In 2017, a church leader told me at the Middlemore Hospital reception that I would go to hell if I did not change my sexuality. We entered 2017 having celebrated 30 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The year turned on its head when Christian Pastor Logan Robertson told his congregation, “My view on homo marriage is that the Bible never mentions it, so I am not against them getting married as long as a bullet goes through their head the moment they kiss. Because that is what it talks about, not homo marriage but homo death.”
Robertson’s website said: “We believe that sodomy is a sin and an abomination before God which God punishes with the death penalty.” In a video, Robertson told his congregation that a death sentence for gay people “should be the law in New Zealand”.
The comments sent a shock through the queer community. We needed the authorities to protect us from such incitement of violence against us from Christian extremists. A police spokesperson told the Herald that the police “are not in a position to pursue the matter any further”. That is when I learned that hate speech inciting violence against the queer community is legal in New Zealand.
As a kid, the idea of going to hell terrified me, but the older I get, the more I realise that I am living in a hell on earth created by homophobes and transphobes. I recorded the acts of hatred and violence against the queer community in the last few years. It scares me that years after we decriminalised homosexuality, violence and hatred against the queer community have not ended. Instead, I fear we are entering a decade of war on queer lives.
Starting in Pride 2021, two non-binary people, aged 14 and 15, were beaten in daylight in New Plymouth. They were holding hands when a group of four called them homophobic slurs and beat them. One was left bleeding.
The Pride march sought to provide the queer community with a safe place to exist, but a group of preachers from Heart of Christ Ministries came to rain on our parade. The preachers entered the march while we gathered at Albert Park and followed us to Aotea Square, yelling, “God hates sin”. I stepped in to shut it down when I saw them approaching young people with their homophobic messages. The police did nothing because the preachers had a right to do that.
A few days later, Ray Gardiner woke up in a pool of his blood after a homophobic assault. Gardiner said he and his partner were out in Auckland CBD to celebrate the last week of Pride month when a group of men started yelling “faggots” and “homos” from their car. The men got out of the car and hit Gardiner’s partner before punching Gardiner to the ground and stomping on him.
When we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. A group of people vandalised a pride sign with the statement, “God resists the proud”. They were retaliating against the pride celebrations in Tauranga. On International Women’s Day, a group gathered outside the Ministry for Women to protest the self-identification laws for transgender people.
It’d already been a pretty darn hard year for the queer community when Judith Collins came guns blazing in defence of Rachel Stewart, who had her gun licence removed after she made a tweet that the police considered threatening violence. The tweet was directed at a man defending trans people and read: “Is it wrong that the country girl in me wants to invite my gun-toting sisters over, strip this wee fucker naked, let him loose in my back paddock, jump on the tray of the ute, and hunt him down with spotlights while whooping & hollering & drinking?”
Collins said Stewart was a good person, and it was her right under free speech to tweet what she tweeted. Stewart had her suspension lifted. A month later, Collins whipped the entire National Party to vote against the ban on conversion therapy. Collins, alongside Simon Bridges, labelled the prohibition of conversion therapy “anti-parents”.
Soon 17 churches, including Arise Church, Church Unlimited, Life Church, City Impact Church and Curate Church, signed a joint letter to the Justice Select Committee about the conversion therapy ban. They wanted the Select Committee to add a section in the legislation to keep legal “respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender, and advice, guidance, prayer, or support given to anyone by anyone else including parents, family members, friends, counsellors, religious leaders, or health professionals, when such advice or support is requested and is respectful and non-coercive.”
Their resistance to the ban on conversion therapy did not stop the ban. We banned conversion therapy on February 15, 2022. The next day, I received a note on my door saying, “hang yourself”. The Herald published an article about it. Bob McCoskrie, leader of Family First, complained to New Zealand Media Council the article made people who opposed the bill “look very bad and willing to physically threaten people”. McCoskrie said the note I received was a “spurious claim”. The NZMC held there were no grounds to proceed.
In the same month, drag queens Erika Flash and Coco Flash went on a nationwide tour reading books to children in libraries. Protesters picketed their events and accused them of indoctrinating children. When they arrived at Gloria of Greymouth, a pink queer church in Greymouth, they found that Gloria was vandalised with the statement “House of God not of Gay” and a Bible reference that condemned queer people to death. A burnt rainbow pride flag was staked in the entranceway.
