LGBT in New Zealand

A civil union ceremony in Wellington in December 2006

New Zealand society is generally fairly relaxed in acceptance of gays and lesbians. The gay-friendly environment is epitomised by the fact that there are several Members of Parliament who belong to the LGBT community, gay rights are protected by the New Zealand Human Rights Act, and same-sex couples are able to marry as of 2013. Sex between men was decriminalised in 1986.

Statistics New Zealand currently does not readily record the sexual orientation of people in New Zealand, meaning there are very limited statistics on New Zealand's LGBT population. However, at the 2013 Census, there were a recorded 16,660 people living in a same-sex couple in New Zealand - 7,340 male and 9,310 female.[1]

Academic research by Lara Greaves as part of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study found that 94.2 per cent of New Zealanders identified as straight or heterosexual, 2.6 per cent as gay or lesbian, 1.8 per cent bisexual, 0.6 per cent bicurious, 0.5 per cent pansexual and 0.3 per cent asexual.[2]


Same-sex relationships and activities appear to have been acceptable amongst pre-European Māori.[3] Some stories, for example that of Tutanekai and Tiki, seem to be about same-sex couples. A British missionary, Richard Davis, found homosexual relationships between men to be a familiar part of Maori life, and although homosexual relationships between women have not been well documented, they were certainly not condemned.[4] In modern New Zealand, a common label adopted by LGBT Māori is takatāpui, a term that has been revived from pre-European times and popularised since the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986. The term roughly translates into English as "intimate partner of the same sex".

Some of the earliest European settlers in New Zealand were Christian missionaries who arrived in the early nineteenth century and eventually converted most of the Māori population to Christianity. They brought with them the Christian doctrine that homosexuality was sinful. Despite this, one missionary, William Yate, was sent back to England in disgrace after being caught engaging in sex with young Māori men.[5]

When New Zealand became a British colony in 1840, British law was adopted in its entirety, making sex between males illegal and a capital offence. In 1893, all kinds of sexual activity between men was criminalised, with penalties including imprisonment, hard labour, and flogging.[6] Sexual acts between women were never made illegal, which could be the result of many social factors of the time.

Despite discriminatory laws, a small gay subculture developed. A number of gay men were involved in New Zealand's even smaller literary subculture, including Frank Sargeson. However even in these circles, homosexuality was not always accepted.[7] Lesbian subcultures are more difficult to detect, but in late 1971, the KG (Kamp Girls) club for lesbians was formed in Auckland.

Violence against gays and lesbians was often condoned. In 1964, Charles Aberhart was beaten to death in Christchurch's Hagley Park by a group of men who claimed he had propositioned them. They were tried for murder but found not guilty. As in many countries, homosexuals were often committed to mental institutions and given 'treatment' for what was rendered a mental illness.

In 1961, the Dorian Society was founded in Wellington. Two years later, it established a legal subcommittee out of which the Homosexual Law Reform Society emerged.[6] In 1972, the Gay Liberation Front was formed in Auckland by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku. In the following decades, numerous gay and lesbian rights groups were formed across New Zealand.[8]

After several attempts, the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 was passed, decriminalising sexual activity between men over the age of 16. In 1993, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was outlawed. In 2004 the Civil Union Act was passed, giving same-sex couples an equivalent to marriage.[9] New Zealand was unique in passing homosexual law reform in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Supporters of reform argued that removing the stigma from homosexuality would help prevent the spread and aid the treatment of disease. AIDS has primarily affected the gay male community in New Zealand (since records began in 1985, 53.7 percent of new HIV cases have been reported to be acquired by "male homosexual contact"),[10] and gay men are prominent in AIDS fundraising and in running organisations such as the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.

New Zealand's first gay pride week was founded in the 1970s in the wake of the Stonewall riots in New York of 1969, the symbolic start of the modern Gay Rights Movement. In 1991, New Zealand's most prominent gay pride event, the Hero Parade, was founded in Auckland. This developed into a festival that became burdened by financial problems, leading to the last Hero Parade being held in 2001. However, the parade returns as Auckland Pride Parade in 2012. Smaller scale parades were held in Wellington in the 1990s.

The Sisters for Homophile Equality (SHE), a lesbian feminist collective, formed in Wellington, New Zealand in 1973. In December of that year, they began to publish Circle, later renamed Lesbian Feminist Circle. The magazine continued to publish until 1986.[11]

Prominent gay, lesbian and transgender New Zealanders

New Zealand has several LGBT people in parliament. Chris Carter (Labour, Minister of Conservation) became New Zealand's first openly gay MP when he outed himself shortly after being elected in 1993. Tim Barnett (Labour) was openly gay before being elected in 1996. Even earlier Marilyn Waring, a National Party MP in the 1970s and 1980s, was also outed as a lesbian during her term and subsequently re-elected. She refused to comment at the time but "came out" in 1985, one year after her political career had ended. Since 2005 several more openly LGBT MPs have been elected, including for both the major parties. There have also been other openly gay government ministers including the World's and New Zealand's first openly gay Attorney General Chris Finlayson, National.

