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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pillow Talk

“I want to get married and have kids.”

That’s what the young guy (mid 20s) told me as we were lying there having a cuddle after all the hot sweaty fun was over.

He wasn't proposing to me, let's be clear.

And he didn’t mean go in the closet and marry a woman, he meant find a nice guy, settle down and raise a family. And as he went on to explain, preferably not in Auckland, but a smaller town like the one he grew up in, which he said had made for a great childhood.

He doesn’t see this, as many queer theorists might, as being trapped by heteronormative and patriarchal models of life; he sees this as being key to having a good life.

And when you think about it, love, children, stability – it’s a pretty attractive package.

It just struck me how he and others are “doing gay” in such a totally different way from we ever envisaged when I was his age.

As a young gay guy in my mid 20s, the idea that I could be an out gay man, and a dad with a husband, could have a family, could do all this as a welcome part of my own family, well it was literally unthinkable.

This was just not what being a gay man was about.

Sure I knew guys who had kids, but they’d had them when they were conforming, trying to be straight and had been married, then come out. They were almost oddities “You mean you have kids? You had sex with a woman? Wow!”

When I look back and think of all the discussions we had, and the ideas we tossed around, the books we read, all that stuff about what it meant to be a gay man – being a dad, settling down, having a family – it really didn’t figure.

We wanted freedom from stereotypes, both the ones about being gay (sad, suicidal, perverted)  and straight society’s ideas about sex (wait for marriage to have sex, stay with one person forever etc) . We saw the freedom to fuck and celebrate our sexuality as core to who we were and what our lives were about. We gloried in our difference and our attitudes to love and relationships. We were unapologetic about breaking the rules of straight society and building our own. And sure I know a lot of young guys still live this way, even if they perhaps lack the theory behind it .

And I don’t think that the freedom to fuck has become less popular, or how would this hot young guy end up in my bed on more than one occasion, right? He’s clearly happy with that side of things until he gets married – and who knows, maybe even after.

What struck me was the taken-for-granted aspect of what he said. He just matter-of-factly assumes that all these plans are not only achievable but almost uncontroversial. I guess there will be bumps in the road as there are with everything in life, but he’s talking about a way of being as a gay man that is very new both to me and I’d argue to society.

It also seems that the hysterical straight religious response that we’re “re-defining marriage” is true to an extent. We have, but to be fair, so have an awful lot of straight people.

Marriage is not what it once was. Now it seems to often be simply the public celebration of a loving relationship and making sure they can get the benefits of having their love recognised by the state. He doesn’t want to get married because of religion or cultural pressure, he wants to get married to publically show his love, and celebrate it.

Unlike older generations of gay guys, he’s aware of HIV, but not terrified of it. He hasn’t watched a vast swathe of his friends die, or the emerging culture we were all creating get derailed. His life has been altogether easier in these areas, and that is fantastic.

I’m getting old, this country has changed and in this instance, for the better. The fight for gay rights that I was part of in the old days has resulted in some completely unexpected developments.

New generations have taken those advances, incorporated bits of them, and built their own new ways of being and doing gay that did seem literally inconceivable back then.

I’m enjoying watching the changes, as much as they surprise me.

And I feel a bit wistful as I wonder what kind of dad I would have been. 

Fabulous I suspect !

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

On Being Sick

I went out for a walk on Monday, enjoying the last week of my holidays, and running across K Rd I pulled my right calf muscle.

It hurt like hell, but I tried to pretend it didn't.

Same thing happened about 5 years ago.

So I've been laid up, resting my leg, in a compression bandage, icing it the first day or two, the usual stuff. It will heal, and I will be ok in time. The frustrating thing is that I'm not actually sick - just unable to do normal things, like go for a walk or a drive, or cut the grass, have a hot fuck, and enjoy my holiday.

