was no time to waste. Political considerations meant the apology had to come sooner rather than later.
What Brian Tamaki delivered on stage was lacklustre at best. It never felt real, it had a more ‘sorry if you felt offended’ narrative, rather than an unequivocal renouncement of his past condemnation of the gay community.
The saddest thing about the whole experience was speaking to some of Destiny’s members after the event. They were kind, hospitable and seemed like genuinely good people. Some spoke to me of the trouble they had reconciling the church’s position on homosexuality with their own personal experiences with LGBT family and loved ones.
While Brian Tamaki may not be genuine in his apology, so many of the congregation wanted him to be and were deeply remorseful themselves. One man even told me of the regrets that he had over their participation in that scary ‘enough is enough’ march in 2004 to protest the passage of civil unions for same-sex couples.
I don’t know why people join groups such as Destiny, but I know that they are not all bad people who hate the gay community, their church’s self-appointed “Apostle Bishop” on the other hand is another story.
At the press conference that followed the event, I asked Brian Tamaki if he was sorry about his role in that 2004 march. He refused to answer my question. That was a theme throughout the entire press conference. When another journalist asked Tamaki if his views had really changed at all, he said he “still holds to my beliefs.”
Tamaki was also reluctant to talk about the specific incidents where he had previously attacked the gay community, such as when he linked homosexuality to the 2016 Christchurch earthquakes. When asked about those remarks and if he regretted them he simply disregarded the question saying, “it doesn’t matter now.”
When he was asked by a reporter if he would rule out making further homophobic statements, Tamaki declined the opportunity, once again avoiding the question, saying, “that’s not the point” and insisting the media should solely focus on his ‘apology’ that evening.
Ultimately his press conference performance was bizarre and shifty.
I don’t doubt that Jacqui Grant and James Laverty had good intentions, but their decision to take the stage on Saturday night was undoubtedly a terrible lapse in judgement, which has already lead James to step down from the Rainbow Pride Auckland guardianship.
It has become clear to all that both Grant and Laverty were used by the Tamakis’ in their cynical attempt to rebrand themselves, presumably so they can seem to appear less politically odious at the next election.