Be proud of who you are is the theme of a new Tauranga event, the Tauranga Moana Pride picnic.
The free, family-friendly picnic, on Tauranga's waterfront, offers the opportunity to get together and be super proud of our diverse community.
While gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are as diverse as the rest of the population, their shared experience of not feeling accepted or misunderstood is still common.
What better way to celebrate inclusivity, visibility and diversity for the LGBTQ+ community in the Bay than to organise a family-friendly picnic on the waterfront says organiser of the picnic on 9 March, Lee Lucas.
Lucas says the reason for having the picnic is to create an environment where people can feel included, to celebrate diversity, and to create some visibility.
"Being yourself is not always easy, and I'm sure many of the LGBTQ+ whānau can relate, having to come out every day depending on the never-ending situations we find ourselves in," he says.
"As a gay person, I think it is really important to be out and proud in our everyday lives, but it can be a challenge at times. Even if you've been out for years," says Tauranga Moana Pride crew member Carlo Koppe in a video posted on social media.
"It is actually a blessing to be out, as LBGT. Join us and celebrate being proud. It is not just a once a year thing, it is something we have to do every day, but we have this opportunity to get together and be super proud of who we are, and show the community that we are here," he says.
Lucas, who taught life skills and values at intermediate schools in the Bay of Plenty, says he was discouraged to share his identity with the children at the time, although he felt it contradicted with what he was teaching.
"It felt like I was back at school again, only this time I was the popular kid, playing handball, soccer, and occasionally sneaking in my favourite game of netball. I tried to encourage the boys to join in, but that didn't go so well," he says.
"It didn't take long before the usual quarrels and disagreements started on the courts. The most common derogatory word used on the playground was 'gay', and soon enough I found a young boy crying in front of me because someone called him gay. It was no surprise," he explains.
When Lucas noticed a student who wore an LGBTQ+ Rainbow badge on her school collar, he asked what that meant for her. She told him it was a symbol of support and love for her brother, who was transitioning at the time.
"I commended her for being so brave and open at such a young age. I didn't have that much courage when I was her age, and that was the day I knew what power visibility has in our community. Because of her, I found comfort being myself in the moment, and understood the power of whakawhanaungatanga," he says.
This girl inspired Lucas to continue the journey with BOP PRIDE, and Tauranga Moana Pride. The aim is to create more visibility in the community so whenever there is someone who feels alone, they can look up and see themselves in others.
"The picnic is a major event for our community to enjoy, meet other people, and be who they are. We've worked hard for the past year, and can't wait to enjoy this special day that will embrace kotahitanga in our community. We all have a responsibility to show manaakitanga for one another," he says.
The Pride Picnic is not just for the LGBT+ community. Everyone is welcome to come along and join in the fun. The afternoon will begin with a karakia, followed by a walk around the park to the waterfront, which Lucas says is intended to celebrate who we are, and to acknowledge those who cannot practise freedom the way we can.
The rest of the afternoon will bring a range of activities, games and live entertainment including performances by the Rotorua RACCO Taiko Japanese Drumming team and the crew from Yeah Nah It's Not Ok Song Quest.
People can bring a picnic basket, but there will also be food trucks on site. The Pride Picnic is a waste-free event and participants are encouraged to bring reusable containers
What: Tauranga Moana Pride Picnic
When: Saturday, March 9, 12-3pm
Where: Tauranga Waterfront, The Strand