It made me think back to when I was really sick, back in the 90s, about 20 years ago in 1995

I had AIDS and was expected to die. My specialist at the hospital told me I had about a year to live. I was in a hospice for people with AIDS. I weighed about 50kgs - I couldn't walk more than a couple of metres. I shat my bed often because I couldn't get to the toilet. I couldn't breather without an oxygen tank. I'd eat, then throw up.

I was really sick.

I was dying - I thought so, so did everyone around me, and that was a totally reasonable assumption to make given how HIV operates when it's untreated in the human body.

Then in 1996, things changed, and along came Western medicine, with Protease Inhibitors. I was incredibly fortunate to get on them early, and they worked.

I got better and better. Put on weight (now I weigh too much). And the only reason I'm alive today is because of the science that sits behind Western medicine. It is utterly amazing what medical science can do today.

So when people would say to me "Oh your attitude made such a difference! You are such a fighter" or sometimes "You chose not to die!" or "You're here for a reason!" I get so angry.

Did all those other wonderful men I knew choose to die? Have the wrong attitude? Not fight enough? Have lives empty of purpose compared to mine?

Actually I had an incredibly negative attitude for a long time, until I realised I didn't want to die that way. But changing my attitude didn't defeat HIV and pull me back from AIDS - Western science did that.

I look at it this way - if your car gets a flat on the motorway in the middle of a howling storm, you can sit inside and feel sorry for yourself and wail, or you can get out in the rain and change the tyre, and then move on. I wailed for quite a while, then got over it.

Having a positive attitude helps you change the tyre instead of sitting there, but without the jack and the spare tyre you're not going anywhere.

So don't tell people who have possibly terminal conditions that they just need the right attitude and they'll be fine. It's a smug and stupid thing to say. I've also heard people who were in my position say "It was my attitude that did it" Bullshit. Stop taking your meds and see how your attitude helps keep HIV or cancer or heart disease at bay. Stop saying this shit. It's not true and not what people dealing with life-threatening conditions need to hear. You're essentialy saying that if they get sick and die, it's their fault because they didn't have the right attitude. That's just so wrong.

They need highly trained medical expertise applied to their situation. They need the intelligence and hard work of specialised nurses and doctors and lab technicians. If you don't have that, no matter how positive your attitude, no matter how many "healing vibes" and prayers get sent your way,you won't get better. You'll die.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Body Positive: Taking the Long View

Ructions at Body Positive and unhappy members. 

Where have I seen this before?

Before we go on, let me be upfront that I do know some of the people involved on all sides of this: that’s NZ’s HIV world for you. And if I’ve got any dates wrong, please let me know – but be forgiving,  I’m painting in broad brushstrokes here.

My first contact with BP was back in 1993, and I was a member of the Board for 1994 – 95. Mike Butters was the first Executive Director of BP, and if my memory serves me right, he was the first person to have a paid position with the organisation. That in itself pissed off some members, who thought any work done should be voluntary and any money we had be used on supporting people living with AIDS.

 Of course it was a very different era. We didn’t really talk about HIV then, it was AIDS, as everyone was getting sick and dying of AIDS. I attended a 12-on-12 support group (twelve HIV+ people meeting for twelve weeks) and one of the facilitators died in the third week.

But being on the Board at that time, I do remember the issues of it being “too Auckland” and the Board not listening to members as issues that arose. And these issues often arose from people who were desperately sick, getting ready to die, angry and confused and ready to lash out, and also with no real understanding of the financial limits of the organisation. They seemed to think BP could do more for them than it actually could.

Even though Mike was paid, we only had funding from local charities – no government support, and BP’s office was based in one of the buildings at Auckland Hospital with the Burnett Centre:  we basically had one room out of the Burnett Centre.

In short – we never had the money to do what we’d like to do.

I do know for a fact that there was an attempt in 1994 to set up a Wellington branch, but it didn’t work because there wasn’t enough interest shown from HIV+ people there to run it as a voluntary concern. There was also an attempt to set up a group for straight men alienated by the gayness of BP – the “Straight Arrows” I think they were called. It didn’t last.

