In celebration of the month of June, this post is about my experience attending Auckland Pride this year.

New Zealand’s most populated city hosts their LGBT Pride parade, or as they call it “Hero Parade,” in February rather than in June (Pride month in the USA).

The parade and LGBT people were not always so accepted in New Zealand, however, and LGBT needs continue to be ignored by the NZ government.

Realizing the parade was happening

Carolina, my month-long travel companion, and I had no idea Pride was taking place in Auckland the same weekend we would be there.

We had just finished an epic adventure around the South Island. I had booked a transfer car through Jucy from Wellington to Auckland with 3 days to make the transfer. I planned a day for us to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka “Mt. Doom”) and then make it to Auckland on February 19.

The parade, we found out, was to be held on Saturday, February 21.

We had little time to work out accommodation so we reached out to the Auckland couchsurfing network at the last minute. A young Thai woman living in Auckland city center offered a place to stay and to attend the parade with her boyfriend and group of friends. Perfect!

First impressions of the parade

I have been to a lot of Pride parades—mostly all over New York State including small towns for the last 10 years and New York City’s Pride events for the last 6 or so years.

In comparison to New York City, the Auckland Pride parade was like visiting a small-town Pride event or going back in time to NYC’s parade origins.

I eventually stopped attending NYC’s main Pride Parade opting instead for the smaller borough events or the annual Dyke march. Why? The Parade had gotten too commercialized and corporatized for me.

Today, the parade is a joke considering it started as a protest spurring from the Stonewall Riots of 1969—when mostly transgender women fought back against police who kept raiding village bars and clubs. The NYC Pride Parade used to have so much more angst behind its message and charm behind its cardboard painted signage. But not anymore.

On the other hand, Auckland’s Pride Parade was a truly feisty, charming cultural event.

At times, I felt like I was back in small town America where that grassroots community aura can still be felt at local Pride events each June.

Signage was quite literally hand-crafted by many of the participating groups.

Some floats were even pulled by farm tractors! This is New Zealand, after all!!

The best part were the Parade crew riding around on Segways!! I don’t know what it is about these things but I just think they are the most hilarious modes of transportation ever created.

There certainly were some big sponsors at the event—like major banks and ZM radio station who passed out the iconic rainbow flags held by every member of the crowd including myself.

But I didn’t feel like any of it drowned out the actual voices of the individuals participating in the event. And that’s the important part.

Maori people and LGBT acceptance

One aspect of the parade I absolutely loved seeing was the involvement of Maori people. The participation of New Zealand’s unique indigenous populations and representations of their cultural dress, dance, and other customs woven into the parade made the event particularly unique from parades I have been to elsewhere.

Before British colonization brought the influence of Christianity, sex between men was a common practice in Maori culture. Sex between two women is not as readily mentioned in historical texts but was clearly not condemned. In my brief research, I could not find anything on Maori history regarding people with non-binary gender identities or who may identify today as transgender, although transgender Maori people definitely exist today.

As a result of colonization, Maori culture became less accepting of LGBT behaviors and identities. Only when modern Western society became more accepting in the 2000s did Maroi culture become more accepting, too.

The term Takatāpui was adopted in modern times by Maori people to represent a simultaneous indigenous identification and LGBT identification in order to build understanding between LGBT and Maori.

The parade and its history

The parade today takes place on Ponsonby Rd as it did throughout the 1990s.

Back in the 90s, some political leaders suggested making the parade a “private” event held at a racecourse in which participants would have to pay for entry. The purpose? To prevent people from “accidentally” having to come across the event on the street.

LGBT folks fought this idea, stating how they have to “accidentally” come across heterosexuality in every facet of every space across the world. LGBT folks just wanted one street to walk down once a year. Is that too much to ask in a heterosexual-dominant world?

This year’s parade was the first to allow members of the police to march in the parade in uniform.

I watched as they approached a group of three protestors who broke through the barrier and marched against them. News reports described the three being arrested and mishandled by the police. Ironically, the protest was meant to be a reminder to parade-goers that the police have historically abused LGBT people.

Despite negativity from some politicians and attacks from police in the past (and present), the NZ government has generally shown more acceptance toward LGBT people than other nations.

Quick facts about Auckland Pride and New Zealand LGBT rights

  • The first gay pride events debuted February 1991 in Auckland and was a part of the Hero Parade and Festival (sometimes still called this today).
  • The Hero Parade faced many financial problems leading to its cancellation between 2002 and 2012, eventually returning for 2013, 2014 and 2015.
  • The Homosexual Law Reform Act legalized consensual sex between men 16 and over in 1986 in the midst of the AIDS crisis because officials believed a decrease in stigma toward gay people may help reduce transmission and improve treatment outcomes.
  • The Civil Union Act 2004 granted couples, including same-gender couples, recognition and benefits similar to New Zealand’s Marriage Act of 1955.
  • The Relationship Act prevents discrimination on the basis of relationship status giving all couples, whether civil union, married, or in a “de facto” relationship, the same rights and responsibilities.
  • A Definition of Marriage Amendment Bill was passed in 2013 granting legal recognition of same-gender marriages making New Zealand the 15th country in the world to recognize same-gender marriage.
  • The first out transsexual mayor in the world was New Zealand’s Georgina Beyer who also later became a New Zealand Member of Parliament.
  • The Human Rights Act 1993 does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, but the Human Rights Commission usually regards such violations as “sex” discrimination.

Identifying a population in need

The above human rights legislation in favor of LGBT New Zealanders definitely suggests the NZ government’s intentions to support its LGBT citizens.

However, New Zealand is not without its LGBT social issues.

One thing I have noticed is a general erasure of LGBT New Zealanders. For example, I have yet to see an organisation, medical form, or government document ask me or anyone else for sexual orientation or gender identity information in this country.

A little research revealed a 2013 census which identified a little over 16,000 same-gender couples living together in New Zealand. However, this one statistic provides little information about the social issues uniquely faced by LGBT New Zealanders.

My time volunteering at Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) has proved to me the NZ government has no measures in place to evaluate LGBT people’s specific needs.

Even CAB does not ask sexuality or gender identity of clients who come into their bureaux seeking advice. CAB headquarters is currently putting together a policy document on emergency housing including a race breakdown, age breakdown, male-female gender breakdown, and location breakdown of clients coming into CAB requesting help with finding emergency housing.

There is nothing in there about sexuality or gender which is concerning considering other Western societies have an LGBT homelessness problem. Up to 40% of homeless people in the United States are LGBT youth and that statistic doesn’t even include LGBT adults.

How does CAB and therefore the NZ government know who among those seeking emergency housing were LGBT? How does the NZ government know they aren’t being turned away from emergency housing because of their actual or perceived sexual/gender identities? How does the NZ government know that the housing they receive keeps them safe from violence as a result of homophobia and transphobia?

The answer? They don’t know.

The NZ government cannot help LGBT people if they don’t have a mechanism in place for identifying them in the first place.

I’m generally against labeling and categorizing, but when you get down to it there is an obligation to identify a population on the basis of gender and sexuality for practical purposes and policy changes in a time of sexual/gender inequality and discrimination.

I hope the Hero Parade takes up this statistical erasure issue for next February’s march down Ponsonby Rd. At the same time, I hope they keep all their wonderful cultural elements, hand-crafted signs and floats, and other fun features (like the segways!).

These aspects will keep the true Pride spirit alive!