Craig Young searches for the real reason behind the war on Rainbow Crossings.

Anti-LGBTQI+ Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki is back on the warpath again, this time against drag queen story times. But where did this figure of controversy come from?
A backgrounder might be in order. Tamaki (66) was born in rural Te Awamutu. He’s also from the Tainui iwi and the Ngati Ngawaero and Ngati Maniapotol. He wasn’t academically minded, left school at fifteen, got involved with pig hunting, rugby, rock bands and drugs and then became involved with Hannah Lee, whom he eventually married. He was ordained within the Apostolic Church Pentecostal fundamentalist denomination and then went on to found the Rosetown Community Church in Te Awamutu, Lake City Church in Rotorua and then Destiny Church, a large, predominantly Maori and Pasifika Pentecostal megachurch in South Auckland.
Tamaki is an advocate of the fundamentalist prosperity gospel, which equates making money with moral ‘virtue’. This turned into a lucrative money spinner for US fundamentalist televangelists like Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in the United States, given that donors to their television programmes received vague promises that their generosity would return to them tenfold.
 The ‘prosperity gospel’ is not universally popular amongst Pentecostals, given that some object that lavish lifestyles exploit their electronic parishioners. Indeed, given that Tamaki’s core church is in impoverished South Auckland, complaints often occur that his exorbitant tithing demands lead to food poverty, transient housing and other difficulties.
Tamaki first shot to infamy after his sect marched against civil unions in 2005. It has also engaged in the following activities- misgendering the late Labour MP Georgina Beyer, a trans woman; denounced a ‘radical homosexual agenda’ in one DVD, A Nation Under Siege; and applauded the homophobia of Tongan-born fundamentalist rugby league player Israel Folau. He also claimed the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes occurred because God doesn’t like LGBTQI+ people.
According to Tamaki, takatāpui and whakawahine didn’t exist in pre-colonial Aotearoa- which contrasts the beliefs of Maori Studies mainstream academics who have studied those societies in detail and have concluded that indeed they did exist without incident.
His track record has been inconsistent, though- Destiny Church was uncharacteristically quiet when it came to marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform.
Amusingly too, the Tamakis were mentored by African-American Pentecostal “Bishop”  Eddie Long of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia, a fellow prosperity gospeller and opponent of LGBTQI+ rights. It turned out that Long was having down-low relationships with young men in his sect.  After the revelations, Long’s church dismissed him, his wife left him and he died soon afterwards.
Altogether, Tamaki and Destiny Church have been responsible for four micro parties – Destiny New Zealand, the Family Party (with fellow pakeha televangelist Peter Mortlock of City Impact Church); Vision New Zealand (led by his wife Hannah); and Freedoms New Zealand, founded to exploit the anti-vaccination movement that spiked during the Covid-19 pandemic. None of them did particularly well, despite Tamaki’s ‘prophecies’ that they would.
Indeed, Tamaki has predicted that his sect would ‘lead’ New Zealand by 2008 (it didn’t) and that Freedoms New Zealand would get twenty per cent of the vote at last year’s New Zealand election. It didn’t even get to one per cent.
In the last few years, Tamaki and his leather-jacketed He Tangata motorcycle riders have been seen at British anti-transgender extremist Posie Parker’s rally, despite her interactions with neofascists in the United Kingdom, Quebec and Australia, as well as in Auckland.  Tamaki tried an abortive march of his own when Parker was forced to abandon hers, but LGBTQI+ groups made their presence and anger felt. During the confrontation, Greens co-leader Marama Davidson was injured when a motorcycle was ridden at her while on a pedestrian crossing.
Which brings us to the present day. Tamaki is now crusading against drag queen story times in Tauranga, Rotorua, Gisborne and Hastings. In the case of Tauranga, the event seems to have already occurred, with a tiny handful of complaints from the raving right against the event. In Rotorua, it became a subject of debate at a council meeting, where older councillor Robert Lee swallowed the propaganda that all drag queen performances were for adult audiences, but younger councillor Fisher Wang spoke up for the LGBTQI+ communities and Mayor Tania Tapsell supported Councillor Wang and upheld the right to free speech in this context. Surprisingly, so did the Free Speech Union’s Jonathan Ayling.  Unfortunately, Rotorua Library bowed to pressure and cancelled the event. Tamaki then announced his intent to target drag queen story times in Gisborne and Hastings.
