7 September 2001
Navy wins award for sexual openness
by Julie Middleton
The Navy has won an award for its programme welcoming gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military – a field traditionally noted for Macho behaviour. The Equal Employment Opportunities Trust in Auckland last night bestowed the Manaaki Tangata Innovation Award on the Navy for its Sexual Orientation Support and Training Programme. At-sea training started in December last year, involving all staff. It was run by an openly gay man, Eugene Moore of consultancy Full Spectrum. He lived and worked alongside personnel.
"It’s a first for any Navy in the world," says Trudie McNaughton, the trust’s executive director and one of five judges. "Having an openly gay consultant at sea has been the first time for many of the heterosexual personnel that they have consciously mixed with a gay person, and that breaks down a huge amount of barriers." The Navy, in its candidacy for the awards, estimated that gays, lesbians and bisexuals numbered "at least 10 per cent of the sea-going population."
In implementing a programme welcoming gay, lesbian and bisexual people and educating others, it hoped to improve staff retention, reduce chances of blackmail, and improve staff morale and social interaction. A notable feature of the programme was genuine commitment by senior staff to tolerance and understanding, says Trudie McNaughton, "and that is 100 per cent the attitude expected at all the training".
"The route to promotion includes diversity awareness." Although the official ban on gay military personnel was lifted in 1993, the Navy admitted that "an unofficial ban within the RNZN was acknowledged.
June 8, 2001
Gay couples in NZ–same rights as married couples
A New Zealand politician wants to allow gay couples to get the same rights as married couples by officially registering their relationships. Labour MP Tim Barnett hopes the proposed Civil Union Bill will pass through Parliament next year. The country’s Marriage Act lets only opposite sex couples marry.
The Stuff website reports the new bill would apply to straight and gay couples, who would be able to have their relationships registered and gain similar rights to married couples. Mr Barnett said gay couples need more recognition to prevent action being taken against the Government for breaching the Human Rights Act. He said it’s logical to include heterosexual unmarried couples in the legislation, as they face similar problems.
6 June 2001
Congregation goes to court to get back into church
A congregation locked out of its church in an acrimonious dispute over the appointment of homosexual ministers has taken court action to get back into its place of worship. About 200 families connected with the Otahuhu Tongan Methodist Congregation in Fairburn Rd, Otahuhu, dissociated themselves from the New Zealand Methodist Church in 1999 after the church hierarchy decided to allow practising homosexuals to become ministers.
As a result of the increasingly bitter argument, they found themselves locked out of the church they had helped to raise $900,000 to build. Meanwhile, a small section of the congregation who did not go along with the dissenting majority was allowed to use the church. In the High Court at Auckland yesterday, lawyer Rod Hooker asked Justice Mark O’Regan to let the majority congregation back into the church pending a full court hearing.
He said the Tongan Methodist Church community joined the NZ Methodist Church in 1983/84, although with some misgivings. It is claimed that the Tongans were assured their churches would remain their property — something denied by the church’s lawyer, David Smith. Mr Hooker told the judge that at no stage in raising the money for the church in 1993 was it ever contemplated that the land and church property would be owned by the NZ Methodist Church.
He told the judge that his clients considered the decision to allow homosexuals to practise as ministers to be contrary to church doctrine and the teaching of the founder, John Wesley. The Methodist Church had walked away from church doctrine, he said, but his clients were not going to let them walk away with their church and their property.
Mr Smith told the judge that there was no evidence as to who the two plaintiffs, Viliami Palu and Viliami ‘Akau’olo, represented — although Justice O’Regan noted that the gallery was packed with 70 of their supporters. Mr Smith said the plaintiffs did not claim that they and their supporters had put up all the money for the church. He said that when the church was bought, the congregation was part of the Methodist Church of NZ.
The only possible expectation they could have had was that the church would be held in the name of the NZ Methodist Church for its uses. The claim that people were shocked to find that was so "cannot have any credence." Asked by the judge why the church was taking such a hard-nosed attitude in locking out the congregation, Mr Smith said that there had been harmony and agreement with other congregations who wished to secede, and churches were even shared. But the dispute over Fairburn Rd had been marked by "threats and bullying."
"The church has decided it must make a stand," he said. Mr Smith said people who had left the church had lost their rights within it. The church had an obligation to look after its own members, those who continued to worship at the church, he said. John Wesley had never said anything about homosexuals being appointed to the ministry and there had been no breach or alteration of church doctrine. Justice O’Regan reserved his decision.
11 May 2001
Anti-homosexual attitudes alive and well in NZ
by Melanie Bunce
I dislike the word content. It rids the world of ambition. To me, being happy involves striving for something better. Content is just a pretty word for stagnation. And as far as adjectives for describing social attitudes go, content is a pretty good one for right now. Most people think we have equality, that we live in an enlightened period of history and, for the most part, they are right. We’ve come a long way since slavery, since Oscar Wilde was put on trial, since women were treated like property. There is little outright discrimination or persecution.
But the people who deny there is any progress left to make are patently wrong. One of the most obvious examples is social attitudes towards sexuality. There are very few people left who believe sex or race can constitute superiority. Yet there seem to be many who are happy to label, insult, taunt, abuse and attack gays. I have met someone who told me, in all seriousness, that he thought all gay people should be put on an island away from the rest of humanity or, alternatively, lined up and shot. He added, with a look that showed he thought he was being completely reasonable, that he didn’t mind which, so long as he never had to see or talk to a gay person ever again.
How is this possible? He wasn’t that stupid (though he did tell me once that he thought American scientists were responsible for Aids, and that it had been introduced in an attempt to subdue Africans). How can people in a relatively enlightened time hold such strongly bigoted views on sexuality? Admittedly, this is an extreme example, but there are still a lot of judgemental attitudes floating around. I had some friends a while back who had the terrible misfortune to attend an all-boys school. And for those of you who didn’t know, the reason girls do better at school than boys is because boys are forced to dedicate all their expendable energy on defending their masculinity. They fight, they play rugby, they talk about cars, but mostly they call each other names. And mostly, insulting somebody involves questioning their sexuality — "Ugh, ya fag" or "bloody poof".
Sometimes just comparing them to women will do the trick — "ya woman’s blouse", "sissy" or, the tried and true, "girl". That’s just boys being boys, I hear you say. But it’s not just restricted to this testosterone-ridden world of adolescence. They word "gay" itself has become a negative adjective that can be used to describe just about anything. "Did you like the movie?" "Nah, it was gay". Now, I don’t want to make any rash assumptions here, but if a word describing sexual orientation is an insult, then what does that say about attitudes?
A friend of mine’s mother has listened to Kim Hill’s morning show since she first began doing them. She thinks Kim Hill is talented, intelligent, entertaining — all in all, excellent at what she does. But her devotion waned somewhat last year when Kim Hill graced the cover of Listener magazine. Basically, Kim Hill had just had her hair cut and my friend’s mother had the inkling that the recently cropped hair might in some way be connected to the radio personality’s sexuality. This avid fan decided that if her hunch was ever confirmed, she would stop listening to the show. Now, how can anyone tell me that is not ridiculous? If she liked the show, why should sexuality even come into it at all?
