New Zealand’s Queer History

Renowned Kiwi playwright Bruce Mason.
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Historian Gareth Watkins looks back at significant September dates that impacted Aotearoa New Zealand’s rainbow communities.

28 September 1921

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Bruce Mason – one of New Zealand’s most significant playwrights. Mason wrote over thirty plays, with The Pohutukawa Tree and End of the Golden Weather being two of his most well-known. Although Mason married in 1945, it wasn’t until a book by John Smythe in 2015, that Mason’s homosexuality became widely known.  Smythe reflected on this more private side, “we can only wonder what else he might have written in a parallel universe or a more accepting era.” Reviewer Dean Parker noted that Mason and his wife had an open relationship, “he was happily married with three children, but seemed to have had many male lovers.” These are documented in surviving letters. One of his “pick-ups” in Christchurch later vindictively wrote to Mason’s wife, “Do you know that your husband is an old lecherous pansy, well-known all-over NZ for it?  The whole of Christchurch is laughing about you.”

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25 September 1971

The New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform Society held a national conference to discuss law reform. In attendance was the Bishop of Wellington, H.W Baines. He called for Christians to adopt an understanding attitude, to show homosexuals that they were not excluded from society. The Law Reform Society had been courageously lobbying for law change since its formation in early 1967. Treasurer of the Society, Barry Neels, told reporters in August that year, “The average New Zealander has been brain-washed into an intolerant state of disgust for his brother homosexual; he is not able to show compassion because even sympathisers and reformers come under suspicion… Unless legislation is changed, New Zealand will always have homosexual suicides, ostracism of often brilliant men and an increasing number of homosexual patients and prisoners in mental hospitals and gaols.”

14 September 1978

The LGBT Bay Area Reporter newspaper in San Francisco reported that the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand had banned the airing of Tom Robinson’s political song Glad to be Gay by its radio stations. The song, written for a London Pride parade in 1976, contained strong commentary on the oppression of homosexuals in the United Kingdom. A BCNZ official insisted that the radio ban was not an attempt to discriminate against homosexuals, citing the broadcaster’s earlier attempts to expand “understanding of the views of Gay people.” Wellington Gay Liberation disagreed, labelling the action as “blatant and unjustifiable discrimination.” The song was however heard in Auckland, broadcast on the independent Radio Hauraki.

15 September 2013

Internationally recognised equestrian and icon Peter Taylor died in Auckland after stopping all treatment for both HIV and the rare infection Leishmaniasis (caught from a sandfly bite at the Barcelona Olympics). Over a fifteen-year period, Taylor underwent a massive 922 doses of chemotherapy resulting in additional health complications.  His infectious diseases specialist, Professor Mark Thomas reflected “Pete taught me about determination, tolerating tough life, optimism and generosity.” Taylor himself said “I think it is about positive thinking, taking responsibility, and reducing any bitterness and blame in your life. You can’t have negatives in your body that will feed the illness.” Taylor’s businesses included Urge Bar (which he co-founded in 1995), and the much-loved Surrender Dorothy and Dot’s Sister.

September 2020

The Salvation Army (New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa Territory) issued a set of guidelines relating to the Army’s stance on gay conversion practices, sexuality and gender identity. The Army affirmed their opposition to any form of gay conversion practices and stated “Salvationists will continue to oppose vilification of, or discrimination against, anyone on the grounds of sexuality or gender. This includes attempts to change another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and includes actions which deny a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” The statement was in stark contrast to the Army’s strident opposition to homosexual law reform in the mid-1980s when Colonel Donald Campbell told 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.

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