I have been out and proud for the past 18 years. I have had the good fortune to travel all over the country and the world, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have knowingly encountered hatred or discrimination because of my sexual orientation.
However, I recently had an interaction with someone who’s also gay. We will refer to him as the offended person.
There are several themes in the offended person’s comments that have me wondering how we got to this point as a gay community.
To begin, for context, it is worth noting that New Zealand has an LGB+ population of about 10 per cent, according to a recent statista.com survey between February 17 and March 3, 2023.
The Ipsos LGBT+ Pride Global Survey in 2023 states we have 81 per cent acceptance and 9 per cent unsure of gay marriage support in New Zealand, which was legalised on August 19, 2013, 27 years after homosexuality was decriminalised in 1986.
This means that only 10 per cent of people surveyed oppose gay marriage outright; that is an impressive figure. It might not be perfect, but we’ve got one of the most accepting and tolerant countries in the world when it comes to gay acceptance.
Since 1986, we have come a long way, and that is something to be proud of.
Pride, in my opinion, should be more family-friendly
The offended person objected to my suggestion that Pride parades be more family-friendly because they’re in a public space with children present. There should be no nudity or sexual themes; that didn’t seem like a crazy opinion to have, did it?
I stopped attending Pride events a long time ago because, based on my personal experience with New Zealand’s high level of acceptance, I never felt the need to participate. However, I recall sitting atop the awning of a shopfront in Ponsonby Rd nine years ago, proudly watching the parade.
For the most part, it was a celebration of love, acceptance, and overcoming adversity. Sure, there were some questionable themes even back then, but for the most part, it was in good taste.
But Pride and the rainbow community are not limited to Ponsonby Rd; they are a global community, and we owe it to the activists who came before us to respect what they fought for and sacrificed in order for us to be here today. Yet Pride photos from around the world in 2023 have caused me to question what Pride is today.
The offended person compared this to a well-known charity event, Boobs on Bikes, arguing that because that event is “heteronormative” and thus socially acceptable, Pride should be given the same respect. I argue that both are inappropriate, and I’m allowed to have that opinion, just as he is allowed to have his.
My personal view is that one event in bad taste does not entitle another to exist.
We must not forget that modern Pride culture arose in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots, which occurred on June 28, 1969, in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. A series of protests erupted across the country, most notably in New York, prompting gay rights activist groups to commit to annual protests to combat homosexual persecution. Fast forward to today, and we’re seeing public celebrations of sexual indulgence.
There are still countries where homosexuality is illegal, with far-right extremist political policies that prosecute our people on a daily basis. In a social media age, how we project our community is seen all over the world, and I wonder to myself if the content emerging from Pride in 2023 around the world is harmful for progress in countries like Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni recently signed a bill criminalising same-sex conduct.
He claimed I was too privileged to understand
The offended person essentially claimed he was gayer than me because he was forced out of the closet at a young age and thus had more years “out” than I did, as if it were a competition and there is some kind of gay levelling up that I am unable to obtain.
He believed that because I was privileged, my opinion was somehow less valid.
I frequently volunteered for MaLGRA, the Manawatu Lesbian and Gay Rights Association, nearly 20 years ago. MaLGRA is New Zealand’s longest-running LGBT organisation, having been in operation since 1977 and fighting for our rights and acceptance.
Every New Year, thousands of people from our community gather at Vinegar Hill for a massive camping event to celebrate the new year. MaLGRA has always had a strong presence at this event, so despite not being a big camper, I decided to camp out and participate one year.
This is where I met a man who really opened my eyes to our community’s history. I do not remember his name; let’s call him Bill for the sake of this story.
Bill walked with a cane; he moved slowly, and I began to suspect he had a mental disability. I had noticed Bill attempting to socialise with people camping nearby; he was a much older man than most of the other men camping nearby, who would often respond with rude remarks like “f**k off old man” or “No thanks perv”.
I was horrified at the younger gay community and how they treated Bill; he was being polite and did nothing wrong.
I decided to sit next to Bill at a bonfire and get to know him, which, after a while of talking, really opened my eyes to the world just 20 years earlier. Bill, it turns out, was mentally disabled not by birth, but by being beaten nearly to death while protesting and fighting for the rights we now have. Simply for being gay.
