Barry Soper: Celebrating 30 years of gay pride

Bimbo (left), Miss Mole (centre) and Buffy during the Big Gay Out held at Coyle Park in Pt Chevalier, Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Bimbo (left), Miss Mole (centre) and Buffy during the Big Gay Out held at Coyle Park in Pt Chevalier, Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Love is in the air, well it was on Valentine's Day in Auckland yesterday and it will be again in our biggest city next Saturday.

The Big Gay Out yesterday had John Key mincing with the extroverts and next weekend they'll be out in force again for the Heroes Parade.

But this is a time for reflection, given that it's 30 years in August that a young Wellington mother of three raised her glass to celebrate that God's Own had become the first country in this region, and the 13th in the world, to legalise homosexuality.

Fran Wilde will justifiably take her place at the head of the Heroes Parade on Saturday but will remember the numerous death threats she received for more than a year while her law made its explosive way through the Parliamentary process with a final vote of 49 for and 44 against. Even Wilde's staff were required to take instruction from the police on how to detect letter bombs, such was the level of venom directed at her.

Opponents of the reform told us it would be the end of the world as we knew it. Aids would run rampant as society tumbled into moral decline with predictions that more people would "become" homosexual.

The most vocal political opponent of Wilde's was the Invercargill firebrand Norman Jones who waved his walking stick around in Parliament's debating chamber, telling those of that persuasion to go back to the sewers they came from. They belonged in the gutter, and Jones said that's where they should stay. Fuelling the ignorance, Jones warned against gazing at homosexuals for too long because you could get Aids.

To interview him during that period was an exercise in editing out the vitriol, the sort that was common in another, more sinister era when Jones lost his leg during the Second World War. Indeed, the presentation of an 800,000 signature petition to Parliament opposing law reform was described at the time as resembling a Nuremberg Rally.

Petition boxes were delivered from the electorates. Some of them were virtually empty and others had signatures by the same hand, so the petition was discarded - which incensed the opponents even more.


New Zealand has fortunately come a long way since the days when homosexual suspects were under surveillance. Several years before Wilde's law, a spy's briefcase was delivered to my office that contained a pie and a Penthouse. Also in it was a notebook detailing what was described as lascivious male suspects being observed dining together in the capital.

Convictions from that era still remain on the "criminal" rap sheets of those who were convicted of what was considered lewd behaviour - which is clearly ridiculous.

Rather than Armageddon, New Zealand's become a more tolerant place than it once was and we should salute those who made it that way.

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