Similarly, when Metro magazine sponsored the Auckland Hero Parade a few years back, their readership dropped. Of all the reasons not to read Metro magazine, how can that even figure? Can you imagine a gay prime minister? Jenny Shipley already has a field day with the fact Helen Clark doesn’t have children, relishing in calling her a "spinster" whenever the opportunity presents itself. Imagine if she didn’t even have a husband! Imagine if she didn’t even want a husband! Jenny would go giddy from possessing the sole claim to family values. We have come a long way. I’m not denying that, I just don’t think it’s a good enough reason to stop. Not actively discriminating and equality are two very different things.
Melanie Bunce is a Dunedin student.
26 April 2001
Gay tourism: Are we ready?
by Tom McKinlay
Most Invercargill ratepayers would not support gay tourism, Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said. In his newspaper column at the weekend, Mr Shadbolt asked whether Invercargill should promote itself as a gay destination. He said this week he was not opposed to gay tourists visiting Southland and was a liberal but that might not be the majority view in Invercargill. "I think the majority of people would see it as a moral issue," Mr Shadbolt said. They might oppose the use of ratepayers’ money to advertise Southland tourism in gay magazines, he said. The issue came up because he was asked at a tour operators’ function to arrange the Southland itinerary for a group of wealthy gay travellers. "I panicked a bit because I thought, ‘God, where am I going to take them’," he said.
Big cities such as Auckland and Sydney could handle promoting themselves to gay tourists without it "rubbing off." However, it could rub off on Southland and discourage other more traditional areas of tourism such as duck shooting, fishing and deer hunting, Mr Shadbolt said. Asked if gay people might also go duck shooting or fishing, Mr Shadbolt said they might. A gay and lesbian internet guide to Invercargill says the city "can be used as a base for exploring the other areas of Southland, Fiordland, the Catlins coast and Stewart Island." The city offers "a wide variety of accommodation, restaurants and shopping," the website says. Gay activities listed on internet sites included walking the Milford and Routeburn tracks and skiing. Gaytravel Net spokesman Chris McKellar said communities needed to decide whether they supported gay tourism before looking to get involved. It was no good advertising to attract some of the $150 million spent in New Zealand annually by gay tourists, if operators were not welcoming when visitors arrived, Mr McKellar said.
A gay ski event in Queenstown in 1999 had divided the community and the council and led to some tour operators being threatened. By contrast, Wellington City Council had a gay-friendly policy, he said.
27 April 2001
Resort would welcome gays
by Sue Fea
Gay tourists in Queenstown would not be treated any differently than a visiting rugby team, gay-friendly Mayor Warren Cooper said on Thursday. He described Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt’s comments this week that most city ratepayers would not support gay tourism as totally out of date. "It’s live and let live – we’ve got to come into this millennium.
"My advice to gays would be come to Queenstown because we don’t even question if we’re ready," Mr Cooper said. "Gay tours won’t be any different to a rugby team – a group of people with their own personal preferences." They should not be discriminated against. Highly amused at Mr Shadbolt’s attitude to gay tourism, Mr Cooper said the name of his town summed up its gay friendliness perfectly. "The name of this town is, ironically, Queenstown and, of course, a lot of the coaches that come into town drop people off in Camp Street," Mr Cooper said.
"Without a doubt our town is gay-friendly." Queenstown did not discriminate against race, creed, religion or personal preferences but did deter criminal activity. "We certainly would not be party to any persecution of them," he said. Mr Cooper’s views show Queenstown’s attitude to homosexuals has changed markedly in recent years. In 1994, before Mr Cooper became mayor, it was the only district in New Zealand to formally oppose an NZ Tourism Board gay marketing campaign. Then two years ago, a gay ski event proposal did not proceed amid divided opinions about gays. And Queenstown Lakes District councillor Chris Blackford has publicly opposed gay-friendly tourism policies. His stance had not changed. "We’re friendly to everybody but we don’t need to know their sexual persuasion," Cr Blackford said. The 1999 plans for a Gay Winter Festival had prompted at least one Queenstown operator to phone Destination Queenstown chief executive David Kennedy expressing disapproval. However, Mr Kennedy said gay tourism happened "whether we like it or know it or not."
February 10, 2001
Hero Parade–Hot in pursuit of the pink dollar
(More recent news about Hero Parade):
TV3 News (http://www.tv3.co.nz/)
17 December 2001
Main Hero Parade Cancelled
Auckland’s Hero Festival organisers have cancelled this summer’s
main parade because of a lack of sponsorship. A much smaller gay
pride march will take place in early February, according to the organisers,
and the usual big parade will return in 2003.
by Michele Hewitson
Love those cheesy, wholesome smiles. Those squeaky-clean faces, that aroma of toothpaste and shampoo which almost oozes off the page. This is an ad for beer and it says, at first glance, that normal is good. Normal is desirable. Normal is living happily ever after in a nice heterosexual relationship, drinking a nice cold beer on the deck with friends who are just like you. But the catchline reads: Thank God for Hero. Carlton Cold is the official beer of Hero 2001. Which, as we all know, is a festival run by queers, celebrating queer lifestyles. It’s clever then, this ad. It does what an advertisement should do: makes you look once, then again. It might take a while to get it. Which is a reasonable enough metaphor for the fact that it has taken a while for big companies, like Foster’s, which makes Carlton Cold, to wake up to the fact that there is money in the gay community.
It has also, admits Steve Berry-Smith, director of sponsorship for Hero, taken the festival organisers some time to wake up to the fact that they had a commodity — access to the so-called pink dollar — which gave them bargaining power. The first Hero parade was held in 1991. Last year, the festival was parade free, a legacy of a hard-pressed trust struggling with a $180,000 debt. "For the past four years we’ve come out with debt," says Mr Berry-Smith, yet "some people are doing quite well [out of Hero]. Previously, it was, ‘Ooh, neat. Isn’t it good that people do that.’ We were naive."
No longer. This year Hero has turned away brands and products from companies wanting to use Hero to enhance brand awareness without being visible supporters. "If we can bring 200,000 people up to Ponsonby Rd on a Saturday night, and you have a new whirly-gig, that’s a wonderful opportunity to give away thousands of them." Mr Berry-Smith says Hero has had dozens of calls from whirly-gig manufacturers "saying, ‘We’ll give you free such and such,’ and we’re meant to be lit up about that. And we would have been — once." Plans involve, a la Sydney Mardi Gras, entering into percentage deals with accredited agencies selling tickets to Hero events.
This year Hero set out with a goal, deliberately high, of $400,000 in sponsorship deals. Mr Berry-Smith says they netted around $300,000 in products and cash. How much is being seen to support the gay community worth to such companies? Well, the first point is that companies like Foster’s do not actually couch their support in such terms. The preferred line is that Hero is, in the words of Foster International’s New Zealand vice-president, Andrew Bonner, one of Auckland’s best-loved festivals. "It is very much being involved with the event rather than targeting the pink dollar." He is not even so sure that there is such a thing as the pink dollar.
