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The HERO Festival

Sun 4 Feb 2007 In: Events View at Wayback View at NDHA

Auckland's HERO Festival is a time of celebration and community pride for all gay, lesbian, transgender, takataapui, and bisexual people and their families. Each year a wide range of diverse events are on offer. But like so much that's organised for our ‘Rainbow' community, the Festival's origins were gay men – and their fight against HIV. The very first HERO party was organised by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation in 1991. Men were told to dress up for the party (“Come as your HERO, or the HERO you are!”), and cover up afterwards - safe sex messages and condoms were everywhere. A big colourful HERO magazine was published, telling the stories of Kiwi gay HEROes – further large, glossy and groundbreaking HERO magazines were published each year for a decade afterwards. From small beginnings in the now-demolished Rail Shed on Beach Road, the HERO party moved to Princes Wharf, this larger venue attracting over 3,000 partygoers in 1992 and 1993. Epsom Showgrounds, with its ready-made facilities, was the setting for the ‘Visions Unleashed' 1994 party and the ‘Love and Let Love' party the following year. With ‘HERO 6 – SPIRIT' in 1996, HERO was now a fully-fledged festival, with a big Queen Street parade. Party people packed venues such as the Staircase on K' Road, and the HERO film festival was one of many queer cultural events. 1997 saw HERO beamed into New Zealander's homes as a 90-minute doco, showing highlights of the parade and party. “Expect a TV-ratings record, a switchboard assault, and a mass coming-out in the provinces,” said the ‘HERO 7' crew. GABA and Fifth Season garden group launched the HEROIC Gardens that year, as a fundraiser for Auckland City Mission's Herne Bay House, a respite and treatment centre for people living with HIV and AIDS. The ever-outrageous comedian Julian Clary visited Auckland for 1998's HERO – and Metro Magazine's then-editor Bill Ralston donated $15,000 to the festival, as a surly Auckland City Council had quadrupled the after-parade road-cleaning bill that year. 150,000 people watched the parade shimmy along Ponsonby Road that year. Then in 1999, Georgina Beyer was MC of the first-ever HERO debate, with Lynda Topp amongst the well-known LGBT Kiwis debating the assertion that ‘Size Matters'! A ‘Hero Gala' opened the festival at the newly opened Sky City, and the parade attracted a record 200,000 spectators. One of HERO's most popular events began in 2000 – the Big Gay Out in Coyle Park, Point Chevalier. Prime Minister Helen Clark opened the massive ‘Love Who You Are' - HERO in 2001, with the party in Auckland's Town Hall – the entire building was bathed in pink for the evening with our Rainbow flag flown on top. 2001 also featured the last (so far!) parade, and a comprehensive theatre festival with a variety of huge performances. HERO's return in March 2002 was a little lower key, but the all-new ‘HERO Incorporated Society' had worked hard to regain confidence in the festival after a debt scandal which saw the Hero Charitable Trust burdened with huge debts amidst accusations of mismanagement, a fate which also befell its big sister, Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. A small ‘Pride March' on Ponsonby Road joined many of the usual events and a big party was held at the St James Complex on Queen Street. Over 8,000 people attended the Big Gay Out in Coyle Park in 2003, now considered to be the new focal point of each year's HERO. A Hero Brand Management Group then formed for a year and was able to negotiate with creditors and pay off the remaining debt. Hero had stumbled but it wasn't out. A new mode of operation saw Hero operating the umbrella concept of the Festival with community organisations and entrepreneurs each year licensed to operate the commercial side of things, with their inherent opportunities and risks separated from Hero itself. The parade hasn't returned, but in recent years HERO festival events have been more diverse and inclusive than ever. Sporting and gaming meets, hair-cutting benefits, harbour cruises, safe-sex workshops, art, theatre and movie shows and of course the best in live (and drag!) performances have made the last few HEROs unmissable for any LGBT Aucklander – and has been a popular tourist attraction also. We're sure 2007's Festival will be no exception… HAPPY HERO! HEROIC MOMENTS: “HERO sex is harder, longer, rubber, faster, stronger, better, safer. HERO sex is smart sex, is safe sex, is great sex – have some today” - New Zealand AIDS Foundation, 1991 “For our diverse community, the more you link arms, the stronger we will become” - Di Scott, 1996 “I am convinced that we, the men who love men, and the women who love women, will take our place among the HEROes of our time” - Hero founder and muse Rex Halliday, 1997 “Let's show this town how to party, how to parade, how to put on a festival and dedicate HERO to those who would want us to remember them only one way – ‘flat out'” - Hero chair Bruce Kilmister, 1997 “HERO – A word which includes men, women, the passion of our sexuality and of course the HEROism of being part of a great new tribe” - Author Witi Ihimaera, 1998 “Every single day, right from the fabulous opening gala through to the big night out at the HERO party, you are spoiled with a choice of theatre, movies, comedy, music, song, sport, and so much more – the finest showcase of current queer culture we could find” - Hero chair Paul Sheriff, 1999 “The HERO Festival is a unique event in New Zealand. It celebrates gay, lesbian, and transgender pride. It celebrates the diversity of New Zealand society, and shows support for a vibrant sector in New Zealand's community” - PM Helen Clark, 2001 “The HERO Festival is your festival, it is a time of celebration, of colourful statements of community visibility and pride, of hard fundraising, and even harder partying” - HERO Brand Management Group, 2006 Matt Akersten - 4th February 2007    

Credit: Matt Akersten

First published: Sunday, 4th February 2007 - 12:00pm

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