New Zealand society is generally fairly relaxed in acceptance of gays and lesbians.[1] 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 have their relationships legally recognised with a civil union, which generally gives them the same rights as a married couple, although this is a relatively recent development, having come into effect in 2005. Sex between men was only decriminalised in 1986, and like all countries, there is always the issue of homophobia with which to contend. Due to New Zealand's relatively small population, the LGBT community is small, but still visible, with Pride festivals and LGBT events held around the country throughout the year.[2]


It is generally accepted that in pre-European New Zealand, same-sex relationships among Māori were not characterised by the same disdain as they were in other societies, although this viewpoint is disputed by some today. Some stories, for example that of Tutanekei 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.[3] 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 Homosexual Law Reform 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.[4]

When New Zealand became a British colony in 1840, British law was adopted in its entirety, making sex between males illegal. In 1893, all kinds of sexual activity between men was criminalised, with penalties including imprisonment, hard labour, and flogging.[5] Sexual acts between females 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.[6] 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.[7] 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 (see gay rights in New Zealand), 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, 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, and no parade has been held since 2001. Smaller scale parades were held in Wellington in the 1990s.

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. Maryan Street (Labour), elected in 2005, became the first openly lesbian MP. Chris Finlayson was also elected in 2005, becoming the National Party's first openly gay MP, and in 2006, Charles Chauvel (Labour) entered Parliament on the departure on the retirement of another Labour MP, followed by Louisa Wall (Labour) in 2008. Marilyn Waring, a National Party MP in the 1970s and 1980s, was also outed as a lesbian during her term and subsequently re-elected.

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.[10] 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 and Douglas Wright, award-winning teen book author Paula Boock and Chief Censor 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 is one exception.[11]

Gay and lesbian life in New Zealand today

New Zealanders are generally accepting of gays and lesbians,[12] although low level 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 small by international standards, especially outside Auckland, which has a small number of gay venues, and even a de-facto 'gay street', Karangahape Road. 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.[13]

The internet is heavily used by gay men in New Zealand to meet others, especially in areas which lack specifically gay venues. Another popular website,, is frequently used as a source of information and current affairs for New Zealand's LGBT population.

There are no dedicated lesbian bars in New Zealand, but elaborate Lesbian Ball events are held annually in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

There are a number of gay and lesbian festivals in New Zealand. The best known of these is Hero, held each February in Auckland. Until 2001, this included the Hero Parade, which attracted huge crowds, both gay and straight. Financial problems led to the parade's demise, but the festival continues.[14] Hero is now a celebration that comprises many events throughout February, including the popular Big Gay Out (in contrast to the music festival Big Day Out held in January), which is held on the Sunday closest to Valentine's Day. Many cities around the country host annual Pride Weeks, usually operated by the local UniQ or related youth-focussed organisations. The Out Takes film festival was a popular event in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, however the organisation have pulled the 2008 festival due to monetary and funding issues.

Gay publications

  • Circle - Wellington, New Zealand, "For Lesbians only" collectively produced c1973-1976 [3]
  • Out!, 1976?-present
  • Pink Triangle, 1979-1990.
  • Bitches, Witches, & Dykes - Auckland, New Zealand [4] 1980-1981
  • Lesbians in Print - Auckland, New Zealand, [5] 1987
  • Sapphic star Auckland, New Zealand c1989-1991 [6]
  • Tamaki Makaurau Lesbian Newsletter - Auckland 2, Aotearoa, New Zealand, [7] 1991-?
  • Man to Man, 1991–present (now Express)
  • UP magazine, 2002 - 2006

See also

External links

  • [8] — A Chronology of Homosexuality in New Zealand]
  • [9] — A History of New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform
  • [10] —
  • [11] —
  • [12] — New Zealand AIDS Foundation
  • [13] — Auckland's annual Hero Festival
  • [14] Out Takes Reel Queer Film Festival


  3. 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
  4. Binney, Judith. 'Yate, William 1802 - 1877'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 7 April 2006 URL:
  5. Setting the scene - homosexual law reform | NZHistory
  6. King, Michael. 'Sargeson, Frank 1903 - 1982'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 7 April 2006 URL:
  7. Setting the scene - homosexual law reform | NZHistory
  8. Birth of the gay movement - homosexual law reform | NZHistory
  9. Reforming the law - homosexual law reform | NZHistory
  10. Beyer ends "the best time of my life"
  11. Vox, Dylan, 'Equestrians Carry the Torch for Gay Olympians',,
  12. [1]
  13. [2]

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