Mike Butters left and went to Sydney where he died of AIDS in 1997 if my memory serves me right. He was the loveliest, sweetest guy, and his hard work in getting BP established at a more professional level at that time deserves to be honoured. He worked in a much more hostile world for people with HIV than today and it saddens me to see how he has been written out of the BP story by others. He really was a hero.

After Mike, Grant Hall became ED for a while, and without wanting to speak ill of the dead, let’s say he wasn’t really cut out for the role. Others can correct me if I’ve got my details wrong here, but he wasn’t paid as he wasn’t able to manage the funding applications needed to keep it all going. There was no Ministry of Health funding as there is today. 

Next Keith Marshall came along as a volunteer ED with Jack Dragicevich and they both stepped in to try and clean up the mess as best they could. At the time I wondered if it wasn’t better to let the organisation fold, as there was so little interest from members in actually doing anything. A lot of people wanted BP to do everything for them, but very few seemed willing to actually put their hands up themselves.

In the early 2000s there was a lot of pressure coming again from HIV people that BP was too Auckland-centric, but this was coming from Christchurch, not Wellington, and there were attempts to set up an independent Christchurch HIV+ peer support group.

After Keith Left, Jack stayed on as Bruce Kilmister came into the ED role, which he was able to turn into a fully paid position again.

All three main HIV support groups, Body Positive, Positive Women, and INA benefitted from the lobbying done in finally gaining some Ministry of Health funding, but even that is minimal.

For me personally now, Body Positive is irrelevant. I have no need for it, and that is the case for most HIV+ gay men in New Zealand I suspect. Even though they claim 800 or so members, hardly any are active. Over the last few years when friends have told me they have sero-converted I have suggested they join BP and each time had a very clear “No, not for me”.  One mate a few years back reeled back in horror and said “Oh God no I don’t want to sit around going ‘Boo hoo I’ve got HIV’”

Many people with HIV today are living pretty normal lives and do not see the need for BP in their lives. They aren’t sick, they haven’t lost their jobs, they’ve dealt with the initial trauma of the diagnosis, and they keep going with their lives. Yes, they are the fortunate ones. For others an HIV diagnosis upends their lives entirely and they have high social needs – but BP isn’t resourced in money or staff to really deal with them.

If significant numbers of HIV+ men are going “It’s nice you’re there but I have no need for you” it calls into question their reason for existence.

Personally I’d love to see BP grow more and be able to do more advocacy and support work; it should be our voice to government – but as ever it comes down to money.

For the entire time I have known it, BP has been chronically under-funded for the work it has tried to do. Over the last few years it has tried to do more, with free testing, and setting up the Wellington office, as well as catering for some very highly dependent people.

Again and again over the last 20 and more years it has been the same story as BP tries to find a way to work for its members, to deliver basic services, to be there.

It would be good to know just how all the funds it has received over the last 5 years or so have been spent, and a full audit of the organisation would help give everyone a clear and realistic picture of what has been done and what can be done now. In fact I think that’s essential if we are going to have a rational discussion about what BP is going to be in the future and I call on the Board to do this.

If there was not an adequate funding stream in place to support the Wellington office, to be brutal, it shouldn't have been established. That was poor management if it's the case.

A full audit will clear up issues and show us all just what can and can’t be done with the funding available.

What I have see again and again is a pattern of a volunteer Board giving up their time, regularly facing criticism they don’t relate to members and they focus too much on Auckland.

And it all comes back down to money. BP needs to be funded properly, and we should make this a political issue and stop attacking each other. We should protest and engage with politicians to get funding for the organisation.

Otherwise there will be another band-aid for a few years and another crisis will arise. The pattern will continue.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Gentrification of Being Gay

I took this photo as I left Urge on its last night/morning of business.

I like to think the white ball is the ghost of all the accumulated cum that was spilt in those walls, slowly rising up to gay heaven.

Because let's face it, there was a lot of sperm spilt in there over the 17 or so years it was in business.

