New Zealand Queer History: Promised Land

Whenua Taurangi / Promised Land.

Historian Gareth Watkins highlights June dates that pushed progress forward for Aotearoa’s Rainbow communities.

June 1949

Journalist and author Tom McLean was born in Greenock, Scotland. He worked for a number of Scottish newspapers before moving to NZ in 1973. In the mid-1980s, after a year of general unwellness, he took an HIV test that returned a positive result. A year later he was diagnosed with AIDS. Without medication, McLean was told that he might only have a year to live. With the newly available (but toxic) AZT drug, it may give him up to two years. He began writing If I Should Die, the first book to give a personal account of living with AIDS in New Zealand. McLean told the media that in his remaining time he would continue fighting against the ignorance and prejudice that surrounded AIDS: “In this country, it is still entirely legal to sack someone with the virus, to throw them out of their flats, to refuse them service in shops.” It wouldn’t be until the Human Rights Act of 1993 that discrimination on the grounds of having organisms capable of causing illness in the body was outlawed.


24 June – 1 July 1978

The second nationally coordinated Gay Pride Week took place around the country. Events were held in Auckland, Whangarei, Hawke’s Bay, Whanganui, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. As part of the week, a National Blue Jeans Day was held where “everyone wearing Blue Jeans supports Gay Rights.” The event drew national media attention. OUT! Magazine reported afterwards that in Wellington, “those handing out leaflets at the Railway Station noticed far fewer people wearing blue jeans than normal and those who were seemed to realise the implications.” People were also asked to wear the Pink Triangle as a badge of Gay Pride. As noted in a Gay Liberation Wellington newsletter, “The Pink Triangle makes no statement about the wearer’s sexual orientation.” Instead, it highlights those “written out of history” – the hundreds of thousands of gay men persecuted by Nazi Germany.

26 June 2016

The inaugural Matariki Awards took place at Auckland’s War Memorial Museum, with Dr Huhana Hickey being named as a finalist for the Te Tupu-a-Rangi Award for Health and Science. All of the awards are named after the stars of Matariki. Co-host Stacey Morrison told the audience that it was a time to celebrate “those of us who shine like the stars of Matariki and provide a beacon, an inspiration for us all.” On being nominated for her extraordinary mahi, Hickey, a highly respected disability advocate and lawyer said “It is a passion, my life, my journey, shared by those who are also a part of that journey.” Hickey is currently taking part in the Abuse in Care inquiry. She recently told the NZ Herald that she had been given up by forced adoption at 3 days old. A major step in reclaiming her whakapapa was getting her moko kauae: “This was done for me and my mokopuna so they know who they are and where they are from, it was to bring an end to the lies and secrets, and to say to the Crown: ‘You may deny my whakapapa but my tipuna know me.’

20 June 2017

Authors Chaz Harris and Adam Reynolds released a Te Reo Maori translation of their internationally acclaimed children’s book Promised Land. Whenua Taurangi was translated by Te Ama-Rere Tai Rangihuna and Te Ara-Ripeka Rangihuna. Harris told media that they’ve “had a lot of requests from parents telling us they enjoy reading in Te Reo with their kids.” The love story was originally produced with the help of a crowdfunding campaign. Harris and Reynolds wrote “During our childhoods and teen years, we had no role models or stories that represented the notion that ‘happily ever after’ could even exist if you’re gay. As such, we felt there should be more stories like that, and so we wrote one together.” Reviewing the book, Demi Cox wrote “Promised Land is a book that warms the heart. It instils a sense of faith that a world of acceptance is possible and not so far away.”