Last Sunday saw well over 10,000 people at the Big Gay Out here in Auckland. Over 10, 000 assorted quuers in one spot. It was a lot of fun, as it is every year. And it's the last big LGBTQ community event in Auckland. The days of HERO are now over, for all sorts of reasons. And before HERO, we had private celebrations, but really it was only our protests that were public. Things have changed. When was the last time you heard of a gay protest?
So we've gone from a mega dance-party with huge shows, and an in-your-face street parade that offended many, and both with a strong and obvious emphasis on HIV, to a happy family picnic day that the right-wing Prime Minister of NZ thinks it is a good strategic move to appear at, along with the obnoxious born-again Christian Mayor of Auckland who believes we will all burn in hell as we're filthy sodomites, but hey, he still wants our votes.
In short, the BGO is a huge success. Everyone wants a piece of it. And yet it also holds onto its community roots somehow. I guess it's because its the one day in the year when we're out in public and know we are in the majority, and that's a great feeling. When you look around, you see thousands and thousands of queers, dykes, fags, whatever word you like to use. We're there, and it's good to be in a crowd of our own for a change, where the straights are welcome but in a minority.
The other thing that strikes me about it is that huge number of people, especially gay men, that I never see elsewhere. There are a lot of homos leading quiet lives in the suburbs who don't need to go to clubs or the other commercial venues. I suspect many are happily partnered, and worry more about their garden and the neighbours new fence than what happens on K Rd. And looking around the BGO it would seem these people actually make up the silent majority of homos here in Auckland.
Although it's not that obvious from the outside, the BGO is in many ways a "stealth" public health event. The NZAF runs it, and part of the thinking around current public health practice is that strong confident communities encourage and support members in staying healthy, so the BGO helps maintain our condom culture by helping gay men stay confident and proud.
Getting 10,000 queers together for a picnic is actually part of a deep safe-sex campaign, and I think that's a great thing.
The BGO does encourage us to celebrate ourselves. It offers a lot of room for people to take part however they want, from bringing a picnic and sitting with friends to dancing like its still Saturday night, even though it's Sunday afternoon, to engaging with the local MPs, or just wandering around and looking at the stalls and eating fairground food.
So many of us grew up isolated, afraid, and unsure until we came out and linked into the gay world somehow, usually through commercial venues. What the BGO shows us is that we can actually come together just for the fun of it. It's such a good feeling to be part of the majority, even if its only for a day.
One of the highlights for me was watching Mika's opening number for the Aroha Festival. He's always such a clever artist, I'm looking forward to seeing how this all goes. And along with that we have the Ourfest festival going on. Can gay Auckland support both? It will be interesting to see how they go, and good luck to them both: I know a huge amount of effort has gone into both of them.
And now we have the first "Bear Week" running next week, courtesy of the men at Urge. I think it's really good to see a resurgence of this sort of activity around us. I know my summer has felt busier than ever this year, and I like that, but hey, I'm a scene queen from way back.
I think this trajectory, from protest movement in the 70s and early 80s, to party and parade and an "in your face" attitude that charcterised much of HERO, to the calm fun of a massive summer picnic that the BGO is interesting. It shows us how we've moved in society, and how society has changed over the years.
It's more mainstream than before, less offensive to the wider world, less politically charged, but it is a valuable day and a hell of a lot of fun.
Many thanks to all involved and long may it continue.