Richard Hills, second from right, at the Auckland Council Pride Parade 2017. Photo: Cathy Casey

When public figures are calling for gay people to be killed of course we still need Pride

A glance at the news, and the wider abuse members of the rainbow community receive, shows how important events like the Auckland Pride festival remain, says councillor Richard Hills.

Recently, Aussie sportsman Anthony Mundine said publicly that he thinks gay people should get the death penalty. That isn’t OK, especially when you think of the effect that hearing this could have on the more vulnerable members of the community.

Our sexuality and gender diverse/rainbow communities have high rates of depression and suicide, and transgender Kiwis have little or no access to the medical help they need, let alone safe spaces.

I’m in a privileged position as a “rainbow elected member” – one of only a few in New Zealand. Yes, I get homophobic abuse on social media, but I use the block button frequently, and thankfully I haven’t faced much in person for years.

Sadly, some people aren’t so lucky. This is especially true of our younger rainbow whānau and those who identify as transgender or gender diverse. They often experience bucketloads more isolation and discrimination than someone like me could ever imagine.

We’ve seen a lot of progress in our society: the rainbow community is increasingly becoming not only accepted but celebrated. However, we still have a long way to go. The world isn’t perfect and there are many countries where being part of the rainbow community can still be dangerous. In New Zealand we continue to have a lot of homophobia in the shadows, but such attitudes are these days largely unacceptable in wider society.

We are fortunate to have many hardworking members of the rainbow community who continue to fight for improvement and make Auckland and Aotearoa a safe and happy place for all. We need to continue on this journey that we’re on, and maintain the momentum we have. I’m proud of the work we’re doing at the council, and it’s great to see what so many other organisations are doing in this space, but we can always do more.

We all need to expand the breadth of our support and cater more for the transgender, intersex and gender diverse communities, with specific focus on both public and private sectors.

Most often, this conversation turns to all-gender toilets, because it is often viewed as the key issue facing gender diverse communities. However, while improving toilet access should be a priority, the conversation needs to be much wider. We need to act on issues like inclusive language in all of our communications. We need to look at our workspaces and our interactions with each other to make sure that everyone is included, regardless of their sexuality, sex or gender identity.

We each need to take responsibility for calling out any form of discrimination, with our leaders showing the way forward. Auckland Council should be the flagbearer for inclusiveness and respect, and we’re on the right track with the introduction of our Diversity and Inclusion Framework.

So why do we need Pride?

Pride is a great opportunity for each of us to take stock of our actions and make sure we are being inclusive and respectful. It’s to remind everyone we are here and still fighting for people who need it. To remind us all of what needs to be done.

But it’s also to celebrate how far we’ve come, and to acknowledge all the people over the years who have done the mahi to get us where we are today – including many who lost their lives doing so.

Pride also provides a tonne of safe spaces where rainbow communities can hang out together and learn, smile and dance.

You still may not understand, but if you’re open to learning, that’s a real start.


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