Soon in Tauranga, Bethlehem College came under pressure after it was caught, without Ministry of Education approval, making students and parents sign a form that said marriage is only between a man and a woman. Bethlehem College was later exposed for its “Summary of beliefs relating to gender as a school of Special Character”. The document rules out the existence of non-binary students. It prohibits transgender students from using the toilets, uniforms, names and pronouns that align with their gender. The document states that allowing trans students to take puberty blockers is inconsistent with the college’s Statement of Special Character and therefore prohibited.
Also, in Tauranga, two men burned down RainbowYOUTH’s drop-in centre in an arson attack. While sentencing Alexander James Burgess and Zechariah Vincet Phillips, Judge Thomas Ingram said the arson was not a targeted crime against the queer community, despite the police summary of facts noting the contrary. On July 1, Burgess told the police that Phillips told him the fire “will teach them for being gay”. On July 6, Phillips claimed that Burgess told him “he was going to burn those faggots to the ground”.
In July this year, Destiny Church pastor Derek Tait was accused of intimidation after posing outside Dunedin gay bar, Woof!. Woof! co-owner Dudley Benson helped organise a counter-protest to Freedom and Rights Coalition’s protest against Three Waters reforms and vaccine mandates. In the lead-up to the protests, Benson received two anonymous death threats through the bar’s social media account and messages from Tait, including an image of Tait pointing at the bar. Tait denied accusations of being intimidating.
Months after New Zealand banned conversion therapy, Sean Plunket hosted conversion therapist David Riddell on his show. Riddell claimed that being queer was an “illness” and that people “do not heal an illness by accepting it is not an illness”. Riddell likened queerness to “disturbance or emotional trauma or illness” like “depression, anger, anorexia, and agoraphobia”. Riddell’s position is that queerness is a “condition that people find themselves in that they want to be healed from” and that he is “their man if they want professional help”. Riddell insists if queer people wanted out of “those obsessions, those compulsions, those sexual addictions, if they want out of what they have been propagandised into, then I can help them, and I will help them.”
Speaking to transgender identities in October, Collins said she identified as a “27-year-old Slovakian model”, while National Party leader Christopher Luxon told Plunket there are only “two biological genders”: men and women, ruling out the existence of non-binary people. By claiming to be something she is not and is incapable of being, Collins undermined, dismissed and ridiculed trans identities.
Also in October, Cassie Love - a trans woman - and her partner posted a video to TikTok of them being thrown out of Whitewood Suites by owners Mike Woodfield and Elsa Lee. Love begged the owners for time to pack, but Woodfield said, “Go in the bedroom and fucking dress and fucking get out,” “I’m sick of fucking cunts like you.” In a statement to Stuff, Woodfield said Love’s gender had nothing to do with it. Woodfield alleged the guests were smoking cannabis and that he gave them 10 minutes to pack. Love denied both claims. When Lee called the police, she mentioned that Love was “dressing up like a girl and going in and out”.
And most recently, a woman protested rainbow posters in the Ministry of Social Development Dunedin building. The MSD building had a rainbow poster and another poster inviting people to tell staff their pronouns if they wanted to. The woman asked the staff “why there was a poster up promoting child sterilisation and males in female-only spaces”. The minimum age for gender reassignment surgery is 18 years. The woman said she wouldn’t leave the building until the posters were removed and was “more than happy to be arrested for stuff like this”. The police escorted and trespassed her from the building.
It is undeniable that violence and hatred against queer people are on the rise. The attacks on the queer community are felt deeply by queer people. A recent study found that nearly two in three young queer people have considered suicide. It also found that one in six aged between 14 and 26 didn’t feel safe at school, polytechnic or university and one in eight young queer people moved towns or cities to feel safe.
The cherry on top of these two dangerous years is that the Labour Party has omitted queer people from protection from hate speech that incites violence. The Labour Party needs to accept that queer lives are in danger and they must protect queer people from hate speech that incites violence. New Zealand is a ticking timebomb for queer people with the rise of right-wing and Christian extremism.
What more will it take before the Government deems queer people in need and worthy of protection?