Because of the small gay population, social research into gay men’s lives is often combined with research on lesbians and bisexuals.
Statistics and surveys
In the 2010s there was no reliable estimate of New Zealand’s gay, lesbian and bisexual population – official statistics on sexual orientation were not collected for privacy reasons. In a 2012 survey of New Zealand secondary school students, the proportion of respondents who reported being attracted to their own or multiple genders rose as they matured – from 2% at age 13 or less to 5.2% at age 17 or older. Since 1996 the five-yearly census has recorded the number of people who report living in a same-sex relationship. In 2013, 16,659 people reported this.
Gay and lesbian researchers have lobbied for the inclusion of a sexual orientation question in the five-yearly census, to gain more specific information about gay New Zealanders. But 2006 research found that many people would resist answering such a question and a change in attitude was required before it was included.
Lavender Islands survey
The most detailed survey of New Zealand’s gay, lesbian and bisexual population was the 2004 Lavender Islands project undertaken by Massey University researchers. Nearly 2,300 gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents answered questions about their experiences of same-sex relationships and sexual identities. The results highlighted important differences between male and female respondents. For example, males became aware of not being heterosexual at a much younger age than females – a mean age of 11.2 for males and 14.3 for females. Significantly more males (67.6%) reported having anonymous sex (sex with strangers) in the previous 12 months than females (16.6%). Males were also less likely to be in a primary relationship with a same-sex partner than females (40.7% male, 50.0% female) and placed less store on emotional attraction than females did.
While the self-selecting nature of the survey made it unrepresentative – most respondents were highly educated, earned high incomes and were politically active – it provided some insights into the gay community and a base for further research.
Research into gay youth has revealed a wide range of experiences. Some ‘come out’ into a supportive environment, and there is a range of social and support groups for teenagers, especially in cities. The experiences of those who come out at school vary widely. Those who are open about their sexuality may find a supportive group of friends – or, conversely, may face harassment and bullying. Even in the absence of physical danger, young gay men may not feel emotionally safe or respected. Some high schools do not allow same-sex partners at school balls.
One high school teacher reported in 2010 that students continued to bully one another with accusations of being gay. ‘A 14-year-old came to see me the other day, saying “guys always say that I’m gay. They cover up when we’re in the changing room, and they say ‘here comes this poofter!’” I said: “Well it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or not, you don’t find that acceptable”. He said: “No I don’t, it makes me want to cry.”’1
Many schools offer patchy resources for gay students. A 2009 survey of Otago secondary school students revealed gay people or issues were rarely discussed in class, although libraries and guidance councillors sometimes provided relevant books and pamphlets. Given this ambivalence toward gay issues, it is unsurprising that many gay youth come out only after leaving school.
Community initiatives that connect lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, transsexual and intersex, takatāpui, fa'afafine and fakaleiti youth are increasing. An example is q-topia – a social support network for queer youth in Canterbury. Voluntary youth faclitators aged between 18 and 30 years organize events, workshops, DVD and games evenings for young people 14 to 25 years.
RainbowYOUTH Aotearoa operates at a national level to support and develop young queer and gender diverse communities. It distributes information, goes into schools, provides drop in centres and engages in advocacy for queer youth.