13 Jun 2022

Online backlash to drag performers shocks community: 'We still have a long way to go'

9:40 am on 13 June 2022

A New Plymouth drag performer says a torrent of abuse directed at a Rainbow Storytime event at the Puke Ariki Library in the city has left her dismayed.

Rainbow storytime

A photo from Rainbow Storytime led to a torrent of abuse for the performers. Photo: Supplied / New Plymouth District Council

Sunita Torrance and Daniel Lockett perform as Coco and Erika in a show which encourages inclusivity and kindness.

On a New Plymouth District Council Facebook post promoting the Puke Ariki and Waitara Library appearances, the pair were accused of indoctrinating children and recruiting for the Rainbow community.

Torrance said that was unfair.

"It's not about trying to create some kind of gay army or create some kind of agenda.

"Some of these kids have two mothers, two fathers, they've got a rainbow brother or sister or an uncle who's now an aunty.

"It's just about realising there are some people who are different and we should always be kind to them."

But that's not how some on the Facebook thread saw things.

"You don't see that they're grooming our kids, so they can easily be manipulated. Our kids are now being taught to trust their abusers," one commenter said.


While another commented in a similar vein.

"Between the ages of 1 and 7 a child's brain is the most vulnerable ... but of course you already know this ... this is the time children soak up all the information that they see, it has everything to do with how they grow as a person, that's why this is so dangerous... I don't care what you do, but leave the kids out of it."

Torrance said she was a friend to the Rainbow community, but people were making assumptions about who she was and what her motivation was.

"I mean we are not going around saying everyone has to be gay. I'm not gay, I'm actually a straight female and that's what people don't seem to realise."

She said the show, which included story readings, singing and dancing, was deliberately ambiguous and designed to be appropriate for a young audience.

"It's about not judging a book by its cover, accepting people for their religions, their cultures, their social economic status. It's about generally being kind to one another."

Torrance and Lockett had just returned from touring Rainbow Storytime around the country and had been telling people how inclusive Taranaki had become.

"So it was quite awful to realise that actually it's not so inclusive anymore, some of those comments were really terrible."

She said the comments could be damaging to some people who read them.


Photo: Supplied

"It's about the kids reading that who'd been thinking maybe I'm okay to come out in my community and then they see that and, no, they don't feel comfortable anymore.

"And this is why we lose so many amazing talented people from our region to other big cities because of people like this. We've got to stop it."

In a statement, the New Plymouth District Council said it welcomed healthy debate, but did not tolerate offensive comments on it Facebook page.

It said a Facebook post promoting the Rainbow story telling event at Puke Ariki and Waitara libraries was posted on Friday and was monitored on Friday and Saturday, and across the weekend.

"On Saturday morning over 100 comments were made in about an hour, including offensive remarks, so the comments were turned off and offensive remarks removed and reported," the council said.

Several comments on the thread tagged the council and asked if it was moderating comments.

And many such as this were supportive:

"Love this NPDC thanks for hosting these amazing humans."

Others took aim at those making the offensive remarks.

"I thought NP had progressed since we moved here but the bigotry, intolerance and all-round small-mindedness of some of these comments has me thinking we still have a long way to go."

Torrance said she generally preferred to engage with the show's critics, but it was disappointing the comments hadn't been closed sooner.

She said for the first time in the six years the show had toured the country it had been the target of protesters with incidents on the West Coast and in Northland.

A pink church in Greymouth named Gloria was painted with anti-semitic and homophobic graffiti and about 20 protesters picketed at an event in Northland.

The Puke Ariki in New Plymouth show went ahead without problems, and the Waitara show is scheduled for today.

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