Historian Gareth Watkins unearths January dates from that past that have had a significant impact on today’s queer community.

8-9 January 1977

The first meeting of the National Gay Rights Coalition of NZ was held in Wellington. The diversity of activist and social rainbow groups had been growing since the early 1970s. The coalition offered these groups and individuals an opportunity to speak and organise with a collective voice while at the same time keeping their autonomy.  Writing in the Wellington Gay Liberation newsletter before the meeting, activist and member of the Steering Committee, Judith Emms wrote, “This is probably the most important progressive step for gays in NZ since the formation of the first Gay Liberation group back in 1972.” The coalition had three aims, including “to liberate Gays by promoting a social environment free from repressive laws, discrimination, sexism, sexual stereotyping and social attitudes causing fear, guilt, shame and loneliness.” Within two years the Coalition had 32 member groups and an affiliated membership of 70,000+ supporters.


12-21 January 1985

A ten-day Womyn’s Summer Camp was held at Waipara in north Canterbury.  The lesbian summer camps had earlier taken place between 1976-1978, before returning in 1985 and running until 1991. The camp in 1985 attracted around 130 women and children from around the country. It was open to both lesbians and “lesbian-oriented” women. The camps offered a wide range of activities – from concerts to workshops, sports to simply relaxing and having fun. Torfrida Wainwright, writing in Women together: a history of women’s organisations in New Zealand, said “these camps represented more than a network of friends going on holiday together; they were a deliberate attempt by lesbians to intensify their experience of lesbian community and create an alternative to the heterosexual world.” Another camper reflected, “At camp we created our own reality.”

7 January 1992

Internationally celebrated playwright Robert Lord died on this day. Lord was born in Rotorua in 1945 and studied Arts at Victoria University of Wellington. In 1973, he co-founded Playmarket to encourage the professional production of NZ plays.  He moved to New York a year later, and was based there for much of the 1980s. Shane Bosher, writing in Playmarket Annual, highlighted that most of Lord’s work was written prior to homosexual law reform in NZ, “his articulation of gay experience shows extraordinary courage and defiance.” In 1987, Lord returned to NZ to take up the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. He purchased a cottage which, after his death, was transformed into a rent-free writer’s residence. Since 2003, Lord’s home has hosted a wide range of playwrights, biographers and novelists including Renée and Kip Chapman. Lord died in January 1992, just weeks before the premiere of one of his best-known plays Joyful and Triumphant.

January 2021/2022

January 2021 and 2022 were a pandemic rollercoaster for Pride – particularly in Auckland. In January 2021, Auckland Pride was promoting its ‘largest ever festival’.  However, within a month Auckland had moved to COVID-19 Alert Level-3 and Auckland Pride Festival moved online, with most events postponed or cancelled. A week later Auckland dropped to Alert Level-1 before returning to the more restrictive Alert Level-3. By January 2022, the country had adopted the COVID-19 traffic light framework. On 19 January, the Big Gay Out was cancelled due to concerns over the Omicron variant, on 20 January, Auckland’s Rainbow Pride Parade was cancelled, and then on 23 January, the Auckland Pride Festival was called off. That same day, with confirmed cases of Omicron in the community, the entire country moved to the highly restrictive Red traffic light setting. Throughout the pandemic, event organisers and performers have kept community safety at the heart of some difficult decisions. To all of those involved in Pride events that were impacted by the pandemic: thank you for your efforts to keep our communities safe and ensure our Pride continues!

Photo | Big Gay Out 2020, shot by Peter Jennings.