Need for Pride ‘greater than ever’- Winter Pride Organiser says.
As rainbow flags were put up around Queenstown ahead of Winter Pride, festival director and co-owner Martin King was waiting to hear whether he could attend.
Auckland-based King had already cancelled the LGBT annual festival once in 2020, refunding everyone’s tickets when New Zealand was placed in Alert Level 4 Covid lockdown.
He reorganised the festival when restrictions were eased. The 10-day bash is due to begin this Friday.
But, like 40% of the people who bought tickets for the rehashed festival, he would be unable to travel down to it from Auckland if the city was under the Alert Level 3 lockdown, while the rest of the country is at level 2.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was due to make an announcement on Monday, 24 August, about the alert levels, after the Lakes Weekly Bulletin went to press.
King told LWB last week that the festival will go ahead, even if the country remains at level two. But it will be smaller if Auckland stays in lockdown.
“There’s been a bit of a lack of understanding about why we’d push on with the festival under level two, even with seated events, and hygiene, and track and trace.
“Why would we want to bring people together for Pride events in that climate. But it’s really simple, as a gay person, our Pride is your corner pub.”
King says whereas straight people can go to the pub with friends under alert level two, LGBT people can’t meet with others from the rainbow community openly in many places in New Zealand.
“We’ve got people coming from every corner of New Zealand for the festival, every small town - from Kaitaia to Invercargill, Westport, Timaru, Gisborne, Palmerston North.
“None of those places have gay bars and a lot of the bars you would go into on a day-to-day basis aren’t actually safe, not for you to truly be yourself.
“So why Pride is so important in these times is it enables us to come together somewhere we feel safe, to meet up with friends and be who we are.”
King highlights the fact LGBT people have the highest rates of suicide of any group in New Zealand, five times higher than the straight population. And 30% of LGBT people are in the closet in their workplaces, he says.
“We’ve got marriage equality and strong laws, but homophobia, bullying and discrimination are alive and well.
“So, Pride festivals are vital to improve the well-being in our community, especially in these times of isolation.”
King had his fingers crossed that by Friday Aucklanders will be free to travel.
Ardern and her Cabinet reviewed the alert level last Friday, but she said there was no reason to upgrade or downgrade the alert levels before the initial end date of this Wednesday, August 26.
They’ll give 48 hours’ notice of any change, hence another Cabinet review on Monday and then the announcement.
It appears as if the outbreak has been contained to the Auckland cluster, however.
“The key thing we’re hoping for now is that Auckland is at least in level two, so that Aucklanders can travel,” King said last week.
“While 99% of events can happen if the whole country is at alert level two, it will be smaller if Auckland remains in level three lockdown.”
As well as 40% of attendees, much of the talent, including DJs and other acts, is Auckland-based, along with King and his husband, who are hands-on organisers. The lockdown also causes flight disruptions.
“It will be very frustrating and difficult, but we remain optimistic.”
Winter Pride, which includes ski days, cabaret, night club parties, hikes, dinners, lunches and other events, usually welcome 45% of its attendees from Australia, with 45% from New Zealand and the rest from everywhere else.
Last year, more than 4000 guests attended the 50+ events over 10 days, while some 15,000 people turned out to Pride in the Park, making it the biggest free public Pride event in New Zealand.
It has been rebuilt for the domestic market following the level four lockdown, with King planning for events under alert level two - with seated venues, social distancing, track and trace, and hygiene measures.
So far, about 700 festival passes have been sold and around 1000 people are expected to attend, if Auckland comes out of lockdown. The festival is run on a tight budget, so when King committed to re-organising it for 2020, the tickets were made non-refundable.
“The sentiment we’ve had is people are desperate to get away; this lockdown has emphasised that people need to take the opportunity when they can.
“A lot of these people hadn’t been to Queenstown as part of the initial resurgence because they were coming for Pride. So, they want to come down, they want to go skiing, get out and do things, and if our Pride events are happening too, that’s the cherry on the cake.”
Winter Pride runs from Friday 28th August to Sunday 6th September.
Paul Taylor Queenstown App editor