Prominent gay Aucklander Ross Thorby has been honoured by Mayor Dick Hubbard as a Living Legend for coordinating the iconic Franklin Road Christmas Lights Show. Thorby received the award last week at a special ceremony in Auckland's town hall, during which seven Aucklanders were given a pohutukawa tree a for "their extraordinary efforts within their communities and Auckland City." Also receiving an award was Judge Mick Brown, a co-signatory to a virulently anti-gay secret letter to Members of Parliament during the lead-up to the Civil Unions Bill vote which claimed that gays and lesbians are more likely than other parents to abuse and kill their children. The letter, penned by Auckland Christian businessman John Sax, was also signed by Dick Hubbard and anti-gay ranter and author Alan Duff. The mayor subsequently distanced himself from the claim and has been at some pains to reach out to his glbt citizens. Brown was honoured as a Living Legend for his commitment to restorative youth justice. Thorby, who coordinates the annual Christmas Lights Show in one Auckland's gayest suburbs, Freemans Bay, was astonished to receive the award. "I was flattered to be among such esteemed people," he said, noting that the other recipients had done spectacular community work. Thorby first erected his own Christmas lights 13 years ago. He and his flatmate were amused at the attention they drew, as 'punters' stopped by admire the display. "Things just grew from there," says Thorby. A friend was importing lights at a reasonable cost and Thorby sold these up and down Franklin Road. "There was no conscious choice to start-up anything," says Thorby, but he's thrilled that the local community decided to really get involved. "There's no rules… everyone just does it themselves." And the show has taken on its own momentum over the years, with a different celebrity each year 'throwing the switch' at their December 1 opening party. Helen Clark, Lucy Lawless, Oscar Winner Ngila Dickson (Best Costume, Lord of the Rings), local MP Judith Tizard and radio personality Mikey Havoc are among those to officiate. On 1 December, "all neighbourly arguments are forgiven," says Thorby, as the whole community comes together in celebration. Locals have fought hard to keep the event from being commercialised. There have been incidences of profit making, but these have been swiftly dealt with. "We do this as a gift to the community," says Thorby. "There are very few things that children can enjoy for free." These days Thorby and his neighbours organise much of their own entertainment, including singers and performers. Art critic Hamish Keith dresses up as Santa, and is accompanied by local children dressed as elves to give out lollies. "It's a real treat for the children to be elves." And as for being gay, well, "that's just irrelevant. It's just something for the community. It's a neat street to live in."
Credit: GayNZ.com News Staff
First published: Wednesday, 3rd May 2006 - 12:00pm
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