We all remember where we were on 22 February when we found out a huge, shallow earthquake had hit Christchurch, destroying much of the CBD and reducing the city to rubble. But as the dust cloud settles, GLBT Cantabrians are picking themselves up and starting again, whilst the community at large bands together to support friends and family in the area. We find out more about what has happened to GLBT businesses and the people of Christchurch.
Damage to gay venues
Despite early reports that Cruz nightclub on Lichfield Street had been destroyed, the building is still standing, which is pretty surprising; the building that houses Cruz was built in 1880. Earthquake strengthening has definitely helped, but the same cannot be said for Cruz’s neighbours. The second floor of the Fazazz motoring building has collapsed onto the roof of Cruz, leaving both buildings’ future in question.
In a series of special updates on the Cruz website, owner Bruce Williamson says, “We have limited knowledge so far of the exact state of our buildings, but we know this much – we are surprised how strong the old front part of the Ministry and Cruz buildings have been, and in fact really pleased with how well the earthquake strengthening work that had been done over the years has performed. Damage has mainly been confined to the older front building and this has largely come from collapse of the unstrengthened Bains building next door, which has lost its entire second floor, a lot of it obviously onto and through our roof.”
On the Cruz website, Bruce says regardless of whether Cruz on Lichfield Street is salvageable or not, it will be close to a year before people want to return to the street to party. So, he and business partner Tony Tucker have decided that once the city cordons are lifted, they will open a new venue, near the city’s casino.
Meanwhile, Menfriends sauna, also on Lichfield Street, has suffered extensive damage. The venue’s group spa – which holds thousands of litres of water – has emptied itself through the venue and eight customers had to be evacuated from the premises on the day.
Gay Cantabrians tell their stories
Aaron Comis, New Zealand’s entry into this year’s Mr Gay World competition, was in Christchurch during the quake. He is now in Auckland for some time off due to quake stress, but made time to visit the most recent Gay Auckland Business Association (gaba) monthly meeting – Fruits in Suits.
He told those in attendance about being in the quake, stating that this quake started out like a regular post-September-quake aftershock, but got more violent as it went on. “Suddenly you’re being thrown from one wall to another. I’m lucky to be alive – like most of us.”
Meanwhile, Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup was at his second home in Calgary when the quake hit. His first experience of the aftermath was trying to contact family. “The first thing I did was send a text message to all my family, but because the networks went down, I didn’t hear from my mother for about an hour. My Dad is in the West so he’s away from the main centre of the quake and my mum was in Cashmere Hill; the house up there is new but the gib is all cracked now. I also think my sister’s house is about to get red stickered [condemned].”
Blake had already planned to head back to Christchurch – he arrives on 21 March. “I’m preparing myself for an unrecognisable city – a city completely different to the one I left.” After the quake, Blake took to his Facebook to announce a piece of advice for those looking to help. “For those who want to help – save your pennies and make that trip to New Zealand you have always wanted to do in a year from now. Christchurch is truly an amazing city. Christchurch will need our love and care for years to come.”
Blake says, “I hope the city council and the government make the right steps to return safety to the central city – that’s our livelihood and where tourism comes from. I think events like the Rugby World Cup still have to go ahead; I think it’s an opportunity to show the world what Christchurch is really made of.”
gaba / OUTLine organise housing network
gaba and OUTLine have joined forces to create a database of GLBT and GLBT-friendly accommodation across New Zealand to assist Christchurch residents that may have been affected by, or displaced as a result of, the Christchurch earthquake.
Offers of housing assistance are already flooding in through the GayStay network for free and subsidised short and long-term accommodation throughout New Zealand. Offers are also being welcomed from people with holiday homes or spare rooms available anywhere in the country. The GLBT-friendly accommodation database is being compiled cooperatively by gaba and OUTLine and both organisations will help to facilitate the appropriate placement of those in need. The database will also be made available to government ministries and NGOs that are approached by families and individuals who would prefer to be placed in a GLBT-friendly environment. Anyone with offers of accommodation should email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. GLBT Christchurch residents who require accommodation are encouraged to call 0800 OUTLINE or mention to housing coordinators in Christchurch that they would prefer to be placed in GLBT-friendly accommodation.
While sexual health may not seem an immediate priority following a natural disaster, Get it On! is delivering thousands of condoms to men from the gay communities in Christchurch. Hamish Milne, a Christchurch‐based Get it On! spokesperson and coordinator of Operation Condom says Christchurch is the picture of a city highly stressed. “Tensions are running high and that includes sexual tension. We’re undoubtedly indulging in stress-relieving sex. Maybe it’s just the presence of all the army men and rescue workers!” Anyone in Christchurch can access free condoms and lube by going to www.facebook.com/getiton.nz.