And yes, some of it was mine, and I helped other guys spill some of theirs too.

I recall a few years back being in Sydney and talking to an Aussie in the Oxford who'd been over to Auckland and Urge the week before and he excitedly told me how he'd been given a blow job while standing at the bar. Maybe I'm jaded, but I was like "Yeah, that happens there."

And it wasn't just cum, remember Troughman? And others of his ilk lying on the floor in the toilets and hoping for a drink straight from the tap. He swore he could tell what drugs people were on by how their urine tasted, and sometimes got high off too much P in their pee.

But Urge has gone, and I doubt we'll see a bar like it in Auckland again.

The vibe changed in intensity and emphasis over the years it was open, and it moved from leather bar to bear bar, but it represented a physical space where you could meet friends, dance, drink, be somewhere  safe on your drugs if you were taking any, and have sex if you wanted. Hell, some guys even met and fell in love there and are still together.

Twinks were often too scared to walk in, imagining (or wishing?) they'd be thrown in a sling as soon as they crossed the threshold.

Gay bars like this used to be pretty common in all major western cities - LA, London, NY (how I loved the Mineshaft!) Sydney - of course you can still find them in Berlin (why do you think that place is so popular?) but generally speaking gay bars are finding it hard to stay open, and more and more guys are able to hook up on apps or online, so there is less of the old outrageous in-your-face sexual abandon that used to be a hallmark of urban gay life.

John Rechy (every young gay man should read him) coined the term "sexual outlaw" to describe the world he moved in during the 60s, 70s and 80s as both a hustler and a man dedicated to enjoying the hunt for sex. It's a term that captures part of that era so well. He describes the pursuit for sex in alleys and backyards, parks and beaches, day and night, that used to be so common. How else were you going to meet a guy? How else were we going to fuck?

Don't forget - we were outlaws, we were technically engaging in acts that could send us to jail, destroy our careers, and have our families disown us. Different times.

And today Urge has gone, a white-washed empty box sits there now, probably to be filled with a chi-chi little dress store or art gallery, or maybe an artisanal toast cafe for hipsters. Because the whole area is on the way up, slowly I grant you, but it is changing.

So many of the younger generation (Kids these days!) seem so bland and boring in their rush to marriage and conformity. No outlaws they ! Even if they do hook up with strangers through the apps and have a few hours of wild fun with some guy it's all done so nicely, behind closed doors.

Vapid, conformist, monogamous - all the dull trite detritus of suburbia seems to be the template for being a gay man these days.

The emphasis seems to be so intent on being normal, on being part of the crowd, not on standing out. I can understand it, the assimilation and normalising of being a homo has made the world a lot better for many who in the past would have ended up married and leading stunted lives of deceit and desperation and drowning in alcoholism  - I get that.

But gentrification always means pushing one group out at the expense of another. Slums get turned into desirable residential areas. The poor and marginalised get moved on  - communities are broken up, links destroyed and histories forgotten. Capital and demographics conspire against us.

We didn't just lose a valued social space when we lost Urge, we lost a part of who we were as a community of men, and I miss that.

I'd like to imagine that big ghostly ball of cum is still floating in some magical gay sex-club heaven, radiating joy and love and the sheer earthy pleasure of hard cocks, sweet asses and orgiastic release. I'm glad I was able to have my part of it for real.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Marriage Equality Two Years On.

We’re two years into marriage equality here in New Zealand, and as Green MP Kevin Hague noted, the world hasn’t come to an end yet.

I never saw this one coming, the huge importance that would get tied to being able to get married I mean.

I was attending a conference in Melbourne with Warren Lindberg, sitting in his hotel room and watching on his laptop as Louisa Wall’s bill went through its final reading. That feeling of euphoria was amazing – even more so the next day at the conference when we could celebrate this with our fellow Rainbow health activists and advocates.

