New Zealand History: Our Queer Past

Hero Party organiser Rex Halliday by Gareth Watkins.
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Historian Gareth Watkins searches Aotearoa’s significant queer dates from November’s past to see how this month has shaped our community.

21 November 1957

Historian Gavin McLean was born in Oamaru. As a youngster, McLean found sanctuary around the local harbour, fishing and contemplating the history of the waterfront. It developed into a life-long passion for maritime history. After graduating from Otago University he moved to Wellington in the 1980s and fought for homosexual law reform. He was deeply involved with the Wellington Gay Community Centre and Pink Triangle magazine. For many years, McLean was also a key figure in the Professional Historians Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa, and held significant positions at Historic Places Trust and Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage. He would write or edit more than fifty publications before his death in 2019.

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5 November 1992

The first Freedom dance party was held in Christchurch. It was organised by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation and raised $8,000 for HIV/AIDS awareness. A year earlier NZAF had organised the Devotion dance party in Wellington and the HERO party in Auckland. The name HERO was chosen because, as organiser, Rex Halliday remembers “we’re facing this incredibly disgusting [HIV] epidemic and we’re doing it with great heroism… And by acknowledging our heroism we can start to acknowledge our own self-esteem.” Poignantly, during Wellington’s Devotion party in November 1993, a well-known performer and hairdresser Arthur [Tauhore] passed away at his home from AIDS-related complications. Anne Hogan later wrote “As usual, his timing was impeccable. It was the night of the gay dance party Devotion. His funeral was held on December 1st – World AIDS Day.” Andre, another friend wrote “with a laugh as wicked and wild as the stories you told. Never be afraid to be yourself.”

30 November 2009

Glenn Mills was found dead in his cell at Auckland’s remand centre at Mt Eden prison. Mills was due to stand trial for allegedly infecting numerous sexual partners with HIV. The trial was set to become one of the biggest criminal proceedings relating to the transmission of HIV in New Zealand. The case also created intense media interest, with some publications labelling Mills as the “HIV predator.” Mill’s pre-trial suicide compounded the tragedy of the situation on many levels. The website hivjustice.net reflected that “we shall never know whether the case was more hysteria than fact.” And Express magazine editor Hannah Jennings-Voykovich noted “Whether there was the intent. Whether there could be proof that there was an intent in court. I think there are going to be a lot of hurt people out there wondering what happened.”

17 November 2019

St Andrew’s on the Terrace in Wellington marked the 20th anniversary of Transgender Day of Remembrance with a special service. It began with the congregation joining with the Rev Dr Susan Jones in affirming “All human beings are due unconditional love, all humankind, all orientations, all genders. All people are welcome here.” Recently the church spoke in support of legislation that would ban conversion ‘therapy.’ Speaking about people undergoing conversion practices within religious groups, Fionnaigh McKenzie told the Select Committee, “Consent is not a defence. These practices occur in the context of massive power imbalances, misinformation and manipulation within a homophobic, biphobic and transphobic environment which leads people into shame and fear and desperation. People are wanting to escape pain but not able to see in the midst of it, that the pain is caused by their environment not by who they are.” 

2 November 2020

Following the 2020 General Election, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. Robertson became an MP in 2008,  telling Parliament in his inaugural speech, “I am proud and comfortable with who I am. Being gay is part of who I am, just as is being a former diplomat, a fan of the mighty Wellington Lions, and a fan of New Zealand music and New Zealand literature.” Robertson quickly rose up the political ranks. On his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister, Robertson told media: “It’s important for young people in the rainbow community to know that their sexuality is no barrier to them progressing.”

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