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From the Big Gay Disco protest

Wed 7 Dec 2016 In: Politics and Religion View at Wayback View at NDHA

On a bright, sunny Sunday morning last weekend around 40 protesters gather, a block along the road from Destiny Church's South Auckland mothership. Mostly young, they have been drawn here by the Socialist LGBT Aotearoa group and include a few people from the Unite union augmenting the numbers of, mostly young, glbti folk. It's colourful with rainbow flags, banners reading “Teach love not fear” and “No more bigotry” and a few extravagantly studded costumes. Contrary to what the NZ Herald reporter will soon tell the country there are no drag queens present and it's not a “drag disco” protest. It's a Big Gay Disco protest and as the speaker-bedecked van starts to move along Druces Road towards Destiny HQ it becomes clear they are expected. Beefy guys in yellow fluoro vests, smartly-dressed media handlers and chaps in dark-hued civvies with earphones are scattered along the street frontage. Most of the protesters group on the grass median strip, a few cross the northbound lane and line up along the footpath. Their speakers blare out standard disco beats, interspersed with gay anthems such as YMCA and We Are Family. They are here to protest self-proclaimed Bishop Brian Tamaki, the guru of Destiny, linking the Christchurch earthquakes with sin, homosexuality and then-Chch Central MP Tim Barnett's pivotal role in the passing of Civil Unions legislation legalising same-sex relationships. The protesters' chants include “Hey Brian, did the earth move for you?” and “2 4 6 8... Is the Bishop really straight?” I identify myself as a gay community news reporter and, as I have briefly interviewed several protesters including organiser Wayne Baker, I ask a member of the Destiny media team if I can interview someone speaking for the church. He suggests Anne Williamson, the church's media boss, and I agree that would be fine. A Maori TV reporter and camera operator are also waiting to do an interview and fairly soon they are ushered across the wide and packed car park and into the Destiny complex. As I wait my turn I watch the cars slowing down to pass the protesters. Many are full of Polynesian families in their Sunday best. There is no aggro, in fact no negative reaction at all. Quite the opposite. From car after car, people mover after people mover, there are cheery toots, thumbs up, smiles, waves and nods to the protesters. A service is underway inside the Destiny megaplex and through loudspeakers the sermonising voice of the Bishop himself is easily heard from the street. It's a bit of a battle of the sound systems as the disco hits and chants blast back. Tamaki works his flock, at times earnestly and repeatedly justifying to his acolytes the massive and conspicuous wealth he and his family have amassed compared to the modest means of those who pay for his uber-blinged lifestyle. “People think I'm robbing you,” he says. And “They don't know what we've been through.” The finer points of biblical interpretation are lost on me but his sermonising on how the sausages on the barbecue in front of the main entrance are made from all the bits of beasts no-one wants, including all those “pig titties” that piglets have been 'sucking and slobbering' on which go through a meat grinder and that's how those wonderful, big, fat, beautiful, brown, yummy sausages are made, leaves me perplexed and a little queasy. Apparently the difficulties and tragedies in his followers' lives are similarly put through a “blessings grinder” and they emerge brown and succulent and desirable in the eyes of God. Or something like that. “Beautiful words... it's the truth” says one of the fluoro guys earnestly. After half an hour Maori TV emerge and I ask if it's my turn. “There is no comment” I am told. “No interview?” “No comment.” If I can't interview the generals, how about the foot soldiers? No, I am told, I am not to come onto the property. No problem. As the church members depart the building shortly before midday some walk onto the public footpath. Some are carrying dramatically titled Tamaki-bylined tomes including Sons of Thunder. More than a few of the men are wearing T-shirts emblazoned in black, red and white “Man Up, Raising fathers to save our children." One tells a protester there's food available at the church if anyone's hungry. I approach a few, in each instance identifying myself and trying to ask if they were aware of the protest, if they know what the protest is about and if they believe that 'sins' of gay people cause earthquakes. Politely but insistently my media minder shadow cuts in time and time again. “You don't have to talk to him,” she repeatedly and earnestly tells the increasingly nervous folk. “He's from the media... I'm from the church media team... you don't have to say anything.” At times we are both talking at once. They all look nervously to her then self-consciously walk away. All but one. He's a personable young man, with what appears to be his young daughter in tow. Despite the repeated interruptions from my insistent shadow, who has by now upped the ante by bringing a camera-person into the act to film his interaction with me, and despite constant nervous sideways glances at the minder he seems quietly determined to talk. He has, he says, a gay father, who he loves. Does he think being gay is sinful? Well, he says, being raped by a gay man is sinful. Does he think his father was a cause of the Christchurch earthquakes? Not quite answering the question he says God caused the earthquakes. The presence of the staring Destiny camera and the immaculately groomed but insistent media minder shadow eyeballing him is beginning to unsettle him. I thank him for talking with me, having assured him that his fear that I will somehow publicly hang him out to dry is groundless. As we part he suddenly answers my earlier question more directly. “I don't think my dad caused the earthquake.” For the next ten minutes or so I help my minder to get a little morning exercise by strolling back and forth along the street frontage. From a few paces away she shadows me back and forth along the footpath. Whether she realises it or not it's a bit of a game, a time-filler for me, with something of the Pink Panther or Get Smart about it. Eventually I tire of the teasing and explain that if someone from Destiny had fronted to talk with the gay communities through my reporting, the way they were happy to talk to Maori people through the Maori TV reporter, I would not have felt quite such a need to talk with church members. Slightly apologetic she offers that it's not that I'm a gay reporter that I got the brush-off. Then why did Maori TV get the nod? “Because we have a special relationship with them.” I walk back, increasingly sunburned, towards the protest group who are winding down and wandering off. It's been a cheerful and spirited protest, there has been no confrontation and the Destiny staffers have been mostly affable, polite and even amicable. The protesters have made their point. I find myself mulling over the clear contrasts between the manipulative, and at times not quite coherent, diatribes of 'Bishop' Tamaki; the calmness of his followers; the joyfulness of the protesters; the fulsome support of the passing public for this protest against hate and intolerance. And the irony that at Tamaki's self-aggrandising ordination as a Bishop some eleven years ago he was 'crowned' by his mentor and role-model, the American evangelical Bishop Eddie Long. The conspicuously wealthy Long was soon afterwards revealed to have a penchant for posting pics of himself posing in muscle shirts and ended up settling out of court claims of sexual coercion lodged by young men from his ministry on who he had been lavishing gifts, allegedly in return for sex. It's been a pleasant, but slightly confusing, morning. Jay Bennie - 7th December 2016    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Wednesday, 7th December 2016 - 5:09am

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