Historian Gareth Watkins compiles significant July dates in Aotearoa New Zealand’s LGBTQ+ history including the passing of Homosexual Law Reform.

26 July 1877

One of the earliest missionaries in NZ, William Yate, died on this date. Born in Shropshire in 1802 he arrived in the Bay of Islands in 1828.  Scholars think he had sexual relationships with as many as one hundred young Maori men. In sworn affidavits provided to the Church Missionary Society, four rangatahi talked of mutual masturbation and oral sex with Yate.  Under British law, homosexual activity attracted severe penalties. However, as historian Judith Binney noted “because there was no evidence of sodomy, no legal charges could be brought against him.” Speaking in a radio interview in 2004, academic Ngahuia Te Awekotuku said that the case showed how Maori society, pre-colonisation, was sex-positive and “sexual expression and spontaneity was enjoyed.” Quoting from a Society document, Te Awekotuku said the youths “were unaware of any sinfulness in the practices and Yate had not initiated or corrupted them and that they showed no shame.”


25 July 1967

The Otago Daily Times newspaper published a stinging editorial response to a magistrate who had recently overturned the convictions of two men for homosexual activity. The Christchurch magistrate had referred to new British legislation as an important factor in assessing the local case. At the time in NZ, homosexual activity between males was illegal, whereas the UK Parliament had just decriminalised sexual activity in private between consenting males over the age of 21. The editorial observed that the magistrate had “not only quoted British legislation, but also the climate of British opinion, expressing the view that a parallel climate has evolved in New Zealand… There are strong grounds for believing that many New Zealanders are beginning to look with alarm on the loosening public morals of ‘swinging Britain’… Many ‘informed and responsible’ New Zealanders accept the historical tenet that immorality increases as greatness disintegrates.”

9 July 1986

Parliament narrowly passed the Homosexual Law Reform Act by four votes. The legislation had been introduced as a member’s bill in 1985 by MP Fran Wilde. She said at the time that the campaign brought a flood of “terrible phone calls and terrible letters…[but] despite the discomfort it’s worthwhile.” Working closely with Wilde was MP Trevor Mallard.  He recalls, “I don’t think we ever got above 32% support in the polls for the passing of the Bill. This was a Bill that was, at the time, not wanted by the majority of New Zealanders.” Since 1986, the anniversary of law reform has seen celebrations, challenges and apologies. In 2006, the Salvation Army apologised for the hurt its anti-reform actions caused, while a son of anti-reformer MP Norman Jones, told Radio Live that his father’s opposition to law reform had been “vindicated” by events since. And in July 2021, activist Shaneel Lal attracted nationwide attention when they wrote that law reform “did not free me as a queer person because it did not free all queer Pacific people… Indigenous peoples have always loved queer people, indigenous people are queer. Colonialism took that away from us.”

6-7 July 2007

The second Safety in Schools for Queers (SS4Q) conference was held at Wellington High School with over a hundred people in attendance. Launched in 2005, the SS4Q campaign brought together organisations from around the country to address the safety of both students and staff. Spokesperson Sarah Helm told the media before the first conference that a study had found that 34% of non-heterosexual students did not feel safe in school most of the time. “This is one of the biggest human rights issues facing the queer community – young people’s right to go to school and be treated with respect and dignity.” In a press release for the 2007 conference, Post Primary Teachers’ Association President Robin Duff said that the PPTA had been working on these issues since the late 1980s, while 17-year-old Peter Hotere recounted how he had left school because of homophobic harassment.  When asked what would have made him feel safe at school, Hotere replied, “being free to be me.”