12 Feb 2018

Big Gay Out cancellation dampens hopes for change

5:52 am on 12 February 2018

Heavy rain yesterday forced the cancellation of Auckland's iconic Big Gay Out festival for the first time in its more than 30-year history.

Anne Carroll, left, and her friend Deb Sloan.

Anne Carroll, left, and her friend Deb Sloan. Photo: RNZ / Nikki Mandow

Organisers pulled the pin about midday, when pools of water made electrical connections unsafe.

The fete, officially called the Ending HIV Big Gay Out, celebrates the Rainbow community, but is also a vehicle to push the safe sex message.

Jacinda Ardern didn't get a chance to deliver her scheduled update on government diversity policies, but festivalgoers still had a message for the Prime Minister.

Sheltering under large rainbow-coloured umbrellas, Anne Carroll and her friend Deb Sloan were disappointed, but not surprised, that Big Gay Out was off.

Ms Carroll, a health worker and long-time member of the Labour Party's Rainbow Labour group, was enthusiastic about the initiatives the government has taken around HIV but keen to see more training for health professionals on how to treat transgender people.

"They have got to have more training. Trans people have a shocking time trying to access public health. They go to doctors, they get mis-gendered, they don't talk to people in the right pronouns, they have all the problems with the NHI numbers and the opposite genders.

"So they avoid going to health professionals because they don't want to put themselves through it."

Miss Chocolate Box, a drag queen and police diversity liaison volunteer, also had a message for the government.

Sheltering in the police truck from the hair-and-make-up-destroying rain, Miss Chocolate called for more money to improve the relationship between authorities and the rainbow community.

"We need more funding around GBLTIQ, maybe even a bit more funding for New Zealand Police for the work that we do: a lot of it's voluntary.

"We hope to get a lot of our training inside New Zealand Police College, and that's a big goal. So if the minister's listening, I hope they'll take that on board."

Miss Chocolate Box, a drag queen and police diversity liaison volunteer with Auckland Mayor, Phil Goff.

Miss Chocolate Box, a drag queen and police diversity liaison volunteer with Auckland mayor Phil Goff. Photo: RNZ / Nikki Mandow

Auckland mayor Phil Goff was also due to speak at Big Gay Out, but the festival was cancelled before he got a chance.

He told RNZ that cancelling the fete - which does not have a rain date - did not just mean losing an opportunity to celebrate diversity, it was also a forum helping move towards the target of eradicating HIV in New Zealand by 2025.

"It's the loss of a chance to get that really important message across on HIV awareness. HIV levels are increasing, and this is about safe sex.

"People have the right to love whoever they want, but they also have the responsibility to protect themselves and their partners. And that's what the Big Gay Out does."

Labour's election policies include more support for Rainbow youth at school and in the health system, targeted suicide prevention funding and ensuring fair access to publicly-funded gender assignment surgery.

Last week the government fulfilled another pre-election promise, when health funding agency Pharmac announced funding for a pre-prevention drug that can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 percent.

Changes since the funding was first mooted last year made the medication available to all transgender people, not just women.

Statistics Minister and Green Party leader James Shaw was also due to talk at Big Gay Out about his commitment to including gender identity and sexual orientation questions in the next census.

The next Auckland Pride event is the Pride Parade next Saturday on Ponsonby Road.

Wellington's Pride Festival starts the following weekend.