Michael Stevens questions, who are our allies, and how much space should we give them in our organisations and our world? 

It used to be fairly clear-cut, who belonged in our ‘community’ and who didn’t when it was pretty much just the Gay and Lesbian community. We always had friends and allies who didn’t identify as ‘with us’ in terms of sexuality but were front and centre to support us. Whether in politics or out on the scene, there were, and still are, loads of great straight people who support us.

As our community has changed over my lifetime, to include variations of gender identity and more encompassing views of sexual identity, it does feel harder to me to know if someone identifies as one of us, or simply an ally to our communities.


I value our allies. We could never have made the gains that we have without support from those who don’t identify as belonging somewhere in the rainbow. But does there come a time when having people who identify as heterosexual taking leadership positions within our organisations or on our boards, starts to dilute our purpose?

When I was Chair of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (now Burnett Foundation Aotearoa) the board always had people who identified as heterosexual, but they were there for the skills they bought, and made important contributions. Just as some Iwi have non-Māori staff who are there to bring skills that help strengthen their organisational goals.

For me, there is a question about the involvement of some people, in certain parts of our world. Do we want or need straight people on the boards of our Pride organisations? I’m not sure we do. Straight people working for Pride organisations are different. They are there and paid to help us achieve our goals because of certain tasks and roles they have experience in. We pay them for that.

Aotearoa-New Zealand is a small country, with just a small group of people who have the time and energy to devote to community work, so I doubt that it’s possible to only have fully queer-staffed organisations. I’m ambivalent about this, but part of me thinks that is still the gold standard to aim for. However, that brings up the problem of discrimination. Should we be able to apply a standard of community membership to ensure our voices are always leading our organisations? Should we be able to say “Sorry, straights need-not apply”? If someone can do the job, don’t they have a right to be seriously considered for it?

The “small Aotearoa-New Zealand” problem can kick in, when straight friends are offered roles by queer people. They might see them as a safe pair of hands, able to do the job, so they get the job. In such a small country, and in our very small communities, things can get incestuous easily.

Would I rather have a group of average queer people running everything to do with our worlds, or allow straights into the mix when they can be of use? I guess the latter. But the niggling doubt still sits there – do they really understand us and our experience?

Lived experience is so important. We are still a minority who can experience oppression, though nothing like as bad as it was in my youth. If you want to see real homophobia there are plenty of countries out there that still kill our people just because of who they are. This is one of the best places in the world to be queer.

But having been through those visceral experiences that nearly all queer people go through, means there are things we just get, that we don’t have to explain, and well-meaning straight people can never bring that lived experience with them.

We don’t live in a perfect world, and life is always about compromise. Yet a part of me still thinks “Yeah, you’re a great ally, but you can’t speak for us.” We need our allies, but we need our boundaries too!

Photo | Mulyadi.