People like Bill, his friends that he lost and those he fought with all put their lives in danger during a time when homosexuality was illegal, when our people were persecuted and prosecuted for exercising a basic human right. But what they wanted, what they were fighting for, is literally my life now. I feel like I have made people like Bill proud by being able to live as openly gay without fear of discrimination, judgement, or rejection.
I feel for those who are still having difficulty coming out. I recognise how fortunate I am; not everyone has that opportunity. But I am not a lesser gay because I did not face adversity; my experience remains valid, and my perspective remains valuable to the larger community, even if others disagree.
I was homophobic because... I wasn’t gay enough?
This one hurt the most because the offended person called me homophobic.
I am in a 10-year bi-racial, non-traditional, open gay relationship with my Japanese boyfriend, so I am not sure how that is possible. I’m the gayest person I know.
I told him that I do not feel represented in the gay community, only to be met with what I considered defensive aggression in return.
I do not go to gay bars or nightclubs; I prefer a more relaxed atmosphere. You are more likely to see me at Beau in Ponsonby, sipping wine and devouring the best lamb ribs in town, than at Family Bar or G.A.Y. in Karangahape Rd.
While I enjoyed RuPaul’s Drag Race for a couple of seasons, I am not obsessed with drag culture; it does not pique my interest beyond the couple of seasons I have seen. I wish I had a dollar for every time a gay friend was surprised because I did not know of a drag queen they were trying to talk about.
I generally dislike shopping and am the last person you should ask for fashion advice. I was once told by my own community to turn in my “gay card” when I did not immediately realise “LV” stood for Louis Vuitton during a conversation. I had the same remark when I didn’t know who Adele was at one point, but I don’t really follow mainstream pop culture either.
These, in my opinion, are just a few of the common stereotypes associated with the gay community, which I believe are overrepresented on television and in movies, and are certainly a saturated theme in our Pride culture. By the way, there is nothing wrong with any of those things. But I would like to see more people like Apple CEO Tim Cook celebrated in gay culture and a little less RuPaul, not that I have anything against RuPaul.
I will not accept our own community yelling “homophobic!” when they are against someone who doesn’t align with their idea of what being gay is. Representation matters for everyone in the community, and I am not homophobic just because I don’t project the personality tropes of the dominant rainbow collective.
Bonus Story: MPox vaccine drive or nightclub?
Earlier this year, there was a campaign to encourage the gay community to get the monkeypox vaccine because we were at greater risk of transmission and had cases in our community. Because of the media coverage of monkeypox, I worried that gay people would be stigmatised, but I wanted to be responsible and get the vaccine, so I made an appointment.
When I arrived at the Grafton pop-up clinic, there was a 7-foot-tall bearded man in rainbow stilettos ushering people in with a hand fan. Inside, I could not hear the woman at the check-in desk over the loud nightclub music blasting in a room surrounded by rainbow inflatable tube sticks and balloons.
Even when I saw the doctor, he was dressed in a Balenciaga lab coat. Now, the Balenciaga lab coat was pretty cool, but the point is that it all added up to a massive spectacle that, to me, perpetuates gay stereotypes with which I do not identify. I expected a professional clinic, medical advice, and treatment without feeling like we were being treated like children.
Am I alone in feeling this way?
Sure, my views may lean slightly more conservative, but I want to be able to sit down with my community and keep an open mind while being treated with the same respect.
Have we truly created a gay society in which people operate in a hive mind, unable to form independent opinions?
Forcing others to accept the dominant ideology of the day strikes me as narcissistic. I certainly do not react well when someone stands over me and yells abuse because they choose to be offended. I am not sure about you, but that is not the best way to persuade me to change my mind.
I was raised to believe that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. This means that if we want others to tolerate and accept us, we must be willing to tolerate and accept others too.
Is there anyone else who feels the same way?
Or am I the only one who thinks this?
Jason Nockels is NZME’s GM Digital Revenue Products & Lifestyle. Jason juggles a life in New Zealand and Mexico, indulging his entrepreneurial side by developing property near the Yucatán Peninsula, while also drawing on his tourism marketing and tech start-up experience to take on NZME’s publishing lifestyle brands and digital products. Due to his inability to cook, he’s an avid restaurant-goer, a poor snowboarder, and an international citizen whenever the opportunity to travel arises.