New Zealand also boasted the world's first transgender MP. Georgina Beyer was elected to Parliament in the 1999 election for the seat of Wairarapa, and left Parliament on 14 February 2007.[12] Before entering parliament, Beyer was the world's first transgender mayor, of the small town of Carterton.

As in many other countries, there are numerous gays and lesbians involved in various branches of the arts. They include Whale Rider author Witi Ihimaera, dancers Michael Parmenter[13] and Douglas Wright, award-winning teen book author Paula Boock and former Chief Censor Judge Bill Hastings. The creator of the Rocky Horror Show Richard O'Brien also spent most of his childhood in Hamilton.

Openly gay people are relatively rare in the world of sport. Equestrian Olympic medal winner Blyth Tait [14] and Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup [15] are exceptions.

Gay and lesbian life in New Zealand today

New Zealanders are generally accepting of gays and lesbians, although homophobia (such as the use of the word 'gay' as an insult) is still common. Same-sex partners are accepted as the equivalent of heterosexual couples for immigration and most other purposes.

The gay scene in New Zealand is reasonably small by international standards. However Auckland has multiple LGBT venues and festivals, as well as being voted the 15th gayest city in the world.[16] Outside Auckland, larger cities and some towns host one or two LGBT pubs, clubs or sex venues. Many smaller centres have LGBT organisations and social networks that cater to their community.

The internet is often used by gay men in New Zealand to meet others, especially in areas which lack specifically gay venues. Since at least 2005, the most popular LGBT site in New Zealand is the not-for-profit site,[17] started as a community project by a New Zealand internet company.

A fortnightly lesbian event called 'Flirt' is held in Auckland, on the first and third Saturday of each month.[18] Elaborate Lesbian Ball events are held annually in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Auckland and Wellington also hold regular lesbian social events.

There are a number of gay and lesbian festivals in New Zealand. Hamilton, Wellington, Tauranga, Christchurch and Dunedin host annual Pride Weeks, usually operated by the local UniQ, related youth-focussed organisations, or the New Zealand AIDS Foundation as a community-building initiative. The Out Takes film festival was a popular event in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and while the organisation pulled the 2008 festival due to funding issues, it returned in 2009.[19]

Until 2008, the Hero Festival was held in Auckland each February, and included the Hero Parade, which attracted huge crowds, both gay and straight. Financial problems in 2001 led to the parade's demise, but the festival continued as a celebration of the city's LGBT citizens and comprised many events throughout February, including the popular Big Gay Out (in contrast to the music festival Big Day Out held in January), which is still held on the Sunday closest to Valentines Day each year.[20] Hero was wrapped up in March 2009[21] but plans are advancing for a new LGBT Festival for Auckland beginning in 2010.[22]

Over the Christmas and New year period, a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people attend summer camps at Vinegar Hill, New Zealand, in the Manawatu region; Autumn Farm in the Tasman Bay region; and Uretiti Beach, north of Auckland.[23][24]

Gay and lesbian publications

See also


  1. "2013 Census QuickStats about families and households – tables". Statistics New Zealand. 4 November 2014. Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  2. Morton, Jamie (28 March 2016). "What Kiwis really think about ... race, sex, euthanasia, commuting and changing the flag". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  3. Clive Aspin, 'The Place of Takatāpui Identity within Māori Society: Reinterpreting Māori Sexuality within a Contemporary Context' A paper presented at Competing Diversities: Traditional Sexualities and Modern Western Sexual Identity Constructions Conference, Mexico City, 1 to 5 June 2005.
  4. Eldred-Grigg, Steven, Pleasures of the Flesh: Sex and Drugs in Colonial New Zealand 1840-1915, A.H & A.W Reed Ltd, Wellington. pp. 47
  5. Binney, Judith. "Yate, William 1802 - 1877". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  6. 1 2 "Setting the scene - Homosexual law reform - NZHistory, New Zealand history online". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  7. King, Michael. "Sargeson, Frank 1903 - 1982". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  8. "Birth of the gay movement - Homosexual law reform - NZHistory, New Zealand history online". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  9. "Reforming the law - Homosexual law reform - NZHistory, New Zealand history online". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  10. "AIDS New Zealand newsletter, Issue 69" (PDF). Department of Preventative and Social Medicine, University of Otago and Ministry of Health (New Zealand). March 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  11. "A Chronology of Homosexuality in New Zealand - Part 2 - Queer History New Zealand". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  12. " Beyer ends "the best time of my life"". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  13. Vox, Dylan, 'Equestrians Carry the Torch for Gay Olympians',,
  14. Roberts, Adam (6 April 2011). "Olympic skater talks about bullying of gay students". The Nelson Mail. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
  15. " Auckland ranked 15th gayest city in world". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  17. Flirt - Women's Club Night
  18. " Out Takes 2009 film schedule revealed". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  19. "Hero - Gay & Lesbian News". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  20. " Hero to be wound up and remembered". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  21. " Getting on with creating Auckland's LGBT Festival 2010". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  23. Vinegar Hill, New Zealand
  24. "Online magazine for New Zealand and Australian gay communities". Eikon. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  26. "CAP to CUT - Serials List - Lesbian & Gay Archives of New Zealand". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  27. " NZ's longest-running gay magazine ends". Retrieved 22 August 2015.

Further reading

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