Growing up as a young gay activist the last thing I ever thought we’d fight for was marriage. Isn’t it just a patriarchal institution, designed to subjugate women and keep men in power? Why would gay men (or lesbians) ever want any part of that? Even straights were giving up on getting married!
And as gay men, we were busy celebrating our right to have a full and rich sex life, not to get tied down into monogamy, which again seemed like a central plank of marriage.

A straight feminist friend of mine got married recently and she said she really thinks marriage has changed, in the developed world at least. It’s a public celebration of love and commitment, and I think she’s right.

And us homos demanding our equal rights to it have been part of that change – fundamentalist religious types and conservative politicians were right, in part at least. We didn’t exactly change marriage, but what marriage means in today’s wealthy Western world has changed, and that’s been to our benefit.

I find it interesting how so many of my married mates are still happily playing the field, in classic gay male style. We are proof that it is possible to deeply and truly love one man, yet still have fun with lots of others. It’s clear that for many gay men emotional fidelity is what matters. A bit of fun on the side, when it’s mutually agreed on, really doesn’t matter to lots of happily married gay men.
So what’s next for the world of LGBTI political activism and change?

Rights are the things that we are entitled to by virtue of our humanity and being citizens of this country – and we don’t have many of those formal rights missing now, but it’s not all wonderful. I understand there are some holes in the adoption process that disadvantage same sex couples that need to be addressed, and there are still the legal issues around changing gender identity that persist.
Dr Pete Saxton’s comments on this site about the need for health equality to be taken seriously are bang on the money. As a set of communities, we are grossly over-represented in so many negative health indicators that something needs to be done. We have a right to much better care and better trained staff than we currently enjoy.

Kelly Ellis pointed out the huge differences in how the world sees us, and how we see ourselves, that often sit between the experience of trans and differently gendered people compared to gay men and lesbians. And she’s right.

I think central to this is that we’re not actually a united community. The ties that used to bind us have slipped away considerably now. While some of us see the connections between what happened to us, what happens to trans people, and what happens to other minorities, many don’t. I reckon that will gap will continue to grow, more and more young homos of both sexes will fail to see or understand how their lives and rights are connected to other groups. I think it’s an inevitable result of our success in achieving so many rights; more people just want to be normal.

But, even though things have changed on paper, and socially to some degree, it can still be very dangerous even being a gay man. Try walking down the road in Auckland holding your lover’s hand outside any of the very few safe zones such as Ponsonby Road and see what happens. Try having a kiss and a cuddle in a straight bar or pub and see what happens.

Changing people’s attitudes is the hardest thing to do, and it takes time, and it needs the same message coming back time and again – we are as good as anyone else, we deserve what any other citizen of this country does, and we should be able to live our lives openly and freely in every way. This means at work, at home, in the street, in a pub – anywhere.

We actually can’t do that yet. We can’t be sure that we are safe in the same way that straights can. We still have to watch, we still have to be on guard at times, depending where we are – and that’s not right.

Things have changed for the better, I’m old enough to remember the bad old days – if you’re from any part of the Rainbow communities, life is better no doubt. For some of us it’s a lot better, and for others only a bit, but things have shifted and progressed.

I’d suggest that, with a few exceptions, our battles don’t lie so much in the areas of formal rights, like the right to get married, but in changing social attitudes. Until kids of whatever gender variety, of whatever sexuality, can grow up knowing that they are seen as completely normal and an accepted part of their families, communities and society, we have work to do.

And I think bringing about this level of social change is going to be much harder than the fight for law reform and the fight to get marriage equality. But it ties right back to those health inequalities mentioned earlier. The whole LGBTTIFQA alphabet soup that is under the Rainbow will only be able to flourish when we are accepted as full, complete and equal members of society in every sphere.
We’re not there yet.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Love, Trust, Marriage and HIV

So all things being equal, it looks like we're going to get the right to get married, if we're all reading the tea-leaves in the right way. It seems like it's going to get through.

Marriage. Love. Intimacy. Trust.  

