LGBTQ History in Aotearoa New Zealand

Megan and Nicki Eddy pictured with the NZ AIDS Memorial Quilt. Photo | Gareth Watkins.
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Historian Gareth Watkins looks back at significant October dates that have had a lasting impact on our rainbow communities.

8 October 1968

A petition calling for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting males aged 21 and over was presented in Parliament.  The petition, organised by the New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform Society, was signed by 75 courageous New Zealanders (keeping in mind law reform didn’t occur for another 18 years). Member of Parliament John Rae said “one cannot but be impressed with the status of the people who were prepared to put their names on the petition. They start from the highest office in the Churches and go through the professional groups, the lawyers, professors, schoolmasters, scientists, and others.” MP Robert Talbot, an opponent, told the House “The petitioners have stated that homosexuals live in fear of being caught because of the present law… It is no doubt correct, but I believe this fear is necessary if this unnatural activity is to be controlled in our society.” Interestingly, MP Martin Finlay noted, “I think it is generally accepted, at least in medical and scientific circles if not publicly, that every one of us has some latent element of homosexuality in him, even those who are loudest and most vehement in their protestations of revulsion.”

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5 October 1991

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first public unveiling of the New Zealand AIDS Memorial Quilt. The ceremony took place at the Auckland City Art Gallery in the presence of the Governor-General, Dame Catherine Tizard. Thirty-two New Zealand quilt panels were displayed alongside panels brought from Australia. Then in October 1992, New Zealand’s quilt convenor Nicki Eddy travelled with three quilt blocks (each around 3.5 metres wide) to Washington D.C. in the United States for the first-ever International AIDS Memorial Quilt display. The quilt spanned a massive 15 acres. Eddy later recalled that it was “soul-wrenching” to see so many new panels being presented during the event. Over three days all of the names of those represented were read over a loudspeaker – including all of those on the New Zealand quilt.  The quilt’s newsletter reported that on the final night of the display, an estimated 200,000 people took part in a candlelight memorial march “creating a flowing sea of candlelight that expressed a sense of hope and unity in confronting the enormity of the AIDS pandemic.”

26 October 1996

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first public demonstration by intersex people in the United States and the birth of the international Intersex Awareness Day.  In 2016, to coincide with the anniversary, the United Nations launched its first-ever intersex awareness campaign.  It called on governments to ban medically unnecessary surgery and procedures, provide health care personnel with training and ban discrimination on the basis of innate variations of sex characteristics, intersex traits or status. That same year, New Zealand officials were questioned at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in regards to the rights and care of intersex children. This resulted in the committee issuing four landmark recommendations to the Government. Human Rights Commissioner Richard Tankersley said, “protection of the rights of intersex children in New Zealand is long overdue.” Recently activist Mani Mitchell told Express “It should be the right of every human being on Earth, to be themselves, whatever that is.”

17 October 2020

New Zealand made international news headlines when, as Out magazine put it, “New Zealand Elected the Gayest Parliament in History.” The outcome of the General Election saw thirteen Members of Parliament who openly identified as being part of rainbow communities – equating to almost 11% of all MPs.  The previous record was held by the United Kingdom with 7%. The rainbow MPs came from just two of the parties in Parliament – the Greens and Labour. Newly elected Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere told the media that there was still a long way to go in creating a representative and diverse House of Representatives.  Kerekere noted that all of  the current MPs were cisgender, adding “we still have to go a long way towards representation for our trans, intersex and non-binary whanau.”

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