26 Mar 2024

Destiny Church, rainbow community clash over drag queen library performance

5:13 pm on 26 March 2024

A rainbow community supporter has described Destiny Church protesters as hypocrites during a heated stand-off at Gisborne Library.

More than 100 people have been outside the town's library on Tuesday, where drag queen performers Erika and CoCo Flash will be hosting an R16 event which includes storytelling, lip synching, singing and an interactive performance.

Police were present at the event and had de-escalated tensions between the crowd before any fights arose.

One man was shoved to the ground after a bit of jostling between the crowd, but was uninjured.

Protesters have been waving signs and chanting against what they called the "sexualisation of children".

Destiny Church protesters and counter protesters from the rainbow community outside the Gisborne library on 26 March 2024.

Destiny Church protesters and counter protesters from the rainbow community outside the Gisborne Library. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Meanwhile, counter protesters waving rainbow flags turned up to show solidarity for the performers and the LGBTQIA+ community.

Alice, who is 15 years old, went along to support her friend and said she felt the protesters were hypocrites.

"They're abusing people who are sticking up for their rights and they're shoving their signs saying 'we do not like our children watching this stuff' when they're shoving me, dragging me and stuff," Alice said.

Meanwhile, Shari said she thought the protest against story time was disgusting.

"Our town has always been super inclusive no matter race, sexuality, gender anything. It's really disgusting seeing all of this going on. It's kind of scary too. The youth need somewhere to be safe too and especially the library, like the library is somewhere safe," said Shari.

She said she loved that Erika and CoCo Flash refused to back down despite opposition and disagreed with the sentiment from Destiny Church supporters.

"It's a super incorrect statement to say that anything LGBTQ is anything to do with anything sort of perverts, perversion anything like that," Shari said.

Destiny Church protesters and counter protesters from the rainbow community outside the Gisborne library on 26 March 2024.

Protesters and counter protesters clashed outside the library. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The rainbow mental health organisation OutLine Aotearoa has issued a statement condemning what it calls the latest attack on rainbow rights in Gisborne.

Its chief executive Emmaline Pickering-Martin said the level of transphobia and hatred shown towards rainbow communities in Gisborne over the last few days was "absolutely unacceptable".

"We are disgusted at the behaviour of Destiny Church members in Gisborne and we see no place for hate and discrimination in our society."

As a mental health organisation OutLine saw the effects of this sort of behaviour first-hand, she said.

"This kind of hateful rhetoric from the church is literally killing our community members and the severity of this cannot be understated," she said.

"These types of events cause deep harm to people who are just trying to live their lives and be their authentic selves."

Earlier on Tuesday, Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said Destiny Church members who painted over a crossing on Gisborne's main street would be held accountable for the damage.

The group blocked off Gladstone Road on Monday night and painted a layer of white over the crossing.

Videos and photos on social media linked the action to opposition to the drag story-time event at the public library.

Stoltz said they stood in solidarity with the rainbow community.

"We recognise that not every programme will align with the personal values of every community member, but we strive to maintain a balanced and inclusive calendar of events that serve the varied interests of our community as a whole.

"We accept that people hold different views however there is no place for hate or bigotry in Tairāwhiti," she said.

"Gisborne District Council strongly condemns the vandalism done last night."

Holding up traffic while the crossing was painted had "created a safety issue", she said.

"We will be reinstating the rainbow crossing as quickly as we can."

A rainbow pedestrian crossing has been painted over by Destiny Church members in Gisborne

The rainbow crossing has been completely painted over. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

She said the council would be working with the police to make those involved accountable and seek reparations for the cost of the work.

Church leader Brian Tamaki said he was opposed to councils running these sessions.

A similar event in Rotorua was shut down last week, following protests by members of the public and Destiny Church, and Tamaki said there were plans to take similar action in Hastings tomorrow.

The performers posted a statement on the Facebook page Rainbow Storytime NZ on Monday night: "We will not be bullied."

Tamaki said there were plans to oppose similar events around the country.

The public library events are advertised as being for ages 16 and over.

Gisborne's rainbow crossing

How the rainbow crossing looked before it was painted over. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

Tamaki questioned the legality of rainbow crossings. NZTA has been approached for comment.

The rainbow crossing was painted on 20 December 2021. Student Henarata Kohere-Pishief, 17, was a rangatahi representative in the group which campaigned for its installation, the Tairāwhiti Rainbow Collective.

At the time of its installation, it received very little backlash, she said.

It had been vandalised once before with spray paint, but the culprit wasn't found and there was no public protest surrounding it.

This latest damage was "pretty disheartening", she said.

"This sort of reaction can make it quite easy to forget how much progress we have made in our communities, not just in Gisborne but across the country."

The crossing were "a constant sign of visibility", she said. "I think it's easy for people who maybe don't always need that reassurance to just see it as a painted piece of road. But it does hold more significance than that."

"It is a representation that the rainbow community are welcome in Gisborne."

A man was pushed to the ground during a scuffle.

A man was pushed to the ground during a scuffle. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Frustration with misconceptions

Tairāwhiti Rainbow Collective chairperson Christopher Shotton said it highlighted the bias and bigotry that still existed in the community.

He was frustrated by some of the complaints from the protesters, which he said were not founded in fact.

"Everybody assumes these drag queens are going to be within the mainstream area of the library, when they're not. They're going to be in a section of the library which is a private room that people can go to that are 16 years and older. It's not going to be like your five-year-old child is going to be subjected to a drag queen telling a story."

The council had always been supportive of the group's ideas for community inclusion, he said.

His message to anyone struggling with their sexuality or identity who might be scared by the protest was to stay strong, and find support.

"Find your family within the LGBTQI community," he said. "Find somebody who's within your own family, your biological family, look to them for support if you can. If not, reach out to us, we're there to help you. But don't be put off."

Police and performers Erika and CoCo Flash have also been approached for comment.