"It’s a nice marketing and journalistic catchphrase, but I’m not sure how homogeneous the pink dollar is. There are the haves and have nots in the gay community, as much as there are in any walk of society." He says Carlton Cold is simply pitched at the 18-to-24 market. Which could be taken as having it both ways: a company gets to target a market without alienating its mainstream customers. It is difficult, says Mr Berry-Smith, for some big companies to say "yes" to sponsoring Hero. "It’s whether it damages their other marketplaces. And I think it’s hard for companies like the breweries, who often have their very rugged campaigns going on with other brands." But a buck’s a buck — "The important thing is they’re doing it."
A difficulty in the past has been convincing potential sponsors that there is an advantage in tapping into that mythical pink dollar. Last year, the Hero Charitable Trust commissioned Ernst & Young to prepare a report on how Hero affects the Auckland economy. Done in a year without the parade — which has been both the focal point for Hero and the point where Hero becomes a meeting place for members of the homosexual and heterosexual communities alike — the report looked across to Hero’s bigger, older and wealthier drag queen sister, Sydney’s Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras, now in its 22nd year, attracts around 5000 international visitors and 7000-plus partygoers from within Australia. In 1998, it was estimated to have contributed $A41 million ($50.5 million) to the Australian economy. Ernst & Young estimates, based on 2000 levels, that total spending at the Hero Festival is $2 million to $4 million. It calculates that in the next two to three years Hero could contribute $3 million in GDP to theAuckland regional economy. Over a three to five-year period, the festival could develop into an event attracting at least 250 to 500 international visitors (this year Hero closes a week before Sydney’s Mardi Gras, an attempt to pick off gay travellers doing the festival circuit), and 1000 to 1500 domestic visitors. A loop could be further developed, says the report, between Mardi Gras, Hero and an increasingly popular event in Alice Springs.
Hero is still a baby in comparison, but it is the time companies come out of the closet, so to speak, to actively — or more covertly — court the gay market. But the pink dollar is not a magic note which disappears the minute the marching boys have gone home to put their feet up. How much of it is out there is difficult to calculate not least because, as Claire Gummer, former longtime editor of Express magazine, points out, "It’s difficult to track from pocket to till, because people who are gay don’t necessarily have a little purple button they wear." Or as Soala Wilson — voted Pacific Island businesswoman of the year in 1991 and owner, with her partner, Christine Taylor, of The Works salon in Grey Lynn — asks: if the gay dollar’s the pink dollar, what colour is the straight dollar? She estimates, though, that 50 per cent of her clients are gay. Not that she counts them as they come in the door. Nor does she put a sign outside saying "Gay friendly."
It’s a mix of word of mouth, she believes, of having been in business for 12 years, of providing a non-judgmental environment with good service. She is grateful for that support and believes it’s a two-way deal. The Works is involved with the Hero event Good Hair Day, a fundraising event for Herne Bay House, a residence for people with HIV. Following the pink dollar off Ponsonby Rd and into the heart of tourism land, the Bay of Islands, Michael Hooper, co-owner of the Homestead, a quality lodge which does target overseas gays, says you have to be genuine to attract that market. "I’m not saying you have to be a raving poof to attract the pink dollar, but if you’re doing it for purely commercial reasons, and you don’t really have any interest in supporting the gay market, you’re likely to have only cynical success."
He estimates that 5 to 10 per cent of his visitors are pink-dollar spenders, or slightly more than 10 per cent in winter, when the Homestead attracts visitors from Auckland. "But if you believe what you hear, that’s probably not too much different to the natural incidence in the population base anyway." Smart advertisers acknowledge that there is money in the gay population, says Terry Fergusson, sales and marketing manager at Express. The Hero issue features two full-page colour ads from Vodafone. "There isn’t a queen in town who wouldn’t have a cellphone," says Mr Fergusson. It’s a loyalty dollar, he agrees. "We do support people who support us." And that’s across the board, he says, from cosmetics to real estate. "It’s not just about sex and alcohol, not any more. It’s about money."
How much money? Richard Todd, director of Cornerstone Publications, which publishes Express, offers a 1999 readership survey by research company ARC. Express has a readership of 40,000-plus and 255 readers responded to the survey. There are reservations about such surveys. Bear in mind that they represent a self-selecting sample and, as Mr Todd notes, you "extrapolate the findings out to every gay and lesbian person in New Zealand at your peril." Still, the survey makes for some showy figures with which to entice advertisers. If you do take Express readers as at all representative of the market, they conform to the stereotype (of the gay man, at least): well-educated high earners with plenty of disposable income. Sixty per cent of male respondents reached tertiary levels of education. Thirty-two per cent of female readers and 44 per cent of male readers earned over $40,000 a year. According to the 1996 census, the average personal income in Auckland and Wellington is between $21,201 and $28,981.
That high-earner stereotype is what attracts some companies. The gay male is renowned, says Andrew Bayliss, general manager of Peugeot New Zealand, "for going after stylish products. Something that’s got a bit of pizazz and something a little bit different." Hence Peugeot is using Hero to launch the 206 Coupe-Cabriolet. "With me," says the ad, "you’re the ultimate fashion accessory. So when the party’s over, why not take me shopping with you?" Peugeot has not done any market research to indicate that the gay market is the right target market for the car (which is also aimed at those known in the market research business as upper socio female).
Market research in New Zealand on the pink dollar offers slim pickings. Its very existence, says Graham Seatter, director of corporate affairs and sponsorship at Lion Breweries, is based "more on personal observation than anything else." "But how you identify it and capture it and measure it, I don’t know." Lion was a sponsor of Hero 1999 with its Ice beer brand. It was squeezed out by Foster’s this year but, although its involvement in 1999 was "not a huge success," Mr Seatter says the company would have looked at getting involved again — with a premium brand, this year. "We wondered whether the brand wasn’t quite the right fit. The event is very Auckland, quite a premium crowd." That is one market lesson hopeful hunters of the pink dollar should take on board. The Homestead’s Mr Hooper has another: you can’t just put your flag out and say you’re open for pink-dollar business.
"The gay market," he observes after six years of putting out cognac-filled truffles on folded-down sheets, "is the most picky. I reckon anyone who can keep high-income gay clientele happy could keep anyone happy."
9 February 2001
Gay culture celebrated in Hero festival
by Julian Slade
Auckland’s gay community comes out to celebrate its culture today in the Hero festival, an event that has given new meaning to the word. Rex Halliday is the man behind Hero. The former New Zealand Aids Foundation worker was among a group of 12 volunteers who coined the phrase ten years ago. Standing in a Aotea Square draped with pink Hero flags, Mr Halliday smiles at the irony of gays going mainstream, having their party in the heart of the city with Auckland City Council support.
It wasn’t always that way. The festival, march and parade initially met resistance from religious groups and right wingers, some in powerful positions. And the controversial gay pride event almost wasn’t called Hero. "Someone suggested Hero and the immediate reaction was no way, says Mr Halliday. "The word hero was so associated with the muscle-bound, hyper-bodied destroyer — hardly a heroic figure."
