Article Title:Hero's nail in the sniper's coffin
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:24th November 2004 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:496
Text:An assertion that Hero is "dead and buried" is certainly news to Brand Management Group spokesman Mike Binis, and he was all the more surprised to read it in Express. The “news” turned out merely to be the opinion of one reader, M McKenzie, although its prominence on the newspaper's letters page, accompanied by a large photo and the headline “The final nail in Hero's coffin?” had some casual readers thinking the embattled Hero festival was in the shitehouse once more. McKenzie criticised the “utterly spineless” attitude of Hero in keeping a low profile during the recent Auckland City mayoral elections. “Hero has always been about not backing down and certainly NOT keeping a low profile,” he wrote. “Incompetent management aside, it spoke volumes to me when I read that at the GABA mayoral meeting, not one person asked a Hero question. What does that say about how this community feels about Hero?” One imagines a great deal of the community would be proud of the fact that Hero, thanks to the efforts of a few community-minded gay and lesbian businesspeople, has managed to crawl out of the debt-ridden controversy of a few years ago and establish itself once again as a festival to be proud of. Binis was certainly surprised by the negativity. He says he hasn't heard any such comments for some time. “I think since the original BMG did so much work to pull it together and to disperse the clouds hanging over it, since then people have had a new outlook. I think last year's BMG proved that Hero could happen, and could happen well. We're well on the road to having people with a better perception of what Hero is.” He says it's a shame that some feel they can only make the community better by complaining about it from the sidelines. “The right wing Christians, and all the fundamentalists – they're very unified. When they speak up, they speak up together in support of each other and in condemnation of gays. We don't do that, we speak up only to criticize ourselves.” Binis describes McKenzie's letter as “more negativity coming from people holding on to wrong information, misinformation and old ideas”. Accusations of incompetence and spinelessness over Hero's silence in the run-up to the local body elections is particularly frustrating for him. “I think it's so silly for anybody to even question that. It's such an obvious strategy, when you've got the then-current public officials who have been vocally anti-Hero running for re-election, you've got the fundamentalist supporters looking for any means they can to make sure that things don't change, the last thing you want to do is for the gay community to get up and start screaming and make Hero a political football again,” he says. “We purposely didn't say anything beforehand so it wouldn't be an election issue. And it worked. Now we have a chance to make statements that will fall on receptive ears.” Binis has since had some very positive discussions with deputy mayor Bruce Hucker, who has made a public pledge post-election to work more closely with GLBT groups, but Express letter-writer McKenzie also saw boobery in the debacle surrounding Hero and AK05, Simon Prast's departure from it, and the relationship that had been established with Hero that subsequently seemed to vanish faster than you could say “Beam me up, Nancy”. McKenzie seemed to be under the impression that Hero had announced the return of the parade for 2005, but Hero have never done this. Binis has repeatedly said on the record, most recently on “Queer Nation” directly after Prast's exit, that although the return of a Hero Parade would be nice, it is not a major priority for the festival. Binis says announcements of the parade's return in two central city community newspapers did not come from Hero. “To say that we announced it was here and now we're going back on our word – we never confirmed that, we never said that, and we never said it was a done deal. That's why we said we were ‘talking' with AK05,” he says. “You've got to realize, and I don't understand why people don't hear this when we say it – AK05 came to Hero. They wanted the parade as part of their festival, it was their idea, they came to us. And it was Simon who was the one who actually called us and said here's an option.” There were no firm plans for a parade before AK05's offer, beyond some discussions within the BMG. Binis says the festival is still rebuilding itself, and in many ways, the highly-attended Big Gay Out has replaced the parade. “The Big Gay Out is quite a unique event, because it has the same ‘out there' public visibility, but we're doing it for ourselves. We're doing things so we can see just how good we are, rather than doing things so we can show the straights just how big we are. We don't have to do that anymore.” Binis is disappointed that Hero was not given an opportunity to comment on McKenzie's letter before it was published. He was only contacted by Express to have a right of reply afterwards. Since then, former Hero Parade director Julia Durkin has also weighed in with her own thoughts. “Hero for me was always about the Parade, because it was the interface between our community and the mainstream heterosexual community,” she told “It was a spectacular event which generated much awareness and positivity for our community. Everybody had a good time.” She says the community has always been vocal about Hero, and she's not surprised people feel the festival is diminished by the absence of the parade. “I think in many ways the Festival has an opportunity to re-brand, re-group and re-define what it's purpose is now. I know that in perpetuating it without actually changing it and making it more relevant to the 2004 community it is difficult to see it being able to carry on.” Durkin says she's not being negative, just asking professional questions, and she has ideas to tszuje Hero up. “I think it needs the ‘Queer Eye' makeover,” she says. “If I were running it I would make some changes to what actually is planned - the Big Gay out would move to Victoria Park (who cares about the sports field?) so that we can have an inner city event not a surburbia event. “Wigs on the Waterfront could move to a bigger space in the Viaduct, maybe where Fashion Week has been held, around by Halsey Street or where they had the marquees for the Americas Cup and tap into the Viaduct energy more. Have them on the same weekend so that you could generate a queer hub in the heart of the city. Imagine a hot summers evening partying in town outside at the Big Gay Out?” Durkin says such an idea can't work at the current Big Gay Out location of Coyle Park in Pt Chevalier, as it's in a residential area. Hero should not be afraid of constantly changing its game plan, as it's essential to keep people excited about what's happening. “The Hero Festival is able to continue but it needs people with vision and expertise to create events that people want to attend, where they want to attend them,” she continues. “Heroic Gardens is a classic cash cow which has been superbly managed over the years and the Herne Bay Hair Event could move to the Viaduct too.” Durkin seems full of ideas, and Hero are certainly receptive to hearing them. Binis would like to encourage more participation, and to that end Hero will be holding a public BMG meeting on the 30th of November for anyone who wishes to be involved in Hero 2005 to come forward and put their ideas on the table, including M McKenzie. "Anyone is allowed to voice their opinion on Hero, but I am not prepared to listen to or read comments from anyone who is not prepared to front up and come on board to do something about it,” he says. “We need action, not whinging." So will Durkin, who has previously directed two successful Hero parades and consulted on a third, be taking up the offer? “My volunteering of my professional expertise is a ‘been there done that' position,” she says. “But they [Hero] can thank me for the free advice given anytime.” Chris Banks - 24th November 2004    
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