Historian Gareth Watkins explores August dates that had a significant impact on Aotearoa’s LGBTQ+ communities.

4 August 1908

The Crimes Act 1908 was enacted. The legislation consolidated various laws, including one from 1893, which outlawed any form of sexual contact between males. Even if the sexual activity was consensual between adults, the State saw it as indecent assault. Punishments were severe and included whipping, flogging, and life imprisonment with hard labour. In 2018, another law was passed by Parliament to redress what was now seen as an injustice.  Men, or their relatives, could apply to have their convictions for homosexual activity wiped. There would be no financial compensation or personal apology. But in 2017, the House of Representatives did “apologise to those homosexual New Zealanders who were convicted for consensual adult activity and recognise the tremendous hurt and suffering those men and their families have gone through and the continued effects the convictions have had on them.”


30 August 1985

The Bigot Busters Conference was held over a weekend at Victoria University in Wellington.  The national conference took place at a time of fierce societal debate around homosexual law reform. About 150 activists from across the country attended, including Michelle Tui. Tui told the delegates, “Culturally, our Māori identity and our lesbianism flow together…. We are sick of being the token speakers in our own country. The homosexual law reform campaign has mobilised white gays from the security of their white privilege to canvass for a basic human right – to fight for your own self-determination. What support has there been for Māori self-determination from you? The Bill acknowledges our sexuality, but there is other legislation that has raped us of our rights – all passed by Parliament.”

8 August 2018

Two petitions calling for a ban on what is commonly known as conversion therapy were presented on the steps of Parliament. Conversion therapy sets out to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. It comes in a variety of forms, including institutionalisation, electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT), and talk therapy, where people are told to pray the gay away. The petitions, with a combined 20,000 signatures, were received by MPs Jan Logie and Marja Lubeck. The 2018 Counting Ourselves survey, had found that a massive 17% of the 1,178 respondents had experienced some form of reparative therapy from a professional who had tried to stop them being trans or non-binary.

26 August 2020

Expressionist painter Douglas MacDiarmid died from Covid-19 in Paris, France. Born in Taihape in 1922, MacDiarmid attended Timaru Boys’ High School. Soon after leaving school, he met and fell in love with composer Douglas Lilburn. Their relationship was full of passion, dispute, anguish, and joy – some of which is expressed in surviving letters. In 1945, MacDiarmid wrote to Lilburn, “My God, you’re beautiful and wonderful, and it’s impossible not to be in love!” And in 1948, Lilburn wrote to MacDiarmid, “To think of you is to think of goodness and singleness of heart.  It’s as though I were thirsty and you come to me with clear mountain water to drink.” However, MacDiarmid didn’t feel accepted in New Zealand.  A website dedicated to the artist recounts how he left permanently for France in 1951, “Douglas chose not to be shamed into hiding personal relationships or living a half-life for love.” It was in Paris in 1968 that he met Patrick, his life partner, who was with MacDiarmid until his death.

Photo | Douglas MacDiarmid with Bathers, early 1960s. Private collection.