But Mr Halliday beleived "hero" definitely applied to the gay community. "It’s about coming to terms with who you are in a cultural environment that is incredibly negative to homosexuals. Most young men and women go through an incredible amount of difficulty coming to a point where they can tell other people they are gay. The compromises can be terrible. "The courage to stand up to people and say this is who I am is an heroic act. Hero is a very apt word for who we are." The use of the word stirred up a few strait-laced folk, but Mr Halliday points out the word originated in ancient Greece where heroes, such as Hercules, commonly had a number of boyfriends.
Mr Halliday had worked with the New Zealand Aids Foundation since 1986 and helped organise the initial Hero party in 1991. Its success showed the enthusiasm for an annual gay event. In 1992, he set up the Hero Trust with Bruce Kilmister to safeguard the festival’s future. "Hero has evolved since then but I still have a big place for Hero in my heart, I care a lot about it. "I’m just delighted to see the pink flag all over the place and pleased to see Hero has had a big impact on the wider community which has become more aware and accepting of gay and lesbian people."
Human rights leglislation has made it illegal to discriminate against gays and mainstream attitudes have become more tolerant, but Mr Hallidays says normalising long-term gay relationships would help fight deeply-held social prejudices. Mr Halliday thinks it has become easier for gay people to be open about their sexuality but he fears gays are often typecast by the media who often portray them as camp stereotypes.He says prejudice still remains in families, the workplace and schools which makes life difficult for young people coming to terms with their sexuality.
Overseas research shows young gay and lesbians are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, says Mr Halliday. The 2001 Hero Festival opens in an 7.30pm outdoor celebration at Aotea Square tonight and continues with a free party at the Civic Winter Garden. This year’s festival party is at the Auckland Town Hall, after the February 17 parade along Ponsonby Rd.
28 January 2001
Life’s a drag
As the Queen City gets ready for Hero, Amanda Linnell comes face to carefully lipsticked face with the newest drag queens — chic, youthful and very family friendly. I’m sitting in the Hero office in Ponsonby, Auckland, chatting to a quietly spoken 21-year-old. Dressed in rolled up jeans, T-shirt and Birkenstock sandals, with a whisper of a goatee on his chin, Adam Burrell is just like any other Gen-Xer — although he does tend to gesticulate with his hands a little more than the average guy. "Wait until tonight," he promises with a husky laugh. "You won’t recognise me."
That evening a small Japanese hatch-back pulls up to the curb and out pours Adena Deelites — Amazonian tall in the highest of high stilettos, the shortest of short dresses and the wildest of wild make-up and wig. "Hello darH-ling," and mwmmph she plants a kiss on my cheek. "Ohh it’s sooo hot with all this make-up on. Are my tits straight?" Burrell started wearing drag at 17 when he was starting to go out in the gay scene. He began performing not long after when he moved to the South Pacific’s drag capital, Sydney.
"It’s when I start putting on my make-up that I start to go into character," explains Burrell. "It’s like having a split personality — it’s really freaky. Don’t try to analyse it. But that’s the fun of it. When I’m in drag I’m someone completely different — a character with her own individuality. When I first started out it was just me with a wig on, but now it’s so much more. "I’m very attracted to the glamour of it all. In the gay scene, because drag queens do shows and are on stage, it’s kind of like being a star.
And ultimately I do want to be a star. To be a drag star? I’m not so sure." Fact: Drag queens do not want to be women. That’s for transsexuals — men who are undergoing or have undergone an operation to change their gender. Fact: There are very few, if any, straight drag queens. Straight males who dress up in woman’s clothing are known as transvestites and generally they socialise in a totally different scene. Although, the occasional lawyer or city businessman can be spotted comparing hemlines with a drag queen in bars such as Karangahape Road’s Caluzzi Bar. Auckland is the centre of New Zealand’s drag culture — the general consensus is that the further south you go the more conservative it gets. The world of the performing drag queen is highly competitive — there are a lot more girls than gigs.
It is also, says Burrell, an extremely bitchy world, especially if you’re a young guy starting out. "I’m lucky because I started performing in Sydney and had a really good response there. So I thought if I could make it in Sydney, I can make in Auckland. But when I got back people wouldn’t give you the time of day, you’d be lucky if they even talked to you. They’d say horrible things behind your back. Unfortunately, it’s kind of known as a drag thing — to be bitchy unless you’re gorgeous or they can get something out of you. But I try to avoid all that and concentrate on performing."
Burrell is a new kid on the block compared to The Divine Ms K — the mother of all queens as she is fondly called in gay circles. The man behind the make-up, pink frocks and Bette Lynch-style blonde wigs is Wayne Otter. He’s been in and out of the drag scene since the ’60s. "Things were very different back then," says the 47-year-old, who manages the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Aids Foundation Support and Counselling Service. "It was definitely a lifestyle issue. You couldn’t go to work as a boy and then go out in drag in the evening.
The gay culture itself was quite underground in comparison with today. You’d knock on a door and they’d slide open a little window to see if they’d let you in. Then there were also places like Mojos and Tinkerbells, or Les Girls in Sydney where you had great big drag productions put on." Otter left the scene completely in the ’80s. He married and had two children. "That was the right thing for me to do at the time. I see sexuality as being fluid — who you are today may be different from who you are tomorrow." Today, he’s a gay man with an ex-wife and two children who support his love of performing. They all went to see him at the last Hero Parade. "Drag for me is a release. I work in an environment that at times can be quite intense, and drag gives me the freedom to let go."
Thanks to movies such as Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the genre has crossed into the mainstream and most drag queens get their work at "straight" gigs. This usually involves doing a show which involves lip-synching and dancing to a song. Payment: $100 per song. Otter’s act is somewhat longer, about 20 minutes and involves a lot of comedy. He’ll do anything from corporate parties to stag parties, hen’s nights, birthdays and wedding parties. "I like to have a bit of information about the person and then interweave a story into the act. I usually start by screaming into the room and saying ‘You didn’t invite me because you thought I’d embarrass you, well boy you’re going to find out what embarrassment is now!’ Straight audiences are generally more appreciative than the gay community which can be a bit blase."
When it comes to being the Divine Ms K (which stands for Kandy, Kinky, K’ Rd or KY – take your pick) Otter draws inspiration from the greats; Danny La Rue, Niccole Duval one of New Zealand’s very first drag queens and Carmen who was part of the Wellington scene in the ’60s. "I just admire their courage and strength. Those were the days when if you walked down the street dressed in drag you’d be charged. There are older drag people around today, who may not look their best, but they were our forefathers — or should that be foremothers — who made it safe for us today to go out without being hassled or arrested.
"Compared to other countries in the world, I think we’re a lot further down the track when it comes to human rights and homosexual law reform. We’re quite progressive in many ways when it comes to legislation and our political climate. In what other country do you get the prime minister coming to watch a gay, lesbian, trans-gender parade? That doesn’t even happen in Australia." Kneel Halt started doing drag in the ’80s at The Palace, a straight club in Wellington. "We used to perform behind a fishing net to stop the bottles being thrown at us."
Today, he is one of the most sought-after drag acts, with his character of eight years DeeZaStar. Two years spent at drama school and acting has helped him create a more innovative and original show. "I love the comedy of what drag does. It brings several styles together and fuses them to make a social comment. Ironically, drag is quintessentially a masculine act. You need that male aggression to wear what you’re wearing and to be brave enough to go out and deal with the punters. The louder you are the safer you are." You’d have to be pretty brave to take on DeeZaStar — who comes in a number of guises including being 2.7m tall on stilts with devil’s horns and spikes.
