It's twenty years since the first Hero Party and the foundation of a deliberate attempt to strengthen the gay community and help us look after ourselves in the face of AIDS. Hero did a huge amount of good, it gave gay Auckland a face, inspired similar groups in Wellington and Christchurch, and it gave us an organisation that could act as a public voice for us, until it collapsed in a mire of corruption and broken trust.
Yes, I'm still bitter about the money from the street collection, collected for people living with HIV, that a certain group of Hero trustees "borrowed" to cover a shortfall and never returned. Yes I'm bitter about the CEO who embezzled funds then escaped back to Australia.
But before that sad side of the story, there was a huge amount of good that came out of Hero.It made us visible, it gave us a reason to take pride in being queer. Visibility matters, and so does pride. Hero when at its best and strongest was inspirational. I doubt we can recreate it, not sure we should even try, times have changed. But its underlying message is still right on the money. We need to take pride in ourselves, we need to find ways to pass down to new generations the experience and wisdom we have gained, and yes, we still need to explain that being gay is perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
Today we have nothing like it. We have no organisation that can give us a sense of pride. We have no organisation that is linked into the gay communities in Auckland or nationally. We have no voice. Some people argue we don't need one, that everything is just fine, and could we please stop making a fuss.
The recent nasty, vicious anti-gay attacks here in New Zealand over the last few weeks have been disgusting and cowardly, as bullying so often is. Homophobia is real and nasty, and it needs to be opposed.
Heterosexual kids don't complain of being bullied for being straight, and then try and kill themselves. Ignorant, nasty vandals don't scrawl "Filthy straights" on heterosexual business-owners' property and break their windows. Straight people don't feel a need to describe themselves as "gay-acting". Straight people don't have terrible suicide and drug abuse rates for being straight.
Michaelangelo Signorile puts it like this: "Queerness will always be marginalised and will always need its own movement because it goes against the larger heterosexual system."
We are a marginal community that has been granted a degree of tolerance by wider society.We will always be marginal. But today we have no voice, and I believe we need one. There are some wonderful, smart queer MPs but they are largely concerned with their own party issues.
It's great to see some level of community response coming through for the two women who were attacked, wonderful that GABA and Urge are doing something positive. Outline is working towards growing itself into something more than a counselling service, and there is potential there for something good to happen. Other people around the country have been talking about the need for something, some group or network, that can respond and speak with a credible voice on our behalf. If something new does arise it will have to show it has a good level of community connection to be taken seriously, but that's not impossible to achieve. And as someone remarked, the Sensible Sentencing Trust is basically Garth McVicar and a fax machine - one dedicated person can make a lot of difference.
When shitty things like these attacks happen, we need someone the media can go to for informed and intelligent comment. We need an organisation that is focussed on the needs of the queer communities that exist here. We have no leadership today, no one who can speak for us, either in Auckland with the biggest queer population, or nationally.
One thing that give me some comfort is the cyclical nature of gay history. In the 1960s we see the birth of Gay Liberation politics, and then watch it slowly fade into commercial complacency of the disco years over the 70s and early 80s. Then AIDS, however tragically, provided the push for a different sort of politics, and had the effect of pulling us together. Perhaps now, twenty years on from the birth of Hero, we will see some other movement, some other way of uniting us and fighting back against our enemies.
Without a sense of community and pride, we will continue to see more and more gay men contract HIV, we will continue to see queers attacked simply for being who we are, we will continue to see our youth harming themselves. We need to act, we need to unite, we need to do something about it.