Story: Lesbian lives

Page 6. Contemporary lesbian life

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Family life

By the early 2000s women could live public lesbian lives, which included living openly with women partners and raising children in lesbian households. Under law, lesbian couples who have children together – through donated sperm or assisted reproductive technology – are both recognised as parents.

Mum and mum

Lesbian parents are increasingly common in the 21st century – but some still have to think more than heterosexual parents about how their roles will be publicly understood. In a 2009 study one woman commented that ‘because I wasn’t the birth mother, [for] want of a better word, to me it was extremely important that I developed a strong natural bond with Claudia, and I made that my life’s mission … I never wanted people to be able to come in and go “Oh well, that’s definitely the biological mother … and that’s not.” That was really important to me.’1

However, the law with respect to parenting is not free of discrimination. Only married or single people can adopt children. If couples are in a de facto relationship or civil union then only one partner can adopt. The other partner can become a guardian. After same-sex marriage was legalised in August 2013, married lesbian couples were able to adopt jointly.

Social life

Public events celebrate lesbian life, and some give heterosexual people the chance to experience the culture. Wellington’s annual Out in the Square – a gay and lesbian festival – and Auckland’s Hero Parade are good examples. Other public events include the annual Auckland lesbian ball (which has been held since 1983) and the Gay Games and Out Games, which bring lesbians from different backgrounds and localities together.

More low-key social opportunities range from lesbian sports teams to walking groups and book clubs.


The deregulation of radio and television broadcasting in the 1980s created new ways of communicating. The Lesbian Community programme on Wellington Access Radio started in 1984 and is still broadcast in the 2010s. In Christchurch the Lesbian Radio Collective broadcast on Plains FM. Lesbians also featured on the television shows Queer nation (Television New Zealand) and Takatāpui (Māori Television).

The internet has also improved communication among lesbians. There are national and local websites. Some websites have chat rooms where New Zealanders can talk with one another and with lesbians overseas.

Preserving lesbian history

The Lesbian Information, Library and Archives Centre (LILAC) in Wellington was opened in 1993. It has the largest collection of lesbian literature in New Zealand. The Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand (LAGANZ) is housed at the Alexander Turnbull Library. The collection includes manuscripts, oral histories, memorabilia and published materials on lesbian histories. The Charlotte Museum Trust in Auckland preserves lesbian artefacts.

No marriage for Mabel

Early politician Mabel Howard, New Zealand’s first woman cabinet minister, is believed to have been a lesbian, although she did not openly identify herself as such. When Howard appeared smartly attired at the launch of her final electoral campaign in 1963, at the age of 69, an audience member asked if she was getting married. Howard rejoined, ‘Married? I’ve dodged it so far and I will dodge it now.’2

High-profile lesbians

Some lesbians have a high public profile. Marilyn Waring was a member of Parliament from 1976 to 1984 and openly identified herself as a lesbian after she left. In 2005 Labour MP Maryan Street became the first openly identified lesbian elected to Parliament. Well-known entertainers Jools and Lynda Topp (the Topp Twins) describe themselves as ‘out-and-proud lesbians.’3 Other prominent self-identified lesbians include singer Anika Moa and writers Renee, Paula Boock, Miriam Saphira and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku.

  1. Alexandra C. Gunn and Nicola Surtees, We’re a family: how lesbians and gay men are creating and maintaining family in New Zealand. Wellington: Families Commission, 2009, p. 15. Back
  2. Quoted in Alison Laurie, ‘Lady-husbands and kamp ladies: pre-1970 lesbian life in Aotearoa/New Zealand.’ PhD thesis, Victoria University, 2003, p. 187 Back
  3. ‘Intro: The Topp Twins.’ (last accessed 8 October 2010). Back
How to cite this page:

Alison J. Laurie, 'Lesbian lives - Contemporary lesbian life', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 March 2018)

Story by Alison J. Laurie, published 5 May 2011