Halt makes all his own costumes which are futuristic and don’t all require tucking (the term used for the often painful but necessary hiding of one’s masculinity) or breasts. Although if breasts are needed, he uses stockings stuffed with rice and wheat. "They’re good for bounce." DeeZaStar’s act includes costume changes, fire breathing and sparks flying from an angle grinder attached to a codpiece. "I do see it as an artform," says 34-year-old Halt. "DeeZaStar is drag-based, but I’d describe her as club artist provocateur. Provoking thought and reaction."
As drag becomes mainstream the crossover with other forms of performance is likely to become more common. Just don’t ever call a drag queen a performance artist. In this highly competitive business, creating more avant-garde and innovative acts will become more common. Already, there are Drag Kings — women who dress and perform as men. "No matter how mainstream drag becomes," says Burrell, "you’re always going to get noticed — that’s what drag is all about. It’s getting attention and playing with it — that’s what I love."
12 November 2001
Nod for lesbian minister
by Matt Conway
Most parishioners at St Andrew’s Presbyterian church in Wellington want a gay Christchurch reverend to become their next minister. The Rev Dr Margaret Mayman yesterday won heartening support from the St Andrew’s congregation in a secret ballot. "I’m really encouraged by the decision and the level of support," Dr Mayman said. The Press understands she won the backing of more than two-thirds of the St Andrew’s churchgoers. Dr Mayman, 43, is minister of Riccarton’s St Ninian’s church and shares a home with her partner and 14-year-old son. She was invited to apply for the vacant position as minister at St Andrew’s. But some parishioners are opposed to homosexual ministers and have threatened a walkout. One woman resigned in protest after the vote but there was no indication others would follow, said the Rev Pamela Tankersley, who nominated Dr Mayman for the appointment. The Wellington Presbytery – a regional group of ministers and lay people – will decide next week whether to back the call by St Andrew’s churchgoers. Should that hurdle be cleared, it will then be up to Dr Mayman to accept the job. "I’m going to make that decision at the end of the process," she said.
12 November 2001
Homeless gay, transsexual teens resort to ‘survival sex’
by Polly Greeks
Gay and transsexual teenagers thrown out of their homes for their sexuality are dropping out of school and taking up sex work to survive because social welfare is failing to provide for them. New Zealand Prostitutes Collective male sex worker project co-ordinator Calum Bennachie said he knew of about 10 teenagers in this situation selling sex on Wellington’s streets this year. "Most times it’s what we call survival sex . . . There’s quite a big difference between survival sex and prostitution."
Anadi Nemrava, organiser of New Zealand’s only high school based queer youth group, is negotiating with officials to set up emergency foster care for homeless gay teens. He came across an average of two teenagers each year who were kicked out of home when their parents learnt they were gay or transsexual. "They’re often given no warning. It can be the middle of the night. They have no money and nowhere to go." They were leaving school to find jobs to support themselves "and some are ending up working in prostitution".
Wellington police community services co-ordinator Tony Moore said he’d come across only a few cases of homeless gay and transsexual teens surviving as sex workers during the 20 years he’d spent with youth aid, but knew the police didn’t hear of many cases. "It’s a very emotive issue. The kids and their families don’t come forward with that sort of information." Mr Bennachie said the homeless teens he had encountered were mainly from the transsexual community. Most were over 16. "They like to try and be independent but because there is no entitlement to a benefit till they’re over 18 . . . quite often they’re driven to sex work or theft."
However, Child Youth and Family youth services supervisor Phillip Treacher said teenagers over 16 could apply for the emergency independent youth benefit, though he admitted this could be a lengthy process. Mr Nemrava said teens were intimidated by the process, and were often ashamed to explain their circumstances. "Of the kids I’ve known go through Winz (Department of Work and Income) I’ve only seen one persevere to get on the benefit. "What we’re trying to set up is a short-term interim solution of emergency food and housing." It would provide for kids till long-term care was found.
CYF, the Prostitutes Collective, Wellington City Council and the police had been helping establish the scheme, which could involve teens being placed temporarily with gay foster parents of the opposite sex. Mr Moore said an official scheme would ensure caregivers had no criminal convictions as well as providing them with training and funding. Council youth development co-ordinator Lorraine Collinson said the council was aware of the problem of survival sex among gay and transsexual teens. It supported Mr Nemrava’s plan.
1 November 2001
Radical human rights changes
Advocates of same sex marriages could have a new weapon under radical changes planned for the Human Rights Act. A parliamentary select committee has endorsed changes which would open up the government and current laws to review by a special human rights tribunal. Radical changes to the act will see the Human Rights Commission merged with the Race Relations Office. The commission will take on an advocate’s role in educating and promoting human rights, including the Treaty of Waitangi.
And for the first time the government will be subject to the act, meaning a special tribunal can hear complaints about laws people feel are inconsistent, including the Marriage Act. The changes will also allow disabled people to challenge inequalities such as the rule that allows blind people to keep their benefit when in paid work but not the deaf.
"What this law is all about is saying that the government is not above people," justice select committee chairman Tim Barnett said. But the changes, and the impact on parliament, have not pleased everyone. National MP Wayne Mapp says they will result in politically correct education and human rights issues. "It is also an attack on the sovereignty of parliament," Mapp said. The new law is due to take effect on January 1. Parliament’s justice and electoral select committee has endorsed the changes but they must still go through the final phase in parliament – a phase the opposition is pledging to fight.
27th January 2002
The days of the new schoolyard: 16 yo comes out on TV
By Robyn McLean
Admitting he was gay on camera was a bold move for 16 year-old Troy, but he hopes it will help other teenagers be upfront about their sexuality. Troy, who features in a television documentary series following the lives of nine Auckland students aged between 16 and 18, said while he had no problem revealing he was gay on film, his mother and boyfriend tried to talk him out of it. "I wanted to [say] ‘this is who I am, deal with it’. It’s just a sex preference," he said. Despite a three-hour round trip to Selwyn College, Troy chose to go there because students at his previous school hassled him about his sexuality. Troy and his fellow Selwyn College students were captured by three camera crews over six months for the programme School Rules.
The situations they deal with during the series aren’t out of the ordinary – the school ball, one girl’s search for a boyfriend, the pressure of looming exams but producer Bettina Hollings says the programme will show viewers today’s teens are more grown up than we think. Talking openly in front of a camera was easy, said Troy, but the fact the results would soon appear on national television was "quite daunting". Fellow student and avid rollerskater Amber, 17, said her mother was also apprehensive. In the first episode, which screens on Tuesday on TV3, viewers see Amber move into her first flat. Amber decided to attend Selwyn after some students at her former school started rumours she was on drugs. "I’m hyperactive. [It’s hard] to be told that you’re a druggie when you’re trying your very hardest."