If the point of marriage is a public, legally binding declaration of love in front of all who we love and recorded officially by the power of the State, then is it ok for the married couple to stop using condoms? 

After all, if you've decided to make that commitment to another guy and maybe you're going as far as buying a house together, merging your finances, getting a mortgage, sharing a credit-card, all the things you see in so many straight marriages - surely if you're doing all that with each other, you can consider whether you need to still follow the old rule of  "Use a condom every time!"

Looking at the NZAF's latest condom campaign, they seem to be saying  "No!" 

And it's not just here in New Zealand. I think the issue sits there as a point of contradiction, a place of tension, everywhere marriage between two men is becoming accepted. 

What does it mean for safe-sex programmes? What does it mean for HIV prevention? 

If you look at this image from their new campaign, it looks like two men who know each other are getting ready to fuck,this doesn't look like a casual Grindr or Scruff hook-up. They seem comfortable and relaxed with each other, they seem loving as well as horny. They look like a couple. And that's a wonderful image. 

And there is no doubt that in a lot of situations like this guys will choose to use condoms, and that's a good thing. Especially in the first months or years of a relationship - but it is entirely natural that at some stage you'd think about being able to simply make love to the man you love with no interventions. 

If you are going all out, and getting married, making a promise to love and trust each other for life, then I think it's totally understandable that men will stop using condoms within their relationship, after they've both tested and checked they're both either negative or positive.

In fact that strategy is already wide-spread. Most of the guys I know in New Zealand in long-term loving relationships who have the same HIV status don't use condoms at home. Typically if they have sex with others they have an arrangement to use them outside the relationship - this isn't new. And I've certainly talked with men who work for the NZAF who follow that pattern. And I can think of couples who have successfully done this for over 20 years.

If we are moving to a stage where we stand up in front of all our family and friends and the state and say "I love you, you are the one for me, now and forever." but still insist on putting out a public health message that even married loving male couples should use condoms, then part of what is being said is "You might be married but you can never really trust him!"

It carries a sub-text that gay men can never truly love each other, because without trust, there is no love.

I don't accept or believe that. I am confident that we can love and trust our partners, our husbands, just as much as heterosexual husbands and wives can. And yes, some guys will be hurt, let down, lied to, and possibly even infected with HIV by trusting the wrong man. But that could also happen to straights. Do all the straight men who work at the NZAF always and automatically use condoms with their wives or girlfriends? After all, who knows what they've been getting up to behind their backs. Straight women can be as slutty as gay men. Or do they accept that they love and trust each other, and there are some things you simply assume when you're married?

Because without trust in a marriage there is no love, and surely then there is no point in all this work we've been doing to get our relationships recognised as marriage? 

To insist that we must all use condoms everywhere every time made complete sense back in the bad old days, but it doesn't seem to fit as neatly into our changing circumstances. I can remember being told years ago by a guy I was gong home with that I didn't need to tell him I had HIV, in fact I shouldn't have told him, not because it put him off, but he just assumed every gay man did and always had safe sex. Those days are gone. 

And this is not to criticise the NZAF. I think it's a difficult issue and one that no-one around the world has really engaged with yet as far as I can see. It will be a tricky job figuring it out and I don't envy them that task. NZAF likes to claim it's ground-breaking in so much of what it does - perhaps dealing with this is a topic they can lead the world on.

No, love won't protect you from HIV. But saying that you can never fully trust the man you've married, the man you're paying the mortgage with, the man you plan on getting old with, means saying you can never really love each other. It's supporting the old oppressive message that gay men are just sex-mad cock-fiends, that we don't have "real" relationships, that in fact, we'll never be truly "married". 

And I think that's problematic in all sorts of ways.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Post Parade

Queer Auckland took to the streets to show our pride on Saturday, and it was a lot of fun.

It is obviously not such an important event as yet, as the Prime Minister didn't bother to cut a ribbon, but we got David Shearer and others from Labour and Kevin Hague from the Greens. The Catholic  Mayor of the city, who considers being gay "a lifestyle choice" was there eager to hoover up some PR.

