Gareth Watkins looks back at the events that shaped our rainbow community.

10 June 1868

“Harry” Holland was born in Australia. A printer by trade, Holland went on to lead the New Zealand Labour Party from 1919-1933. After his death, artist Richard Gross was commissioned to sculpt a public monument that would commemorate Holland’s work for humanity. Gross created a striking nude male figure, which has been described in a variety of ways – from representing “emancipated youth looking upwards to higher things” to “an extremely buff, naked dude gazing out over his beloved Wellington.” A local rainbow walking tour in the 1990s described the work as the capital’s most homoerotic piece of outdoor art.


26 June 1967 

Rev. Godfrey Wilson delivered a sermon at St Peter’s Anglican church highlighting the negative treatment of homosexuals in our society. It was, at that time, a radical call for acceptance and inclusion.  The groundbreaking sermon was broadcast live on National Radio and is probably the first of its kind to be heard in New Zealand. In 2017, the service was repeated to mark the 50th anniversary. This time it was led by Rev. Annette Cater, who at the end, blessed the rainbow banners in the church – which included the one she made from materials used for creating clergy vestments.

28 June 1969 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Although the push for homosexual law reform had already begun years earlier in New Zealand, the Stonewall uprising still resonated here strongly. By the early 1970s, numerous Gay Liberation groups had formed and Gay Pride weeks were being held here around Stonewall’s anniversary. Pride activities weren’t confined to large centres.  On 24 June 1974, a television programme featured a gay man and his father in Coromandel preparing to bravely march solo in solidarity with other pride marches. By June 1981, Pride posters promoted a simple but powerful message: “After thousands of years in hiding, we are moving into the light. Our right to live, our right to love.”

25 June 1979

Media reported that a newly enacted Defence Council regulation simply formalised a long-held policy in the New Zealand Defence Force to discharge practising homosexuals. The Secretary of Defence, Mr D.B. McLean said that homosexuality was something that “the services considered detrimental to good order and discipline.” The persecution of individuals was highlighted in a case from 1985 where a serviceman was outed to his parents by the Defence Force sending them a letter saying that their son had been discharged because he was “a practising homosexual.” It wasn’t until after the passing of the Human Rights Act 1993 that the NZDF allowed openly homosexual people to join and serve.

25 June 2003

The Prostitution Reform Bill narrowly passed its third and final reading in Parliament, with voting 60/59.  In doing so, New Zealand became the first country in the world to decriminalise sex work. The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective had been advocating for reform since its inception in 1987. That call was taken up by Labour MP Tim Barnett who introduced a bill that would enable sex workers to have access to the same protections afforded to workers in other industries. Speaking during the final debate, MP Georgina Beyer said that she was voting for the Bill “for all the prostitutes I have ever known who have died before the age of 20 because of the inhumanity and hypocrisy of a society that would not ever give them the chance to redeem whatever circumstances made them arrive in that industry.”

16 June 2017 

Athlete and change-maker Aaron Fleming was presented with a Blake Leader Award from the Sir Peter Blake Trust. As a teenager, Fleming’s lung had collapsed four times. His surgeon told him that he would not be able to physically exert himself ever again. Using this as motivation, Fleming took on the sport of Ironman, completing his first event just five years later. Fleming came out in 2007, and along with athletes Louisa Wall, Blake Skjellerup and Robbie Manson, are Proud to Play NZ Ambassadors – promoting inclusive sports and recreations throughout the country

Article | Gareth Watkins – Gareth Watkins runs PrideNZ, a community website exploring the voices and opinions of Aotearoa New Zealand’s rainbow communities through over 700 audio recordings of interviews and local LGBTI events.