4 January 2001
Changing perceptions: first transsexual member of parliament
by Steve Dow
Little places can wring big changes. And so it is with Carterton, a conservative, rural New Zealand town northeast of Wellington that took to heart a tall, glamorous woman, knowing she was once a man, and made her mayor. The mayoral gig lasted five years and in February last year, Georgina Beyer wrested the blue-ribbon, conservative seat of Wairarapa for Helen Clark’s Labour Party. New Zealand – indeed, the world – had its first transsexual member of parliament. Beyer is a former theatre, film and television actor, appearing in the soap opera ‘Close to Home’ – first cast as a man, and a few years later, as a woman. She spent her early adult years in Wellington doing drag, stripping in seedy clubs and selling her body for sex.
The people who elected Beyer knew of this prostitution. It wasn’t an issue. "I get asked questions no other politician would ever have to answer," Beyer, 44, laments in an interview between sittings of parliament in Wellington. "Regarding the surgery, you know. ‘Did it hurt?’, or ‘When you have sex now as a woman, is it different to how you had sex as a man?’ "Well, honey, obviously."
The throaty kookaburraish laugh lets you in on the secret. Beyer is loving the new role. "If comic timing and brave honesty were the measure of an MP," waxed one report in ‘The New Zealand Herald’, "Georgina Beyer would be Prime Minister". Beyer’s maiden speech in parliament was notable. With the gay-rights friendly PM looking on, she said: "I was quoted once as saying this was the stallion that became a gelding and now she’s a mare. I suppose I do have to say that I have now found myself to be a member. So I have come full circle, so to speak."
On the eve of an appearance at a forum for Melbourne’s Midsumma Gay and Lesbian Arts and Cultural Festival, Beyer is sharpening her celebrated wit. "I think humour has always been a powerful communicator if it’s done well. And so, yeah, it helps me to break the ice." Indeed, Beyer has brought a comic timing a little like ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ meets Dame Edna Everage to parliamentary proceedings, but she also has a serious side. She is helping the NZ government draft a civil unions bill that would recognise same-sex relationships – not quite the legal definition of marriage, but with the same intent.
Indigenous issues count, too – she is part Maori. Aware that fellow parliamentarians could use her background against her, in 1999 she laid out her life in a disarmingly frank autobiography in the lead-up to the election. "You get your moral outrage and you get some of the redneck element," she says, "but I’ve never experienced discrimination from my colleagues in the parliament. They’ll always judge me on ability and that’s the way it should be."
Born George Bertrand in 1957, her father Jack disappeared quickly and her mother, Noeline, left her in the care of her grandparents. She started playing dress-ups with a girlfriend, Joy, at about age four. "I was happier dressed as a girl than a boy," Beyer wrote in her autobiography, ‘A Change for the Better’. Beyer did not learn about transvestism until she reached Wellington and became part of the gay and drag scene at age 17.
Over the next 10 years, George intermittently dabbled in acting, stripping, and prostitution, taking hormones to be Georgina. Australia has not always been so kind to Beyer. In the late 1970s, she hit rock bottom in Kings Cross and was brutally raped by four men, who intensified the assault when they discovered she had a penis. She describes her sex reassignment surgery of 1984 as "the most significant and greatest achievement of my life".
Beyer is still mulling over exactly what she will say in Australia, a country she says has made headway with indigenous reconciliation. But she stops short when John Howard’s name is mentioned. "Well, your prime minister – yes," she hesitates. "I might have some things to say about John Howard … I’ll be speaking along the lines of embracing diversity. Of leaders actually showing leadership by taking action." .
Georgina Beyer appears as the Midsumma festival’s guest at the Equal Opportunity Commission on January 14 at 6pm. Ph: 94159819. Entry goldcoin donation. . MIDSUMMA gay & lesbian arts & cultural festival; Melbourne, Australia. 12th January – 3rd February, 2002. http://www.midsumma.org.au; Office: Fitzroy Town Hall, Napier St, Fitzroy, Victoria 3065 Australia; Postal: PO Box 2248, Fitzroy Business Centre, Fitzroy, Victoria 3065 Australia; Tel: +61 3 9415 9819; Fax: +61 3 9415 9817; E-mail: email@example.com
10 February 2001
By George! Transsexual MP Georgina Beyer’s life story on film
Georgina Beyer’s life story has been sold to Australia and Britain even before it has screened on New Zealand TV. Lynda Hallinan meets the documentary makers. Never mix sex with politics: unless you’re making a documentary about the extraordinary life of Wairarapa MP Georgina Beyer. Then you can openly combine politics with prostitution, drugs, dancing and drag queens – and more than a splattering of sequins to glam things up.
The world’s first transsexual MP, Beyer’s rags-to-riches story has already been well-documented. But it’s a story that can stand retelling. Georgie Girl is a new documentary produced and co-directed by Annie Goldson, in collaboration with gay novelist and director Peter Wells that screens on TV One next month. Goldson, an associate professor Auckland University’s department of film, television and media studies, has a history of making social-political documentaries.
Her last film, Punitive Damage, told the story of Helen Todd, who successfully sued the Indonesian government after her son Kamal was gunned down during the Dili masssacre in East Timor. Beyer’s story offered a similar mix of politics and human drama. "I remember watching the television footage of Georgina at the RSA [when Beyer was elected to parliament in 1999] and it immediately struck me as such an anomaly, how someone transgendered and of indigenous descent could be elected by a largely white, rural electorate.
It seemed such a quintessentially New Zealand story." Goldson’s success with Punitive Damage – which won a swag of international awards – helped secure funding for Georgie Girl, with grants from New Zealand on Air, TV One, SBS in Australia and from the Soros Documentary Fund of Open Society. The documentary has already been sold to SBS and Channel 4 in England and will screen this year at the Sydney and Brisbane International Film Festivals, with Melbourne on the cards. Goldson is negotiating with buyers in Germany, the US and Canada.
Given the sensational nature of Beyer’s life, it would have been easy for Georgie Girl to stray into tabloid-style voyeurism. But it never does, largely because of the decision not to use linking narration. "I prefer talking heads," Goldson explains, "and who could speak better for Georgina than herself?" It helped that Wells and Beyer are friends, having known each other since the mid-’80s when Wells directed her in the half-hour television drama Jewel’s Darl. "It was the first piece of what you might call queer television in New Zealand," he recalls.
It was a milestone for Beyer too: her role saw her nominated in the 1987 New Zealand Film and Television Awards, for best actress. "Even then, as an actress she showed some of the qualities she has since developed as a politician, such as reliability and honesty," he says. That honesty hasn’t always worked in Beyer’s favour. When she was running for the Carterton mayoralty 60 Minutes reporter Genevieve Westcott asked what it was like having sex for the first time as a woman. Ian Fraser pressed her on post-operative pain. "The media kept presenting her as a sort of show-biz style freak," Wells says. "That line of questioning is so hurtful.
Georgie is a tough person, but she’s capable of being hurt just like anyone else." The documentary’s most telling moment is Beyer’s admittance that her public profile has sacrificed any chance of a normal heterosexual relationship. "I do come home at the end of the day by myself. There is no one lying in bed with me . . . I know I’ll live to regret it. I regret it now in some respects." Despite the highs and lows, Georgie Girl presents Beyer’s life within the mellow glow of nostalgia. "We found some amazing archive footage – stuff that even Georgina hadn’t seen for a long time," says Goldson.