On March 26, news broke that Destiny Church Gisborne members were present at vandalism committed against Gisborne’s rainbow crossing, when the aforementioned individuals, along with failed former Gisborne council candidate Stephanie Packer, affiliated with the church,  painted over it.  As a general note on possible consequences related to this misdeed, vandalism can carry penalties under Section 11 of the Summary Offences Act 1981, which makes it an offence to damage or deface any building or structure, and drawing or painting over it. The offence includes marking roads. It can carry a $2000 fine or community service sentence. Tamaki was unrepentant about the vandalism, but it only seemed to have galvanised local government. Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz denounced the vandalism committed against the footpath as ‘hate and bigotry’ in a media release. She promised to restore the rainbow crossing as soon as possible, as well as upholding the need for drag queen story times as inclusive events. Local police would be on hand and would prevent misbehaviour from Destiny Church protesters at the library.  She also said there was a possibility charges would be laid against the vandals.
Commendably, Gisborne City Council rapidly moved to restore the city’s rainbow crossing. When the Destiny Church vandal contingent reappeared with white paint and tried to obstruct the crossing once more, local police moved in and five members of the sect were arrested. Gisborne City Council has said that it will try to secure reparations from the vandals.
Hastings Council then called off its planned drag queen story time, but the local Ngati Kahungunu iwi announced its support for another rainbow community event in that provincial city. On Newshub, Tamaki was unrepentant and boasted that there would be more vandalism of rainbow pedestrian crossings, heedless of the warnings of criminal prosecution from Gisborne against his church members there. Labour leader Chris Hipkins also condemned the vandalism and spoke in support of transgender rights.
However, on March 28, it then transpired that vandals had attacked the Auckland rainbow crossing on Karangahape Road, although given that it is a main thoroughfare, much of the white paint had been removed by rain and traffic erosion. Auckland Central MP and Green co-leader Chloe Swarbrick condemned the latest attack.
Paradoxically, this points to a singular problem with Tamaki’s efforts- they seem to be all performance and no meaningful strategy or substance.  He boasts of his influence but in practice, he always falls flat, unless they occur in small-town venues. In larger city arenas and some provincial centres, LGBTQI+ communities are better organised and more numerous and will counter-protest on a sufficient scale to defend such events, as happened in Gisborne.
At present, Destiny Church’s own website lists branches in Auckland, Hamilton, Gisborne, the Gold Coast, Nelson, Rotorua, Tauranga, Wellington, Whakatane and Whangarei.   A  Wikipedia entry on the sect may also suggest one reason behind Tamaki’s sudden possible interest in drag queen storytime events- church shrinkage. At its height in 2003, the sect had nineteen branches. Since then, branches have closed in Porirua, Whanganui and Dunedin and others in Opotiki, Kaitaia, Taumaranui and Hawkes Bay have also either closed or been merged with other branches. Is Destiny Church therefore in membership decline and is Tamaki desperately trying to generate publicity through these antics?
He also needs to recall what happened last time the New Zealand Christian Right resorted to large-scale lawbreaking. That was thirty years ago, when the anti-abortion Operation Rescue group invaded metropolitan city abortion clinics but got hammered by fines which gradually exhausted the patience and financial resources of their erstwhile supporters. The Crown invoked the  Trespass Act 1981 successfully and the consequence was irreparable damage to the New Zealand anti-abortion movement and their ultimate defeat in 2020 with the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act. Tamaki may find himself falling afoul of increased fines that erode his financial resources and further alienate people from his sect. If there is wilful damage to surrounding property during this process, and other people are endangered as a consequence, then Section 269 of the Crimes Act 1961 will come into play and that carries a seven-year prison sentence as a possible penalty.
 However, it’d be a mistake to assume we’re his only targets, though- Tamaki also hates Jacinda Ardern, hate speech legislation, Palestinian advocacy groups, Muslims – and mainstream Maori. Indeed, he supports ACT’s divisive Treaty Principles Bill due to pique at being ignored by mainstream Maori once again at the polls last year. Tamaki is making himself a lot of enemies and things are not going his way.