Historian Gareth Watkins reflects on the events of August’s gone by and explores the impact they have had on Aotearoa’s rainbow community.
29 August 1946
Trail-blazer Dana de Milo was born in Auckland. Soon after running away from home at the age of thirteen, de Milo had a chance meeting with Carmen Rupe in a local coffee lounge. She recalled in a 2016 interview that “[Carmen] was the person I wanted to be.” De Milo went on to describe how transgender people in the 1960s and 1970s were “the face of gayness – because gay men could run and hide … behind their male clothes. We were the ones who got picked on.” Shortly after de Milo’s death in 2018, MP Jan Logie paid tribute to her in Parliament: “She was one of our torch holders who created space for so many of us to walk into… My ability to stand here open and proud of my lesbian identity comes from the bravery and political advocacy of my elders, like Dana.”
22 August 1960
Activist Neil Costelloe was born on the West Coast. In the 1980s Costelloe fearlessly campaigned for homosexual law reform – taking part in many protests and rallies. He used his graphic design skills to create protest posters and appeared on television talking about homophobic bashings which were on the increase. Costelloe also planned and took part in smaller (but still powerful) actions prior to homosexual activity becoming legal. Costelloe’s sister, Jayne, recalls how she saw him standing on a main street in Wellington openly kissing his boyfriend, “They were very out and very proud.” After law reform passed in 1986, Costelloe moved to the United Kingdom where he lived until his death in 1990 from AIDS-related complications.
29 August 1972
NZ’s first National Gay Liberation conference was held in Auckland. Activist anger had been growing over the previous decade: in 1967 there had been public meetings followed by a petition calling for homosexual law reform, in 1969 the Stonewall riots in New York City had resonated with many, and in March 1972, after being refused entry into the United States for “sexual deviance”, activist Ngahuia Te Awekotuku passionately called for gay liberation. Groups quickly sprang up around the country. The Auckland Gay Liberation Front wrote in the student newspaper Craccum, “Liberation for gay people is defining for ourselves how and with whom we live, instead of measuring our relationships against heterosexual ‘norms.’ We must be free to live our own lives in our own way.”
A Year 9 student at Auckland Grammer School was stood down because their shoulder-length hair breached school rules. Victoria Trow from RainbowYouth told stuff.co.nz that the hair rule could be particularly harmful for trans and gender-diverse students or those questioning their gender. Trow said it perpetuated a culture where boys and men were “punished and ridiculed for displaying any feminine traits.” The student told the media that they planned to take the school to court over the decision. A year earlier, Auckland Grammer had gained the Rainbow Tick – a certification mark that allowed an organisation to show the world that they were “progressive, inclusive and dynamic.” As of January 2021, AGS rules still stated that a student’s hair should be “short enough to ensure it does not touch his shirt collar … and should not be long enough to be tied up in any form.”
The first-ever National Schools’ Pride Week took place throughout New Zealand. Over one hundred schools took part, including a number of primary and intermediate schools. The week-long celebrations were coordinated by the national youth charity InsideOut. They told schools “We hope that by celebrating and affirming rainbow identities through our pride campaign we can help reduce the experiences of bullying and distress for our rainbow rangatahi.” Tabby Besley, managing director of InsideOUT, said “For many young people it could be the first time they’ve heard their identities talked about in a positive light … It sends a clear message to all students that diversity is normal, it’s something to be proud of.” Each day had a different theme: education, inclusion, accessibility, whakapapa and rainbow history and celebration/pride.
Photo | Activist Neil Costelloe by David Hindley