"In the 1970s, television was obsessed with what they called the ‘twilight zone’ and with New Zealand being such a small country, Georgina ended up in a lot of it." This old footage, coupled with Country Calendar-style images of green pastures and sheep races at Castlepoint, has been juxtaposed to exploit the dichotomy of Beyer’s life as politician and gay icon. At times it is almost comedic: here’s Georgina the drag queen; there’s Georgina meeting the Queen. The issue of prostitution is also tackled with humour.
Carmen, our most famous transsexual and a major figure in Beyer’s life, throatily jokes that her coffee lounge in the 1970s offered "supper downstairs, sweets upstairs". Even the images of Beyer in parliament look as if they could have been filmed three decades ago. It’s so kitsch, so kiwiana, with a refreshingly non-urbanite supporting cast of Beyer’s friends and constituents. Georgie Girl is delightfully upbeat and Beyer’s story so inspiring, it comes dangerously close to sycophancy.
Perhaps it is because the redneck rural types you expect to encounter are conspicuously absent. Goldson and Wells point out it wasn’t through a lack of trying. It just turned out Wairarapa’s bigots were a bit camera-shy. "It was extremely difficult to find anyone to say something against her. I remember we were filming one day and a middle aged woman rolled down her car window and asked what we were doing. I told her we were doing a documentary on Georgie and she said, ‘That’s a waste of time. She just lapdanced her way to the top’. But there was no way she would repeat that on camera," Wells says.
The only dissenting voice is that of Beyer’s political adversary in the 1999 election, National candidate Paul Henry, whose campaign included such enlightening one-liners as "I’m still male". As a result, Georgie Girl focuses not on prejudice but on the affection Wairarapa residents feel for Beyer. At the local RSA, the old diggers clearly love her. She works hard, they say, and she’s no snob. Beyer’s friend Chris Burt sums it up best when she says, "The bottom line about what happened in Carterton is that an ex-prostitute arrived in town and three years later, she was the mayor. I mean it just doesn’t happen – but it did."
27 April 2002
NZ military ‘light years ahead’ on issue of gays
The New Zealand Defence Force is light years ahead of any other military services in its approach to gays, lesbians and bisexuals, says equal employment opportunity consultant Eugene Moore. Many countries banned discrimination against gays in the military, but none was doing as much as New Zealand to challenge the old homophobic military culture, he said. He estimated that up to 20 per cent of men and women in the New Zealand military would admit to having gay orientation.
Traditionally, the presence of openly gay people was seen as detracting from the military’s masculinity, but homophobia was the real problem and needed to be brought out into the open. "It’s like Dracula, once you bring it out into the light it dies," said Mr Moore, who has been working on an education programme for the armed forces for more than a year. He said the programme was designed to create an environment where gays, lesbians and bisexual personnel in the military did not fear coming out. Australian and French admirals had visited New Zealand specifically to see the Navy’s at-sea education programmes and he had been invited to make a presentation to Australian military chiefs. – NZPA
23 September 2002
Drag star becomes real drama queen
By Linda Herrick
Mid-afternoon in Auckland’s grandma of gay clubs, The Staircase, and a figure familiar to hardcore clubbers looks strangely normal as he prowls around the dance floor. Usually when DeeZaStar makes an appearance at The Staircase – or any other venue, including the Hero events – the drag star is bigger, taller, louder, weirder than anyone else in the room. And Dee keeps vampire hours, dropping in at 4 or 5am. But he (or is it she?) is moving on.
Here, in broad daylight – well, as broad as it gets in The Staircase’s twilight zone – DeeZaStar has literally become a drama queen, rehearsing for his first play, ‘Fierce, Child’, which opens at the Maidment Studio on Tuesday. Although Dee’s creator, Kneel Halt (the artist formerly known as Neil Holt), is entirely without makeup or costume in rehearsal, the costumes will be wild. With the device of audio-visuals, puppets and masks, the one-hour show takes a slice of DeeZaStar’s multi-hued life, a look at what goes on when she’s not on stage. And when she’s not on stage, her creator – as we’ll see – is a man called Zachary.
Fierce, Child – the title is from a piece of house music – is a collaboration between Halt, fellow Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School graduate Amanda Rees, who is directing, film-maker Mark Summerville and lighting designer Jo Kilgour, who worked on Woman Far Walking for the 2000 International Festival and most recently, Jacob Rajan’s The Pickle King. "We were at drama school together in 1989-90," says Rees, who wrote and starred in her own memorable one-hander, Stark, about the life of dancer Freda Stark. "When we went through it, it was very focused on creating your own stuff."
Says Halt: "Last year we started chatting and I was intrigued Amanda had taken a project she’d done at drama school on Freda Stark and developed it into her own show. I hadn’t done anything like that and I wanted to create a product I could travel with." The pair set up a series of workshops earlier this year and picked through the themes they wanted to explore through the eyes of DeeZaStar and Zachary. "I sat down and storylined the play, then we workshopped it and videoed it, and honed it down and honed it down," says Rees. "It’s very much a duo scriptwriting effort. We have tried to find the character who might be the person who created Dee. It is fictional: it’s not an autobiographical piece about Kneel behind Dee."
Halt, who jokes that his name is "full of commands", moved from theatre to the drag scene about eight years ago, drawn not by a desire to look like a woman but by the playfulness of drag. "I discovered with some friends I was quite good at the drag-monster side of things – not the beautiful drag look but more the adult clown." It helped that he was good at sewing as well, having studied costume design at Wellington’s Bowerman School of Design. "At drama school we were all allocated roles [other than acting] to play: I was always good at wardrobe, Amanda did set and lighting."
After graduating, Halt performed in touring educational shows including the improv work Hide and Seek, which was a hit at the Adelaide Fringe, but he grew bored with the constraints of theatre. "In theatre there are too many comfort rules, like people sitting in rows facing the front, usually not having to think too much about what they were seeing. But I really love the chaos of clubs, where there’s a whole raft of problems and situations that arise at 4 or 5am when you’re doing a show. It keeps you on your toes and keeps the audience guessing.
"Drag in a club is more of a visual art so people are entertained from a distance. I see what I do as lifting the spirit of a room – you make a high-impact arrival and the room goes up a notch in energy. Visually I’ve got to be up there and that’s the monster I’ve created." It’s hard work going back to theatre, says Halt. "I’ve developed a lot of bad habits from not being in the theatre for a long time. I knew I had to sharpen my tools. I really want to travel with DeeZaStar and the only way I could see that happening was by collaborating with other performers and directors to create a glue to hold the show together.
"Within that show there are pieces I could put into nightclubs independently, but," sighs the 35-year-old, "I’m not doing as many club things these days. I’m getting older – and I’m expensive." . Fierce, Child, Maidment Studio, Tuesday-Sunday at 7pm; guest DJs will perform 30-minute sets in the foyer before and after each show; some of the city’s best-known drag queens will play hostess. . Website: http://www.dezaastar.co.nz/
1 May 2002
Gay insults become too much to bear
For years it has been the most popular insult in school playgrounds – fag, poofter, queer – and those are the tame versions. Last year, a survey of 821 students at 107 New Zealand high schools found that one-fifth of students did not believe gay or bisexual students would feel safe at school. The study, by the Children’s Issues Centre at Otago University, found that gay students were likely to suffer verbal harassment and some were likely to encounter physical abuse. Many were thought to be "invisible". Research by Auckland University doctorate student John Fenaughty found that negative experiences at school are much more associated with young gay men attempting suicide than negative experiences at home.
