Gareth Watkins looks back at the events that shaped Aotearoa’s LGBTI+ community.

September 1863

Explorer and writer Samuel Butler wrote of his blossoming relationship with Charles Paine Pauli whom he met in Christchurch.  Butler recounted that a barman in California had labeled Pauli as “the handsomest man God ever sent into San Francisco.” After an encounter at the Carlton Hotel, Butler wrote that he “was suddenly aware that I had become intimate with a personality quite different to that of anyone whom I had ever known.” Butler would go on to financially support Pauli for the next three decades.  Author Roger Robinson described Pauli as a “parasitic lawyer” while writer Hugh Young was more charitable.  He noted that the relationship seemed to have been like that of Oscar Wilde and Bosie, a “handsome younger man with an older devotee: minimum sex and maximum support.”


11 September 1944

Cafe owner Chrissy Witoko was born in Hastings. In 1984 she opened the Evergreen Coffee Lounge in central Wellington. Witoko’s priority was to ensure a friendly social environment in a time when there was still open discrimination towards rainbow communities.  The coffee lounge quickly became a home-away-from-home for many, and from 1988 was the location of the Gay and Lesbian Community Centre. Lining the interior walls of the establishment were large photographic collages of community members from the 1960s to the early 2000s.  They can now be seen online courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

24 September 1985

A large anti-homosexual law reform petition was presented to politicians on the steps of Parliament. The Salvation Army had agreed to co-ordinate the petition, with Colonel Campbell telling Salvationists that the moral decay of civilisation was proceeding unchecked and that it was in many ways a greater threat than that of nuclear destruction. The petitioners claimed that there were over 800,000 signatures (almost 1 in 4 New Zealanders).  However, it was later found that the petition contained multiple signatures in the same hand and other forgeries. Critics of the petition likened the presentation to a Nazi Nuremberg Rally, with a platoon of young uniformed people carrying flags and wearing sashes that read “For God, For Country, For Family.”

5 September 2002     

The New Zealand AIDS Foundation launched its safe sex campaign Toolbox on National Penis Day. The toolbox was distributed to people on the street and contained condoms, lubricants and application hints. NZAF executive director Kevin Hague told media that demand was so high people were chasing distributors down the street to ensure that they received one. Earlier the NZAF had unsuccessfully tried to erect public billboards featuring large penises. Hague said, “Despite practically everyone either having a penis or being pretty familiar with the sight of someone else’s, men’s penises are considered to be so obscene and offensive that they cannot be shown on a billboard in NZ.”

30 September 2002

Fashion designer Michael Pattison gained national media attention by competing as an openly gay man in the Cleo Bachelor of the Year. The popularity competition had been run by the women’s magazine Cleo since 1985. Pattison had previously won Mr Gay Wellington and Mr Drag Wellington. He would go on to establish his own internationally successful fashion label that was initially kick-started through a WINZ grant.  A few years ago Pattison moved to Berlin and founded the Fusion Factory – a dynamic concept space for fashion design, gastronomy, photography, and events.

23 September 2017   

The General Election saw the return to Parliament of at least five rainbow politicians: Louisa Wall, Grant Robertson, Meka Whaitiri, Jan Logie and Chris Finlayson.  The election also saw two new rainbow Members of Parliament – broadcaster Tamati Coffee and Kiritapu Allan.  Allan had studied law and politics and had interned under then Prime Minister Helen Clark. Having openly out Members was in stark contrast to the mid-1970s when Carmen Rupe suggested controversially that there were some closeted gay and bisexual MPs. She later unreservedly apologised to Parliament’s Privileges Committee for the statements that had, in their view, “lessen[ed] the esteem in which Parliament is held.”