Gareth Watkins looks back at the events that shaped our Rainbow Community.
Activist and politician Georgina Beyer was born in Wellington. Beyer’s rich life has been the subject of books and films documenting her journey from, as she puts it, “cracking it as a prostitute” to becoming the world’s first openly transgender Mayor and Member of Parliament. While in Parliament, Beyer fought for, among other things, prostitution law reform, civil unions and gender identity legislation. Author Andrew Reynolds recently described her as the “iconic Gandhi of the movement … Being the first in the world is a remarkable achievement. Her courage, her tenacity, her authenticity, transforms hearts and minds.”
4 November 1976
After being baited in parliament by Labour MP Colin Moyle, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon retaliated by accusing Moyle of being picked up by the police for homosexual activity (which was still illegal at the time). Members on both sides of the House were shocked and Moyle later resigned over the incident. But Muldoon was a complex character. While he viciously used homosexuality as a political weapon against Moyle, he had also spoken two years earlier in support of homosexual law reform, saying that even though he felt it was “abnormal” it should not be treated as a criminal offence. He would later vote against law reform in the mid-1980s. Muldoon died in 1992, and at least one rainbow community member has admitted to dancing on his grave.
6 November 1987
Peter Wells’ acclaimed film A Death in the Family screened for a week at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. It had earlier screened on primetime television in this country. The film depicted the last sixteen days of the lead character Andrew Boyd who had AIDS. Film reviewer Steve Warren noted in the Bay Area Reporter that although for many in San Francisco the “emphasis has shifted from preparing for death to prolonging and enhancing life” the film still “makes an impact you’ll feel many hours later.” The film carried the dedication “To all who stay and lend a hand in times of fear and panic.” Wells himself died earlier this year. In an obituary, author David Herkt said that Wells “reshaped the way New Zealanders saw sexuality. From a country with an unconsidered heterosexuality as a social norm, Wells exposed the true variety of our desires.”
20 November 1993
Eve van Grafhorst died in Hastings from AIDS-related complications. Originally from Australia, van Grafhorst had been born prematurely and had needed numerous life-saving blood transfusions – one of which contained HIV. Her mother recalled how people in their hometown of Kincumber would cross the road to avoid Eve and how neighbours built high fences around their properties to protect themselves. In stark contrast, the family was received warmly when they moved to Hastings, New Zealand. Van Grafhorst’s life journey was reported widely in the media and over 600 people attended her funeral. The Dominion newspaper reported, “her small white casket lay covered in flowers, candles and one simple smiling photograph of the child whose short life became a symbol to New Zealanders of the fight against AIDS.”
16 November 2005
Labour MP Maryan Street made her inaugural speech in Parliament. Street was New Zealand’s first openly out lesbian elected to Parliament (MP Marilyn Waring was publicly outed by the New Zealand Truth newspaper in August 1976 – a couple of months before the Colin Moyle incident). Street’s speech reflected on her journey: “As a lesbian, I have often been the subject of other people’s efforts to push me to the margins, to erode my legitimacy as a citizen, and to belittle my efforts and achievements. I have never accepted marginalisation; it is a construct of others who wish me to be marginalised. It is not where I see myself or the many others like me. But it has always required courage, and I have not come into this House to be less than brave about the human rights of those whom some would seek to marginalise.”
Photo | Maryan Street.