Auckland suburb raises solidarity flag after homophobic incidents

5:24 am on 11 November 2022

One of 300 pride flags that will be raised around Hobsonville Point for Hobby Pride. Photo: Supplied/Mark Kaneko

An Auckland suburb wants to make it clear that homophobia isn't welcome in their community.

From 18 to 27 November, 300 pride flags will be raised around Hobsonville Point for Hobby Pride, a response to homophobic behaviour over recent months.

Hobsonville Point Secondary School hosts the Lil' Gay Out, an annual event hosting hundreds of students from different schools for keynotes, workshops and activities.

Principal Maurie Abraham said he wanted his students to feel safe. "We thought it would be good to fly the rainbow flag," he said. "So when everybody arrived, it would be the first thing they see and they'd feel safe and welcomed."

The flag hadn't even left the ground before a member of the public started harassing Abraham's staff.

"A member of the community approached my maintenance staff who were out by the pole to raise the flag," he recalled. "He really aggressively had a go at them, and started filming them."

Abraham made the difficult decision to take down the flag, fearing it could incite harassment towards the students. "I was flabbergasted, we don't think twice about celebrating diversity," he said. "I was quite surprised."

Elsewhere, a house in Hobsonville Point was egged multiple times for displaying the pride flag. For local Mark Kaneko, that was unacceptable. He said that behaviour couldn't be ignored.

"I suggested: well, if they're upset about flying one pride flag... let's fly a lot more," he said.

The community agreed, and urged him to bring the idea to life. Though his event started as a response to negativity, Kaneko said it had taken on a life of its own.

"When I brought up this idea to the community Facebook page, the overwhelming support from local businesses, from local people, just everybody, completely overshadowed any of the negativity that had started the event in the first place," he said.

"Businesses contacted me out of the blue offering money, offering support, offering places to give out flags, with no benefit to them, they just wanted to make sure the event happened."

One of those sponsors was Birdhouse Digital, a local web-design company. Director Abby Storey said Hobsonville Point's diversity is one of its strengths and had to be protected.

"I think it's an incredibly positive community response to an issue that deserves attention," she said. "We can't brush these things under the rug."

She wanted to show how supportive her community could be. "Most people in the community are really open and inclusive, but unfortunately these things will happen sometimes," she said.

"I think we have a responsibility to stand up and show allyship for everyone in our community."

Kaneko also hopes the event will raise money for Rainbow Youth and Gender Minorities Aotearoa, two advocacy groups aimed at supporting members of the rainbow community.

In June, Rainbow Youth's Tauranga centre was gutted by fire in what the rainbow community called "an act of terror".

A wooden building damaged by fire.

The fire in Tauranga in June. Photo: RNZ / Giles Dexter

For executive director Pooja Subramanian it was a stark reminder of just how common homophobia continued to be. "Its a very unfortunate but real way to be reminded of the work we still have to do," she said.

The incidents in Hobsonville Point, though much less severe, were no less concerning. "These events really highlight that these homophobic attitudes aren't just present in our communities, but they're thriving."

Subramanian said Hobby Pride was a great example of how communities could stand up to hate.

Principal Maurie Abraham said the response from the community had been staggering.

"We've just been overwhelmed, it makes us feel really proud of our community," he said. "They want to acknowledge the diversity in our school and the wider community, and make everyone feel safe."

"It's just overwhelming."

His students were especially moved. "I'm really pleased that, when talking with our group of rainbow students, that they can see that people are out there fighting for them."

Abraham said that, come 18 November, his school would fly its flag with pride.

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