“Because I’m not out, its means I can’t risk my family/friends seeing me on the TV! I know non gays go, but my family would drill me why I was at such an event. Very staunch religious people. A mix of JW’s and staunch Presbyterians.” (Anon)
You could be excused for thinking these comments are from the 1970s or ‘80s. Actually they are the heart-felt concerns someone expressed about attending the recent Get It On! Big Gay Out. Despite successive law reforms, the fear of friends and family finding out about our sexuality is still a very real concern for some GLBTI people in New Zealand.
Lets be honest – I empathise with the angst shared by Anon. You can’t blame the media for their interest. The prospect of muscle boys in tight undies, drag queens in outrageous frocks and a smattering of sexually ambiguous and possibly staunch looking lesbians definitely has good shock value for TV, especially when you throw in the odd Prime Minister (God, keep him away from the Gangnam song – please!).
As the antithesis of ‘shame’, pride has been about visibility. Public demonstrations and marches have been one way to promote such visibility. These also provided a platform for which to publicly protest the laws (and lack of) that continued our oppression and discrimination in Aotearoa.
So in this respect, we are no strangers to controversy nor publicity. As the Gay Pride movement grew across New Zealand in the 1980s and ‘90s, we increasingly demanded change to the discriminatory laws that continued our oppression. No longer confined to the closets of our past, our sense of pride and unity for change brought us to the streets and the TV sets of kiwi households. Visibility showed us to be not so different after all. We were the ‘boy next door’, the ‘lovely couple in number 29’, and ‘those kids with two mothers’.
The passage of the Human Rights Act in 1993 meant that no longer could we be legally discriminated against because of our sexual orientation. The first HERO Parade in 1992 gave yet further impetus to our visibility. We flocked to the streets in Auckland and later Wellington to celebrate our diversity with our friends and our family. These grand parades became more like theatrical productions – choreographed, whimsical, with sometimes downright scary personifications of our sexual alter-egos. They often portrayed us as freaks and gave our opponents some good reasons to support their antagonistic positions.
Of course I was there, parading down Queen Street and then again along Ponsonby Road. Truthfully, feeling pretty alone perched on the back of the float. Just me – in my viking costume – the only person on the vast trailer. This wasn’t the way I invisaged the biggest outing of my life! I had a similar feeling participating in the Mr Gay NZ contest the following year. We were made to wear sponsors ‘fashion gear’ and undies/swimwear. Generally being anything but oursleves. This got too much in the end for many of us contestants and we demanded that for the results part of the show, we would come out onto the stage dressed in the clothes we felt most comfortable in. Bugger the sponsors! It was poignant enough that all of the results photos featured us the way we wished to be seen.
At the core – was my sense of pride about who I am and that I didn’t fit some of the usual stereotypes. I was quoted in M2M newspaper in February 1995 by Charles Bracewell as saying: “I was reassured by the fact that some people had come up to me before the event and said they were glad I was in it, because until then they hadn’t felt that there was anyone that represented their lifestyle or what they are interested in.”
Part of my coming out and burgeoning self acceptance was recognising that I didn’t fit the usual stereotypes and I didn’t have to. I know what she meant when Gloria Gaynor proclaimed “I am what I am”.
Yes – I am me! Proud to be different in ways I don’t feign. Proud to travel down from the rural backwater where I live to join with my cub and others who like me share their love for life and each other in their own unique way. Most of all, I hope Anon has had second thoughts and decides to join us for a celebration of pride.
Dave’s worked in community and public health for many years. One time winner of the Mr Gay Auckland & NZ titles, Dave tirelessly campaigned for Homosexual Law Reform and Human Rights Act changes. Following work with the NZAF and Auckland Pride Centre, Dave moved to Kerikeri where he now lives on a lifestyle farm with his animals, working as health promotion advisor for Northland DHB.