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Local lesbian legend dies in Wellington

Tue 30 Sep 2014 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback View at NDHA

Porleen Simmonds at the Lilac Library stall at Out in the Square. Picture / Out Wellington UPDATED: A staunch feminist and lesbian activist who was integral in setting up the Lilac Library, and numerous other lesbian groups, will be farewelled in Wellington on Thursday. Porleen Simmonds died on Sunday, leaving behind partner of 28 years Michelle Genet. Simmonds was a founder of Sisters for Homophile Equality which was created in Wellington in 1973, and the lesbian-feminist magazine Circle. She was one of the four founders and owners of Club 41, Wellington's first lesbian club. In the early 80s she and Pleasance Hansen set up the Woman’s Place bookshop on Cuba St. The community stalwart was on the Gay Task Force which campaigned for Homosexual Law Reform, and went on to fight for human rights protection, civil unions and marriage equality. Simmonds also help set up the Amazons Softball Club and was an integral part of the Lilac Library, a book sharing and social initiative for non-heterosexual women, from its inception. She was also a Wellington Lesbian Radio presenter and helped organise community events, such as dances. In 2008 Simmonds received the Bea Arthur Birthday Award for “her work to promote community development for lesbians in the Wellington region for many years”. “Aside from all this boundless energy and commitment to community and social reform, Porleen was smart, with a good sense of humour, and a warm and loyal friend,” says lesbian activist and academic Alison Laurie. Valda Edyvane first met Simmonds around 1973 as they worked closely in various lesbian collectives, particularly Sisters for Homophile Equality and the Circle magazine. “It’s hard to believe now but we sold copies of Circle in downtown Wellington and at the Royal Oak Pub. Despite her slight physique, Porleen bravely engaged the straight public and later some of the more scornful non-feminist lesbians. Both situations could be tricky.” Edyvane says her friend also spent a number of Friday nights challenging members of the Salvation Army about their stance on homosexuality when they collected donations in the Tavern Bar. “I remember how she endeavoured to use biblical teaching against their bigotry. I also remember her tenaciousness. “Porleen was always a pioneer. In 1977, excited about joining the newly formed lesbian Amazons Softball Club, she persuaded me to play, too. I did for the next 10 years.” Porleen Simmonds at Lilac Library She says she was someone who honoured her commitments. “Whether at games or fund-raising dances, Porleen frequently showed her optimistic, fun-loving and sociable side. She developed the ability to relate successfully to a wide range of lesbians and gay women. “For some time, the Amazons acted as the contact point for lesbians wanting to meet others in the community. Porleen spent hours meeting and introducing lesbians this way, as she had done already with invitations to SHE meetings. “Porleen was friendly and approachable as well as being principled and brave. Many will remember these latter qualities during the 1985 Homosexual Law Reform campaign and the later Human Rights campaign when Porleen was unequivocal about demanding these human rights.” The pair worked together again in the Lilac Library and Edyvane says she will miss the discussions with someone who became family.  “She was a lesbian sister, someone whom I loved, trusted and respected. Porleen was always there.”   Prue Hyman will broadcast a tribute to Simmonds on Wellington Lesbian Radio on Sunday. She’d known Simmonds since the 70s and says she was a stalwart of the lesbian community in "umpteen" organisations over several decades. The Out Wellington team says she was a fantastic activist and that its thoughts are with her partner, and their friends and whanau. Simmonds’ funeral will be held at Lower Hutt’s Harbour City Funeral Home at 11AM on Thursday. More tributes and memories: "My mother is friends with both Michelle and Porleen, and they were the first openly gay people I ever met, even before I knew I was gay myself. Porleen gave so much time and energy to the Wellington Queer Community, more than most people I know. My thoughts go out to Michelle at this difficult time. XXX" - Colin McLean / Polly Filla   If you would like us to publish your tribute to Porleen Simmonds, email it    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Tuesday, 30th September 2014 - 2:02pm

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