Aotearoa’s biggest Pride festival kicks off today, returning in full force after two years of interruptions and cancellations forced by Covid-19.
After Covid-19 disrupted the festival in 2021 and then forced a cancellation last year, hopes are high for the 2023 festival to run a little smoother - though continued bad weather in Auckland has delayed in-person events from starting today.
While there is enormous excitement, this year’s event comes amid a mixed outlook for the global rainbow community, with progressive moves being met with growing backlash and outrage. Auckland Pride Festival director Max Tweedie, who is standing down after four years leading the festival, tells The Front Page podcast that international culture wars had an impact on some of the decisions made for this year’s event.
“We’re seeing our community being used as a weapon in a culture war,” says Tweedie.
This also comes amid a spate of local homophobic incidents over the last 12 months, including arson, graffiti and intolerant behaviour unfolding at schools around the country.
Tweedie says that the culture wars combined with these local incidents have had a local impact in terms of the planning of public events for this year’s Pride Festival.
“When we’re planning Pride, we’re thinking about some of the things that could crop up that we haven’t had to deal with before,” he says.
“We’re thinking differently around drag queen story times. Is it safe for that to happen in a public space? Or does the Council need to hire security to try and protect these events in case something horrible might happen?”
The challenges facing the community also extend well beyond Aotearoa’s borders. Politicians in the United States have passed multiple laws targeting education, gender identity, health funding and even drag queens. Tweedie says that these issues reverberate throughout the community and serve as a reminder that there is still work to be done in the local context. He says legislation here in New Zealand could also do with certain improvements.
For starters, Tweedie says he would like to see sexuality covered in the upcoming changes to the hate speech laws.
“I think it’s really important that our communities are protected from that,” he says.
“I’d also love to see changes in the Human Rights Act to protect gender-diverse, trans and intersex communities. We’d also like to see the specific law reversed that makes it legal to perform nonconsensual surgery on intersex babies.
“There’s about 2 per cent of the population born with a variation of sex characteristics that aren’t your typical male or female. And it’s currently legal for doctors and parents to make decisions about an intersex baby.”
Although the Pride Festival is always about celebrating the vibrancy of the LGBTQI+ community, Tweedie says that there’s still enormous work to be done.
“Our theme this year is Elevate. And there have been so many challenges that we’ve talked about and so many emerging challenges that we want to rise above. We want to show Tamaki Makaurau, and maybe the rest of the world, the kind of incredible talents and excellence we have in our communities.
“We want to elevate the phenomenal things happening in our communities.”
Listen to the full episode of The Front Page podcast to hear Tweedie’s breakdown of what to expect from Pride. He also explains why the struggles facing the LGBT+ community are far from over.