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A new future of pride and strength

Tue 17 May 2011 In: Events

A larger than expected group turned out to discuss the idea, first publicly floated by Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye in February, that Auckland should have a glbt festival or event of some sort, akin to Sydney's Mardi Gras. The idea came just after some of the new super city's more liberal councillors suggested they were open to Auckland Council supporting such an event. For over a decade in the 1990s and beyond Auckland had the phenomenally successful Hero event, which grew out of a party to shore up gay and bi men's resolve to stay strong in the face of the devastating outbreak of HIV and AIDS. Hero grew into a mega-festival with the country's biggest street parade and a welter of community events. But eventually, under the burden of its own success, community fatigue and some managerial problems, it finally faded into history. Several attempts to bring a successor into being have met with limited success. But last night a positive and cohesive meeting indicated that there is appetite for a return to a celebration of all things glbt. The meeting attracted gays and a few straights, national and local body politicians from across the political spectrum, event organisers, businesspeople, a few glbt celebs, representatives of community organisations, HIV positive people and a good range of ages and sexualities. The ideas from the floor What follows is a heavily truncated run-down of the ideas and observations made by speakers from the floor of the meeting... where speakers repeated suggestions already made the repetition has been left out of this narrative, and there has not been room to include absolutely every speaker. Chair Gresham Bradley of GABA kicked off by advising that the meeting organisers did not see themselves as the core of any ongoing project, merely the facilitators of the initial community discussion. But he personally hoped the meeting might find a way forward towards a glbt pride event for Auckland. Although some straight folk associated with the community or politicians attended and the initial push for a "Mardi Gras" type event had come from outside the glbt community Bradley stressed that "this is our meeting and the event will be ours, though maybe with outside funding." He asked those gathered to put forward ideas as to "what do we want, what is it going to look like." He noted that it is positive that the Auckland Council has called for an economic feasibility study for events which specifically includes a glbt event. "But will it be big or small, a party or a parade or both or something else... will it even be a "Mardi Gras?" he asked. He asked the participants not to get personal or dredge up issues from the past but to look to the future. National's Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye said that any event "has to come from the glbt community and be of the community." She said her interest in such a project was piqued by a young gay constituent who felt that levels of homophobia are on the rise and that he was not feeling safe as a gay man in downtown Auckland. She said she had discussed the idea with a number of fellow politicians in recent months and felt sure it has cross-party support. Labour list MP Jacinda Ardern, who is based in Auckland Central, advised the meeting that "we are your agents... just tell us what you need." Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse stated that the super city council is "a council for everyone, including all the the rainbow parts of our community." She said community events can bring people together and if they work for the community then the council should get behind them. Bradley noted that the council contributes "six figure sums" to other community events but cautioned that anything receiving such funding would have to be "professionally run" with due attention paid to such areas as community accountability and governance. OutlineNZ's Vaughan Meneses urged the gathering to consider that "this is not just about one event... we need to be mindful of the needs of glbt people over the other 51 weeks of the year. How do we capitalise on this to help glbt people all around the country including those still struggling?" Bruce Kilmister of Body Positive, who was also the chair of the early days of the Hero events, said the event needed to be properly underwritten and financially secure. "The council is our only option to provide that," he said. Although some previous concepts for a glbt event had projected budgets a large as $3 million he felt the reality would be something short of $1 million. "The infrastructure costs, such as those associated with traffic management, health and safety requirements, set ups and clean ups etc. are well beyond this community." As a past chair of one of the previous council's inner-city community boards Kilmister noted that "this glbt community has long been under-recognised by our local body politicians." He closed by suggesting that a broad community event run in Manchester, England, every year might be a good model to draw from and that at its peak an Auckland University study of Hero indicated "it was worth $50 million each year to Auckland." Anne Speir, another ex-Hero chair, suggested that a big iconic parade, such as came to represent Hero to most New Zealanders, might not be the best starting point. "Perhaps start with a week of events," she suggested. She noted that the Hero parade, though colourful and fabulous, came to be something "put on by the gays for the hets," because we had our own party to retreat to by ourselves. "But even then it became compromised and we lost some of our own culture." "We are