16 Feb 2013

Gay defence force staff march in Auckland Pride

10:24 pm on 16 February 2013

An officer who has been part of the first New Zealand Defence Force group to march in a gay pride parade says he hopes the NZDF presence inspires others.

Tens of thousands of people lined Ponsonby Road for the Auckland Pride Parade on Saturday, the first large scale gay and transgender parade in the city since 2001.

The military group in full uniform was a formal sight among several more flamboyantly arrayed floats and marchers, but it received the biggest cheers.

Airforce squadron leader Stu Pearce says there is a serious message behind the fun.

"It sends a strong message to those men and women within the defence force who are perhaps struggling with their identity. They might feel that they're isolated or alone."

He says as well as positive messages that people who are open about their identity have established a full and rewarding career in the defence force, the parade also shows that there is support available.

Marchers exuberant

The parade snaked down Ponsonby Road, living up to expectations as a noisy, colourful expression of gay and transgender pride.

The afternoon affair may have been more family-friendly than its predecessor, but there was still something for almost everyone.

It included drag queens on segways, synchronised dance routines, body-painted sea creatures and marchers wearing nothing but painted on liquorice allsort designs.

But there were serious messages behind the fun, including groups pushing for equal marriage rights and others carrying placards about fighting AIDS and discrimination against gay and transgender people.

There was also a political presence, with members of both Labour and the Green parties marching, including Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson.