Being a New Zealander, how did you cope in your old country with realising (and then taking action on) your own preferences for partners? Is it still as conservative as some people would have us believe? Or is there a new wave of (im)morality through the islands?
As a New Zealander, I was in a pretty privileged position where I came out, and when I did. The place was definitely a backwater until the end of the 1970s, but in the last 30 years, I think it's become one of the most socially-liberal places in the world (leaving aside Northern Europe, of course. Heh.) It's more liberal, in general, than Australia is after the depredations of the Howard regime. It's a fuckton more liberal than the US.
NZ passed the Homosexual Law Reform act in 1986. This decriminalised gay sex, although lesbian sex, following British precedent, had never been criminalised. The fundie churches and various other odds and sods fought long and hard about it - the fundies had compiled a huge petition, and lost a lot of points when it was found that a large proportion of the signatures had been forged. I know of more than one of my exes who signed at the time because it had been passed around at their church and they couldn't not
sign. It was my last year of school, I had just come out myself
, and so I remember it all very very well. I was out there with my little placard on a number of occasions. It passed by 49 to 44 votes in Parliament. The age of consent was set for 16, same as for het sex.
Full equal rights under the law came a little later. The Police, who were run by a fundie Christian, initially made noises about attempting to gain an exemption to any anti-discriminatory provisions in law. Unfortunately, that was undermined when the NZ Army, Navy and Air Force all said "bring it on" and they had no problem with queers in the military (although I know of one captain who had left a couple of years earlier because she could no longer cope with the fear of discovery). So, discrimination on the grounds of sexuality was outlawed in 1993. The Human Rights Commission (who polices the Human Rights Act) have also said that discrimination against transsexuals is outlawed by the already-existing measures against discrimination by reason of sex. NZ had the first transsexual mayor (of a conservative country town!) and Member of Parliament in the world, Georgina Beyer
(who was also a former prostitute and very open about her past.
Legislation was passed in 2000 giving property rights to couples living in defacto relationships - this made no distinction between same-sex or opposite-sex partners. A Civil Union act was eventually passed in 2004, and essentially gives the same rights as marriage. It also applies to gay or straight couples. There are currently 5 out MPs in Parliament, out of 120. There are still a few hiding in the woodwork, but the most commonly rumoured-about ones are in the National (conservative) party, so I'm afraid my sympathy level for them is about zero. The only rights that gay people don't have is the right to adopt as a couple - this also applies to straight couples who aren't married. This week, a new report by the Human Rights Commission
has recommended that anyone should be able to alter their sex on their passport, no matter what the state of their genitalia is (the law currently requires that you've had "the op"). All the mainstream reporting on it that I've seen so far has been sympathetic. Personally, I think gender should go the way of all the other "identifying marks" that used to be on passports, and just disappear.
So, that's the political background, which informs the social background. I find that kiwis are more accepting of unostentatious difference compared to almost any other country I've visited (except perhaps the UK). And sometimes a bit of ostentation is fine too. For years, the queer pride parade was second-only to the Xmas parade for bringing everyone onto the streets to watch the spectacle. Everyone, gay or straight, refers to their "partner", if they're not married, and often even then with the younger generations. The queer communities aren't so ghettoised as they are elsewhere. For example, there is currently no gay bar in the capital city, Wellington. There was one
, which closed quite recently. That's because there are a zillion "mixed" venues where you can hang out with whomever you like. Sure, there are still plenty of places that you wouldn't want to do sucky-face on the dancefloor, but no more so than wearing yuppie threads and frequenting yer average beer barn.
My family are very average, and certainly not politically to the left, or particularly "educated", and we're not particularly close, and they haven't given a shit about my sexuality. My mother has had much more difficulty with the poly thing (but she doesn't "disapprove" per se, she's concerned
). My partners have attended Xmas dos and the like with my extended family, and again, it's no biggie. Of course, I'm
the big bad butch (hah), and most of my partners have been way more socially presentable than I am.
Traditional Maori and Pacific Island culture has always been more open to queer sexuality, although that has been massively undermined by the influence of various churches. But that underlying acceptance still remains, and has influenced the rest of NZ culture (especially in the North Island). I think the only people who actually have any problem with queers in NZ are solely
those who are part of an evangelical or fundamentalist religion. These extreme religions are on the rise in terms of congregation, but really only because they're poaching members from more traditional churches. NZ is one of the most secular countries in the world - only about half identify themselves as Christian, compared to 64% of Australians and 79% of Americans. A third of NZers say they have "no religion", compared to 19% of Australians and 15% of Americans. This makes a difference.
So, yeah, the days of kiwis escaping to Oz or the UK from the social strictures that were prevalent until the 80s are well gone. In fact, it's almost the reverse from the POV of a number of queer Aussies I know (although we can all breathe a mighty sigh of relief with the change in govt here, we hope). I certainly had many many doubts about moving here due to the relative differences these days, especially the legal ones (no civil unions, and no Commonwealth anti-discrimination law) but Canberra isn't bad - it's like a medium-sized city back home in that respect. Of course, there is a bit more diversity here (in Melbourne and Sydney, I should probably say) over all, but only as a function of a larger population.
So, sorry for the very very long rambling answer, but I was a bit surprised that that perception of NZ still seems to exist. I've experienced very little difficulty due to my sexuality (yeah, I've been called "dyke" and "faggot"(!) on the street, but not in over 18 years), and I knew people who were gaybashed way back when. But it's certainly way better than most countries around the world, including most of the "West".The missionary William Yate got the whole thing off to a bang in the historical record
by seducing dozens of "native youths" and British officers in the early colonial days. There was a bit of a hiatus for a number of years, but I think the "wave of immorality" in NZ is continuing its resurgence, strong and steady. :-)