Historian Gareth Watkins highlights November dates that have had significant impacts on Aotearoa New Zealand’s rainbow communities.
22 November 1973
Rev. Wilfred Ford, President of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, and Professor Jim Robb met with Prime Minister Norman Kirk to advocate for homosexual law reform. The Society had formed six years earlier and had unsuccessfully petitioned Parliament to change the law in 1968. During the meeting with Kirk, they presented a document that showed support for law reform from the Labour and National parties, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. The document noted the objective of the Society, which was to “promote reform of the law whereby homosexual acts between consenting adults in private shall not constitute a criminal offence.” But importantly, it also noted, “The Society does not seek moral approval of homosexual behaviour.” In contrast, the new Gay Liberation movement called for sweeping societal change. The movement wanted to change the law and society, as stated in New Zealand’s first Gay Liberation Manifesto (1972): “The long-term goal of the Auckland Gay Liberation Front, which inevitably brings us into fundamental conflict with the institutionalised sexism of this society, is to rid society of the gender-role system which is at the root of our oppression.”
13-16 November 1986
Celebrating Ourselves – A Lesbian Festival took place at the Ponsonby Community Centre in Auckland. The festival was promoted as four days of continuous events. It grew out of an idea from the Lesbian Alcohol and Drug Action group to create an event that was “not focussed on a nightclub environment.” Jill, who was part of the organising collective, told Broadsheet magazine, “What it’s all about is loving ourselves as lesbians.” Over three hundred women from around the country attended the event, which was packed with discussions, performances, and sports. Workshops were held on topics including anti-racism, self-help therapy, writing, and lesbian feminist political action. Reviewing the event in Broadsheet, Jenny Rankine described a workshop dedicated to lesbian mothers and lesbians living with children, which attracted about fifty people. There were also discussions about political action – but these weren’t so well attended. Rankine wrote, “I think this is partly still reaction from the effort that went into the Homosexual Law Reform Bill campaign and partly avoidance of the attacks, guilt-tripping, and bitter wrangles that in the last few years have often marked lesbian-feminist political disagreements.” Overall, Rankine reported that attendees felt that the festival was overwhelmingly positive.
6 November 1993
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Chris Carter becoming the first openly gay male Member of Parliament in New Zealand. Reflecting on that moment, Carter said, “I was the first MP to openly acknowledge being gay, although I am sure I was not the first gay MP to enter this Parliament. Why did I choose to be the first to be open about my different sexuality? As a former teacher, I knew that gay and lesbian teenagers faced huge amounts of prejudice and had few affirming messages or positive role models. By being open and honest about my sexuality and being joined soon after by my industrious gay colleague Tim Barnett and my remarkable transsexual Labour colleague Georgina Beyer, we broke a glass ceiling.” However, it wasn’t easy for Carter. In an interview from 2012, MP Grant Robertson remembers, “[Chris] had dreadful stuff said to him, and John Banks was here then as a National MP. And whenever Chris would get up, he’d put papers in front of himself so he didn’t have to look at Chris. And terrible things would get yelled out, and they’d call him Christine and all this kind of thing.”
Photo | Chris Carter (left) with husband Peter Kaiser.