Kōrero: Lesbian lives

Whārangi 6. Contemporary lesbian life

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

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. Many lesbians choose not to have children. Others choose to live alone, or have a relationship with another lesbian who lives alone.

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

There are social opportunities for lesbians to meet through informal groups such as sports teams, walking groups and book clubs. The Amazons Softball Club (1977–2011) in Wellington and Circe Softball Club (founded 1979) and Circe United football club (founded 1980) in Auckland have been notable lesbian sports teams. The Lesbian Overland and Café Group organises walks in Wellington, while the Lesbian Information, Library and Archives Centre (LILAC) in Wellington and Charlotte Museum Trust in Auckland host book groups and exhibitions. Other Lesbian social events include the annual Auckland lesbian ball (which has been held since 1983).

There are mixed public events that include lesbians like Wellington's annual Out in the Square – a gay and lesbian festival – and Auckland's Hero Parade. The Gay Games and Out Games provide opportunities for lesbian competitors to socialise. Mixed gay and lesbian choirs like the Glamaphones in Wellington and Gay and Lesbian Singers (GALS) in Auckland have also competed at international Gay and Lesbian choir festivals.

Bea and Bette's gift

The Armstrong and Arthur Charitable Trust for Lesbians was established in 2001 by Bea Arthur to benefit lesbian community groups in the Wellington region. The Trust was named to recognise and remember Bea and Bette Armstrong, her partner of 57 years. It has funded a variety of lesbian projects and activities, including LILAC, the Wellington Lesbian Community Radio Programme, art exhibitions, theatre performances, and dance competitions.

Some younger and a few older lesbians identify as queer rather than lesbian, and many enjoy socialising at mixed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) events and groups. Some Māori women identify as takatāpui, meaning 'intimate partner of the same sex'.2 This term has been used by Māori since being identified in traditional texts by scholars Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Lee Smith.


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) has a large collection of lesbian literature. The Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand (LAGANZ), housed at the Alexander Turnbull Library, includes manuscripts, oral histories, memorabilia, and published materials on lesbian histories. The lesbian Waxing Moon archives from Hamilton form part of this archive. The Charlotte Museum Trust preserves lesbian artefacts as well as literature and oral histories.

No marriage for Mabel

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 election campaign in 1963, at the age of 69, an audience member asked if she was getting married. Howard retorted, ‘Married? I’ve dodged it so far and I will dodge it now.’3

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.’4 Other prominent self-identified lesbians include singer Anika Moa and writers Renee, Paula Boock, Miriam Saphira and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku.

Kupu tāpiri
  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. ‘What does 'takatāpui mean?’ https://takatapui.nz/ (last accessed 21 August 2018). Back
  3. 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
  4. ‘Intro: The Topp Twins.’ http://topptwins.com/media/intro (last accessed 8 October 2010). Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Alison J. Laurie, 'Lesbian lives - Contemporary lesbian life', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/lesbian-lives/page-6 (accessed 23 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Alison J. Laurie, i tāngia i te 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 15 Aug 2018