Takatāpui to Pride: “A slow cultural evolution towards change”

Analysis – Pride has long been criticized for not speaking to or serving Maori and BIPOC LGBTQI+ communities. How can it go in the direction of honoring the indigenous people who have championed the movement?

Liam Brown.
Photo: Supplied / Joshua Hurst

Pride is defined differently from person to person. The experience of many is that the month-long festival is a celebration of queer joy in all its facets – rainbow flags adorning the streets as you flaunt your queerness in the face of a society that, despite coming from afar, continues to discriminate against us.

Pride creates community, power, strength and resilience.

I am not speaking for all queer people of colour, nor for all Takatapui Māori when I say that until very recently I never felt like I belonged in, or in, the giant jigsaw that is Pride in Aotearoa. To me, Pride is a month-long circuit party celebrating white, able-bodied homosexuality – pushing the most privileged to the front of the crowd.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Takatapui’s existence in Pride.

One of the first agitators of the Gay Liberation Movement in New Zealand was Ngahuia Te Awekotuku. During a panel celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Gay Day – which was the first celebration of Pride in Aotearoa – Te Awekotuku described the time she received an award to study in the United States but was denied the entered the United States because she was a “known sexual deviant”.

Te Awekotuku is one of many queer Maori Wāhine who are the reason I stand here today as a proud Takatāpui Māori. They’re the reason I get to exist and shamelessly revel in all my weirdness every minute of every day.

Going back even further, the history of Tūtānekai and Tiki shows the existence of pre-colonization Takatāpui, one of many pūrākau and kōrero that proves that we have always been here.

Despite the deep struggles of tangata whenua in Aotearoa, you hope that the recovery and normalization of takatāpuitanga would be directed and centered on the indigenous peoples of this whenua. However, Pride and associated festivals have long been criticized as having a monocultural focus that does not speak to or serve the Māori and BIPOC LGBTQI+ communities.

Elyssia Ra’nee Wilson-Heti is the Creative Director of Auckland Pride, having taken up her role eight months ago ahead of the Auckland Pride Festival 2022. She has been integral to the organization of Pride events throughout the festival prior to its cancellation.

She says brunette women have done the most, but when you hear about those who have stood up for Pride from the start, you have to wonder when the efforts of all women and brunette women were written into Pride’s narrative.

“When were we wiped from history? Because often the people who do the heaviest and most moving work; the pioneers in our community – are usually brown indigenous women.”

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Ngahuia Te Awekotuku leads the Our March of Auckland Pride Festival 2020
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham Farrelly

I have felt a change recently though, I can wholeheartedly say that Auckland Pride made me feel like I belonged in the movement that is Pride. Presenting a body of work at Britomart for the duration of the Pride Festival for Te Tīmatanga (Auckland Pride’s first Takatāpui festival) made me hyper aware of how we as Takatāpui can occupy space in places where we are not seen – in order to be seen. It’s a constant fight that hasn’t stopped since the very first Gay Day.

Wilson-Heti described Te Tīmatanga as “a gift to the city”, saying the work at all levels was phenomenal and spoke for itself.

Being part of Te Tīmatanga and having a 48-panel display in the middle of the Britomart Atrium, where my body was on display for the duration of the festival, was contradictory; on the one hand i was so proud to be part of something that is so much bigger than me, but on the other i was just as confused as to why it took so long to get there to the point of having a queer, Māori-led festival in Aotearoa.

Meanwhile, at Te Whanganui a Tara, Pride festival co-chairs Tahlia Aupapa-Martin and Vivian Lyngdoh acknowledge that Pride is a historically white event. Along with the rest of the board, they say, “We know takatāpui don’t always feel like they have a place in Pride events. Pride is always very, very white.

“We strive to undo this by implementing takatāpui excellence wherever we can.”

Wellington Pride is set to hold its annual Pride Festival in September, having canceled the February 2022 festival at the start of the Omicron Covid-19 peak.

Aupapa-Martin and Lyngdoh agree that the responsibility for making Pride fairer for blacks and browns falls harder on them than their white counterparts — which says a lot about how Pride works — not just as an organization, but as a whole. as a staple in the queer community.

Wellington Pride’s vision statement – titled Te Whāriki, which was recently voted on at their AGM – says its current experience shows Maori in Matauranga are excluded – meaning Wellington Pride Festival “contributes to structural violence to Aotearoa and the structures that drive cis-hetero-patriarchy.” The document says the board and members generally value fairness, but have no way of keeping up with dynamic changes within the community.

Liam Brown's work as part of Auckland Pride's first Takatāpui Festival - Te Tīmatanga.

Liam Brown’s work as part of Auckland Pride’s first Takatāpui Festival – Te Tīmatanga.
Photo: Supplied / David St George

This year, Wellington Pride has focused on calling on the community to help restructure the festival to make it fair for all who wish to attend. One of the ways they’ve gone about this is by emphasizing community consultation – through events such as their Annual General Meeting – something I didn’t expect. As they stepped into their roles as co-chairs, Martin and Lyngdoh recognized that Pride needed more consultation with the community in order to bring the community down the path of the festival to make it an event that everyone can enjoy. benefit.

Having lived in Wellington for just under three years, I had never been aware of any community consultation within Wellington Pride, largely because until this year it hadn’t really had venue. Again, I was so detached from Pride that it’s no surprise that I didn’t know much.

Te Whāriki says that through the creation of the Activation Plan, which will lay out the steps to achieve their vision of a more equitable pride, our future experience will see mātauranga Māori centered around pride.

This is all well and good, but the community needs to come forward for the concept of community consultation to work.

“The representation you see on the board is representative of who’s running,” Aupapa-Martin said. This goes back to historical factors surrounding racism that make Pride a dangerous environment, not just for Maori, but for anyone of color who enters the space.

Lyngdoh echoes this, acknowledging that there are, in fact, racists in our community.

Auckland Pride’s Wilson-Heti says people need to mobilize and come together in order to see tangible changes in the way Pride, not just as an organization but as a force in society, operates.

“The responsibility does not just lie with the board,” she says, “We are seeing a change, but there is a lot of mistrust within our BIPOC communities during Pride. No one has actively listened to the concerns people.”

Wilson-Heti describes events in the current Pride landscape as a “slow cultural burn towards change”.

Personally, I hope what we see is just that. There are things the community needs to do to help this burn; the main thing being to show up at the events.

On the 50th anniversary of the first Gay Day, RainbowYOUTH communications and engagement manager Meghan Collins said showing up at events like general meetings is the only way to see change.

I don’t know if, or when, I will feel comfortable in and around the spaces Pride operates in. Efforts are being made and seeing change happening before my eyes, albeit gradually, is encouraging and gives me great hope for the future.

By the time our generation leaves these structures and future community leaders take over, if we have done our job well, all the foundations will be laid to ensure that Pride is accessible and equitable for all who wish to attend.

James C. Tibbs