After nearly 15 years since she came out about her sexuality, 29-year-old transsexual Cecilia Kang still gets hurtful things said to her.

"People have told me 'you don't deserve to live', called me a freak and say I am ugly," said Kang, a freelance fashion designer.

"It used to really hurt and it has made me wonder if life is worth living."

But each year, she looks forward to one festival she says makes her "feel human" and celebrates who she is.

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The Auckland Pride Festival starts today, the biggest LGBTIQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex, queer and asexual) community celebration in the country.

The festival runs through to Sunday February 26, and will feature a wide range of events ranging from gala performances and a day-long harbourside celebration to the popular pride parade.

"Pride [Festival] helps us feel proud of who we are, and I hope people who attend the events will see that we are people too and be more accepting of those in the rainbow community," said Kang.

Being Korean, Kang, who moved here from Korea when she was 10, recalled how hard it was to get her family to accept her transsexuality.

Although feminine since childhood, Kang said it was during her Westlake Boys High School years that she made the transition to becoming a woman.

"The Korean community is very conservative, and being gay or transsexual was taboo," she said.

"I didn't actually make any announcement, but just gradually started to dress like a woman and grew my hair."

Her family continued to object and reject her, but she found support in friends.
Kang said events that brought the rainbow community together was what kept her "feeling alive".

Her pinnacle was reached last year when she was crowned Miss Transsexual 2016.
"It's a dream come true to be a beauty queen, and you get respected so much from the people around you," Kang said.

An ANZ-commissioned research released today found members of the LGBTI community were less comfortable holding hands than the majority.

They were twice as likely (39 per cent) than non-LGBTI (18 per cent) to feel uncomfortable.

Almost a third had been made to feel uncomfortable holding their partner's hand through negative response from others.

The study was conducted by Galaxy Research in the past fortnight with 504 New Zealanders 18 and older taking part.

"While most Kiwis take holding hands in public for granted, members of our LGBTI community feel judged doing so," said ANZ Managing Director Retail and Business and NZ Pride Network sponsor, Antonia Watson.

"Holding hands is a very simple and public way of declaring love, but, sadly, not everyone in our community feels comfortable."

The research findings had been the inspiration behind several initiatives at this year's Pride Festival, including a #HoldTight campaign launched today to encourage Kiwis to snap and share their own hand-holding photos on social media.

"We're hoping Kiwis jump on board the campaign and demonstrate how we live in an accepting and open society that's proud to celebrate diversity," Watson said.

At the Pride Parade, Near Field Communication (NFC) powered wristbands that recognise each other and light up when the wearer holds hands with another wearer will also be distributed in a bid to encourage hand holding.

A dawn festival, featuring guest speakers and performances from Ahakoa Te Aha this morning at the top end of Western Park on Ponsonby Rd, will kick off this year's Pride celebrations.

"In the light of the new day, this ceremony seeks to connect our spirits to Tamaki Makaurau, blessing all those who participate in and around [the festival] with a safe and meaningful time," organisers said.

The Auckland Pride Gala is back tonight at the Q Theatre after a one-year hiatus following public demand.

On Sunday, thousands of condoms will be distributed at the "Ending HIV" themed Big Gay Out at Pt Chevalier.

The Department of Corrections this year been barred from marching at the Pride Parade because the festival board felt it had failed to live up to promises made about improving support for LGBTI prisoners.

The department was the only organisation to have been refused participation, with more than 50 groups - including police - set to parade on February 25.

Auckland Pride chairwoman Kirsten Sibbit said she wanted the parade to be an inclusive event which supports diversity and advances equality for members of the rainbow communities.

The decision, she said, was against the organisation and not individuals.

AUCKLAND PRIDE FESTIVAL

When: Today - Feb 26

Where: Auckland

Website: www.aucklandpridefestival.org.nz

Singature Events:

■ Pride Dawn Ceremony

Today 6am, Western Park, Ponsonby

Featuring guest speakers and performances from Ahakoa Te Aha.

■ Auckland Pride Gala

Today 8pm, Q Theatre, 305 Queen St

Black-tie extravaganza, showcasing performances, talent and guest appearances from rainbow community icons.

■ Big Gay Out

Sunday noon to 7pm, Coyle Park Pt Chevalier

NZ's biggest harbourside celebration of rainbow diversity.

■ Pride Parade

Sat 25 Feb from 7.30pm, Ponsonby Rd

Parade, carnival and floats commencing at the north end of Ponsonby Rd ending just past Western Park.

■ PROUD 2017

Sat 25 from 10pm, Studio + Galatos Street, 12 Galatos St

Closing ceremony with an international cast of international party superstars