Mr Fenaughty said many of the more than 100 young men (aged 16-26) he interviewed had been victimised at school. Twenty-one-year-old Henry put it this way: "My suicide attempt was not because I was gay, it was basically because I didn’t want to fight any more. I had gone through that [disclosure] process, so I wasn’t trying to die because of that reason … It was basically a really hard day at school, I had a chair thrown at my head, for like perhaps the third or fourth time that month or so, and just heaps of crap happened. "They [the students] used to take my folder and write all crap in it if I left it around anywhere, and my locker used to be trashed all the time …
"On the last day a chair was thrown at my head and I got really angry, and so I sort of threw it back, and the teacher at the front of the class said, ‘That wasn’t very nice’ and just carried on teaching the lesson. "I was so [angry]. So I went home, had dinner, and tried to kill myself." Mr Fenaughty said most did not believe their teachers were supportive of homosexuality. All said schools needed to be more proactive, provide more accurate information and ensure that bullying was not tolerated. It was important parents knew when school was not a safe place for their child and did something about it rather than adding to the problem. Last year, the secondary teachers union published guidelines for schools to ensure they provide a safe, positive environment for "people of every sexuality" – something they are legally required to do. Robin Duff, a member of the Safe Schools Taskforce, said the guidelines were prompted by concerns from staff and parents about a lack of safety in schools, particularly derogatory and abusive language.
1 May 2002
Help at hand for parents of gay children-PFLAG
Families who discover their son or daughter is gay often do not know where to turn for information and advice, but help is available. Just over three years ago Jeannie Matthews set up PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Christchurch to remedy a lack of good information about homosexuality. She had just found out her daughter, then a teenager, was a lesbian. "I didn’t want to go through this as a naive parent. I wanted to give her support and be aware of the extra problems she was going to face as a more marginalised person."
An Australian parent support group sparked the idea for something similar in New Zealand. Mrs Matthews made contact with other parents and now the Christchurch group meets informally, operates a helpline and offers information to families. "You come out as a parent when your child comes out." Mrs Matthews says that although homosexuality is becoming more widely accepted, there is still stigma attached – for example, it might not be acceptable for gay people to take their partner to a work function or hold hands in public.
Many women contact PFLAG "frightened stiff" about how they will tell their husbands their child is gay. Mrs Matthews says being informed and communicating with your child is key. "Just because they have now told you what their sexuality is, the love shouldn’t stop overnight. They are still your children, the kids you brought up."
12 August 2002
Judge me on my deeds, gay minister asks
Gay Labour MP Chris Carter asked to be judged on his deeds, not his sexuality, when he was today elevated to Cabinet. Mr Carter, who will be New Zealand’s first openly gay cabinet minister, said his appointment showed attitudes to "diversity" had changed. "I’d like to be defined by my efficiency, not my sexuality. "I’m looking forward to representing the diversity of New Zealand." Mr Carter saw no difficulties in dealing with United Future MPs who have vowed to support Labour on confidence and supply votes. Several United Future MPs since the election have expressed fundamentalist Christian views at odds with Labour’s more liberal leanings.
Mr Carter said he was reassured by United Future leader Peter Dunne saying he represented a centrist moderate party. While he supported a proposed Civil Unions Bill, allowing same sex marriages, that would come to a conscience vote for individual MPs. With a backlog of 94 bills due to the election, such legislation was likely to go into the ballot as a private member’s bill, he said. "It’s part of Government policy, but we are exploring avenues where … if there is a way of fast-tracking it through the private member’s strategy, I would welcome that progress." Mr Carter, who has operated as Prime Minister Helen Clark’s right-hand man in the past term, said he was happy to serve in whatever capacity she chooses for him. A former teacher, he was a member of the foreign affairs select committee in the last Parliament.
Mr Carter won West Auckland seat Te Atatu with a majority of almost 13,000 at this year’s election. He felt being an Aucklander had helped win him a place in cabinet. "It’s very important because one third of the population of this country live in the city of Auckland. I think Aucklanders will want to know there is a strong voice advocating for their issues in Parliament." Police documents released last month showed the former junior whip was less than co-operative over the police inquiry into Paintergate. During the investigation into whether Miss Clark had signed a painting she did not do, Mr Carter refused to hand over cellphone records to police. He also refused to sign his police statement.
Mr Carter was accused of "digging dirt" on Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels, before he was sacked in 2000. Miss Clark backed him to the hilt after he was accused by National of phoning ex-convict John Yelash, to ask what he knew about Mr Samuels. Mr Carter said he made the call after Mr Yelash had visited his electorate office in Auckland offering information. Mr Yelash denied that and said Mr Carter was the first one to make a call. Miss Clark said she preferred to believe Mr Carter rather than a convicted criminal. Mr Carter was the first openly gay MP elected to Parliament, when he came to Wellington in 1993. He lost Waipareira at the 1996 election by 107 votes to National MP Brian Neeson, then won Te Atatu in 1999 and 2002. In 1995, he travelled on HMNZS Tui to Mururoa Atoll as one of a number of MPs planning to protest French nuclear testing. – NZPA
13 August 2002
Carter in ‘marriage-like situation’ for 29 years: "We never hold hands."
New Zealand’s first openly gay cabinet minister Chris Carter and his partner Peter Kaiser are happy to be photographed with Mr Kaiser adjusting Mr Carter’s tie. But they draw the line at holding hands. It is something they have never done. "Wrong generation," says Mr Carter, elected yesterday as one of three new cabinet ministers by his Labour colleagues. Mr Carter, 49, and Mr Kaiser, the principal of Tirimoana Primary School in Auckland, have been together for 29 years. They met as students working at summer jobs as hospital orderlies. Mr Carter was 20 and Mr Kaiser was 16.
"I think I’ve got a better record than many of my colleagues here at Parliament with their marriages," says Mr Carter. "We have lived in a marriage-like situation for 29 years." Mr Carter, the junior Government whip in the last Parliament, says his elevation demonstrates the changing nature of New Zealand society. When he was young, to engage in sexual activity as a gay man was illegal. When he revealed his sexuality in his maiden speech in 1994 he received hate mail and National MP John Banks ignored him. Today the hate mail has dried up and he has been joined in the Labour caucus by another gay man, Tim Barnett, and a transsexual former male prostitute, Georgina Beyer.
Even Mr Banks appears to have mellowed. "I recently met him at the Croatian Ball and he rushed over and shook my hand," says Mr Carter. The Te Atatu MP says his election is "an important statement about the political and social maturity of New Zealand". He said the views of some of United Future’s Christian members had caused concern in the gay community, but he had been reassured by leader Peter Dunne’s statement that his party was a "centre party of moderate sensible people".