Was it good to be back after 12 years away? 

Yes it was, definitely.

I marched with the Bears from Urge, and it was a lot of fun walking down Ponsonby Road with a group of handsome men, being led in our impromptu cheer of "1 2 3 WOOF!" at hot guys in the crowd. Some of the straight boys loved it, some didn't seem to appreciate the compliment so much.

I have to say an hour beforehand Ponsonby Rd was looking very empty, and the crowd that did show up in the end was tiny compared to what we used to have. 30,000 seems to be the accepted figure. Things filled up by 4, the start time, but there were still patches along the street with practically nobody standing there, which was a shame. Given the heat though, you wouldn't have wanted 100,000 like we used to get - it would have been unbearable.

The GABA Glamstand didn't look full to over-flowing either, but those who were there looked like they were having fun.

At work today friends and colleagues said they hadn't really heard about it, there was no advertising, and that 4pm was the wrong time. I think they're right on both points. It was pretty much all over by 5:30 or so, and then what? A lot of people said it needs to be held at night again, and they're right.

But the vibe from the crowd was great. The reception we got was overwhelmingly positive, and there was such a sense of genuine good-nature and happiness that we were back. Pulling a parade together in such a short time was a lot of work, and it's a good start for the next one.

Does that mean everything about the parade was fabulous? 

No, it doesn't. 

There was a distinctly amateur feel to most of the floats. And drag queens never look that great in the harsh daylight, and it was a very sunny day indeed. Who knew we had a Gay Wakeboarding Association? I still don't entirely believe they exist ...

I didn't understand why a straight woman who has HIV was using our queer parade to sell her book, good cause, wrong place. 

I waited for "the Remembrance Float" to come by that we had been promised would be wonderful and moving, and I didn't see it. I was later told it was the one with GALS on and the white drapery, but it looked kinda boring, a whole lot of people singing inaudibly and from where I stood by the side of the road there was no indication that it was "the Remembrance Float" at all. I certainly wasn't moved by it.

And no real mention of HIV/AIDS anywhere - the one thing that has done the most damage to our community over the last 30 years got marked by a few cursory red ribbons in white drapery.

It was a lot of fun though. I had a lot of fun. 

But let's face it -  there was no Wow! factor anywhere, no pzazz, and no glamour. It was fun, it was nice, inoffensive, bland and devoid of anything political. 

So devoid in fact that the organiser took it upon himself to invite a radio shock-jock known for his homophobic comments along. A stupider idea I haven't heard in a while. Stupid comments like this guy has made, as dumb and harmful as the Prime Minister's "Red shirts are gay" comment, undermine everything we have fought for, and only expose the most vulnerable from our communities to more fear and shame. You'd think a Pride Parade would work to foster our pride, not undermine it this way.

The Marching Boys got an A for effort, but obviously hadn't had quite enough time to get their routine down, and they needed way more guys in there to make it look effective.

As one mate said "If this was Timaru, it'd get a 10 out of 10, if it was Sydney, a 3."

I heard some Ponsonby queens saying we don't really need this sort of thing now as everything is fine.

They are wrong. Do you regularly hold your partner's hand on the bus or walking through a shopping mall, do you stand on a busy beach on a summer evening hugging and kissing each other like all the straight couples around you do?  Until we can do that with the same ease and comfort we are not equal.

Until we don't have to pretend to be different from who we are for our own safety, we are not equal.

So events like this parade are important - they give us visibility, they show to others that we exist and we're part of the world. They show those who are in fear that there are alternatives to a life of lies and shame.

It was a fun day, a great start, it had problems, and that is probably inevitable, but as a first step back it's something to celebrate.

The crowd of people watching is what made it for me - there weren't that many, but they were so welcoming, so positive, that even with all the flaws, you'd have to say it was a good time.

Just put it back on at night when we can really show them something amazing!

Edit: And the Defense Force were fantastic !