rife with factions, really a grouping of individual communities," Speir said. "Let's work together but let's also be realistic about what we can reasonably attempt." She noted that any concept for a council-supported event now had the advantage that the new super city geographically represents all of Auckland, not just the inner city. Community member and Urge doorman Mike Binis noted that the world "is a changed place... technology and times and the way people interact have all changed... what we need now is not what we needed twenty years ago." Toby Steele said he felt mounting a major parade was unrealistic but that maybe a pride style march was more achievable, "perhaps with a week of events and finishing with the Big Gay Out." He considered "Pride" to be a useful name as it is globally recognised. Anne Speir suggested that, timing-wise, the Big Gay Out is a good starting point as it provides "the biggest advertising base for other event." She said she and several others had wondered if a "wheels parade" might capture people's imagination, with participants on everything from rollerskates to powered vehicles. Paul York said the event must commit to including all ages of glbt people. Event organiser Richard Lindroos advised keeping the concept simple and for the organisers to be careful and detailed in their planning. Party organiser Julian Cook said the development of the event "must come from the grass roots up... we need to hear young people's ideas... we need something genuinely new, not just have reconstituted old stuff." Anthony Ovens of UniQ said he would take the ideas back to university students "to hear what they want." He advised that there is definitely student support for a glbt event. Hannah Jennings-Voykovich of Express magazine said that Melbourne has a wide range of glbt events, with a wide geographical spread and which appealed to many different groupings of glbt people. She noted that Wellington created a remarkable sense of community through the OutGames earlier this year. Nikki Kaye said that on a recent trip to Australia she had discussed the glbt event concept with politicians in Sydney and Melbourne "and they are happy to help and feed through into this process." Urge bar co-owner Paul Heard said that as a co-organiser of the successfully established Bear Week he advises "starting simple and working up." He said that timing and dates are important as "overseas people, particularly the Americans, need time to arrange holidays and book flights." He suggested the event either be very close to Sydney Mardi Gras to capitalise on people attending that, or to be "completely separate. He noted that for most people travel to Auckland from overseas is "extremely expensive." He says Bear Week gains much from being just a few days before similar events at Mardi Gras. Kevin Dunseath, aka Miss Ribena, said that Auckland "is ready for a celebration of who and where we are. Everybody wants something." He noted that homophobia on the street has got worse in recent times... "they're even throwing bottles at us!" We need some thing to take back our street," he said. Julian Cook suggested the festival be a grouping of individual events "under an overall umbrella concept." He questioned whether the event organisation should "focus on maybe 100 American tourists or focus on us." Richard James, who co-organised Pride 2009, said the concept must look beyond the established venues. "Not everybody goes to Family or Urge... some people come out to socialise only for these type of events." Jacinda Ardern noted that Labour's Rainbow MPs will be meeting this weekend and she would canvas them for input. She felt a successful event would "bring back a strong sense of community and pride and strength." Her Labour colleague Louisa Wall felt sure that "once we get the framework right our community will embrace it." Stephanie Parkinson of the NZ AIDS Foundation said it would support such an event as part of its programme to promote safe sex. She said it is important to find out what people and community organisations want out of the event. Ex-local body politician Lindsay Rea noted that Karangahape Road has been said by council in the past to be an emergency vehicle corridor which cannot be blocked or closed for events. "But if they can close a chunk of New North Road for the Rugby World Cup then they can surely close K Rd for us?" She said creating and running a major glbt event "is about us reaching out on our own terms... we need to establish the right to have our own event." She observed that other council-supported events are not expected to make money." Along the way several young gay men spoke of their desire and support for such an event, though they generally felt they needed to consider the issue more before offering suggestions. Where to from here? Drawing the meeting to a close, Gresham Bradley brought up possible names which had emerged for the concept, including Mardi Gras, Pride and Celebration. He reminded the gathering of Te Reo and that "this is a bi-cultural nation" and suggested that we must create something which is uniquely New Zealand. He asked those at the meeting to spread out and consult as widely as they can on "what you want to see, specific ideas, when and where, dates, name ideas, organisational and structural ideas, possible models... how this should be run." He offered GABA's email address for short, one paragraph emailed suggestions and promised they would be collated for the next meting. After some debate it has been decided to hold the next meeting at Kamo, 5.30pm on Monday 30 May. Jay Bennie - 17th May 2011    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Tuesday, 17th May 2011 - 1:14pm

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