Story: Gay men’s lives

‘Gay is good, gay is beautiful; gay is angry, gay is proud.’ The gay liberation movement rejected shame and secrecy, and embraced coming out and gay pride. Activists fought for, and in 1986 won, the decriminalisation of homosexual sex, and organised to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Story by Chris Brickell
Main image: Delegates, Love Life Fono, 2009

Story summary

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Through New Zealand’s history, many men have had intimate and sexual relationships with other men. Until 1986 gay sex was illegal, and gay men faced discrimination and disapproval. Many hid their sexuality. In the early 21st century gay men were more visible, including gay male MPs in powerful positions in each of the main political parties. However, gay men could still face prejudice, and sometimes even violence.

Relationships and social groups

Same-sex relationships may have been acceptable in traditional Māori society. Pākehā settlers on the goldfields or in rural areas were mostly male, and some had sexual relationships with each other. In cities too men met for sex and relationships, and groups of gay men socialised together. Particular bars and cafés became popular meeting places in the 20th century.

In the early 21st century there were gay social events, and groups for gay professionals, gardeners and sportspeople. Some churches especially welcomed gay people, and gay websites allowed men to find information and meet one another.

Gay men and the law

In 1840 sodomy (anal sex) was made illegal, and from 1893 all sex between men was illegal. Gay activists in the 20th century fought to change this, and in 1986 gay sex was decriminalised. In 1993 it became illegal to discriminate against gay people, and in 2005 civil unions were introduced, allowing same-sex couples to have legally recognised unions similar to marriage. Same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013.

Gay activism

From the late 1960s the gay liberation movement fought against prejudice and encouraged gays and lesbians to ‘come out’ (be open about their sexuality). Gay men organised to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to support people with HIV/AIDS.

Pacific Island gay men

Fa’afafine (men who live as women) were widely accepted in traditional Samoan society. However, some conservative Pacific churches opposed homosexuality. The Love Life Fono is a conference for gay and transgender Pacific people.

Gay youth

Some schools have gay support groups, making it easier for young gay men to come out. But gay youth can also face harassment and bullying at school.

How to cite this page:

Chris Brickell, 'Gay men’s lives', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 July 2024)

Story by Chris Brickell, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 11 May 2018