Historian Gareth Watkins revisits significant dates in Aotearoa’s queer history.

11 April 1910

Artist Toss Woollaston was born in Stratford.  He would become one of New Zealand’s most widely known contemporary painters. In 1980 Woollaston published Sage Tea, a lyrical account of his early life. Writer Hugh Young says that he was notably honest about his sexuality “He saw himself as ‘a sexually fluid being’ who had been more homosexual than heterosexual in his youth.” In the book, Woollaston described in vivid detail an anal sex “daisy chain” involving six youths.  But he was also cautious.  Reflecting on a friend’s relationship he wrote “In those days homosexuality wasn’t mentioned, and I am sure there was none in a physical sense between these two men. Brought up as we were on the story of David and Jonathan, whose love ‘exceeded the love of women’, the relationship between them was perfectly natural and even admirable.”


April 1927

The Evening Post newspaper printed a number of stories about “masqueraders.”  One article reported that an unnamed person had been “going about as a girl” with the voice and appearance “typical of a Maori female.” A second article reported that 18-year-old George Grace was charged in Napier with “being disguised.”  Grace had attended a local girl’s college. At the sentencing, the Magistrate said: “I will teach you to leave girls’ clothing and girls’ colleges alone in the future.” Grace was sentenced to 3-months imprisonment. Newspapers from the early part of the last century are peppered with reports of masquerading. It wasn’t until 1966 when Carmen Rupe successfully challenged a similar charge and Justice McCarthy found that he was “quite unable to find anything in our law which says that it is unlawful for a male to attire himself in female clothing.”

24 April 1995

Jim Curtis was attacked by Tai Tahi Marsters after they met on a public gay beat in Napier.  Marsters was charged with both attempted murder and assault. At his trial he successfully used the provocation/gay panic defence, claiming Curtis had made a homosexual advance.  Curtis was left with brain damage and could not attend the trial. The jury acquitted Marsters on both charges. In 2006 law academic Elisabeth McDonald wrote in general about the gay panic defence “The operation of the defence reinforces the vulnerability of gay men as ‘dangerous outlaws’. When men who kill in response to homosexual advances are not convicted of murder, ‘courts and juries [further] reinforce the notion … that gay men do not deserve the respect and protection of the criminal justice system.’”

12 April 2012

New Zealand flags were officially flown at half-mast to honour Corporal Douglas Hughes. Hughes had committed suicide in Afghanistan on 3 April after being questioned by a sergeant about his feelings for a fellow male soldier. Coroner Gordon Matenga refused to hold an inquest and relied solely on the Army’s Court of Inquiry.  This led to calls from the family and others for greater transparency. Matenga was also criticised by some after it was revealed that he had made submissions in opposition to marriage equality, though Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said coroners were entitled to their personal opinions. 

9 April 2014

The third and final reading of the Sullivan Birth Registration Bill took place in Parliament. The Bill had a specific purpose: to correct the post-adoptive birth certificate of Rowan Sullivan by including the names of both of her mothers Diane and Doreen. The family had moved to New Zealand in 1999. At that time, the couple could not marry or jointly adopt Sullivan and so only Diane could be listed on the birth certificate. However, when Diane died in 2010, Doreen adopted Sullivan, resulting in Diane’s name being removed. The bill’s sponsor Louisa Wall said that the legislation was by definition “very private, for Rowen, Doreen and their family… To know that they have been empowered through the process of sharing their life story is something that this house should celebrate and be proud of.”  The bill passed unanimously.