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Gay parade draws a Hero's welcome

JESS LEE
Last updated 09:10 14/02/2013
PRIDE
JASON OXENHAM

PONSONBY PRIDE: Auckland Pride Parade co-ordinator Jonathan Smith brings the parade back to Ponsonby’s streets.

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After more than a decade since Auckland's last gay pride parade took its final bow, Ponsonby is set to come alive with explosions of colour and sequins for the Auckland Pride Parade on Saturday.

Things have changed dramatically in the 12 years since the Hero Parade and Festival last stomped the city's streets, Pride Parade co-ordinator Jonathan Smith says.

"People's attitudes have changed. In the first five years of Hero it was quite difficult - there was a lot of negativity.

"But this year there has been no negativity at all from residents or suppliers. Everybody is 100 per cent on board to make this happen."

The parade is expected to attract a broad audience of 200,000 spectators, including children, teenagers and the elderly.

Organisers were forced to close entries for the Ponsonby Rd parade ahead of schedule with more than 1200 participants and 40 floats already confirmed.

Mr Smith says the response exceeded his expectations.

"I wasn't really sure just how the community would get involved and I wasn't sure whether or not people even wanted it."

Mr Smith was involved in the Hero Parade and Festival during its nine-year run from 1992 to 2001 as one half of one of the country's top drag performer duos, Buffy and Bimbo.

The parade attracted around 100,000 spectators annually but when it ended it left the Hero Charitable Trust $142,398 in debt. It was later replaced by the Big Gay Out.

This weekend's event is the first time the Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender community has received significant financial support for a parade from Auckland Council which contributed $100,000.

It is also the first time members of the New Zealand Defence Force will march in uniform in the parade.

"It's a real acknowledgment of where the GLBT community has come but there's also a major statement from the Defence Force that they celebrate the GLBT personnel and they look at this as being a strength not a weakness."

Police officers who registered for the parade will still take part but will not be representing the police force after they were told they could not march in uniform, Mr Smith says.

This year's Pride Remembrance Float will acknowledge those lost to breast and prostate cancer and youth suicide as well as HIV and Aids in keeping with the parade's "one community" theme.

Mr Smith says it has been difficult to engage Auckland's young "rainbow" community in this year's parade.

"I think for them they have not experienced this and they possibly don't understand it. I think once they see what happens on February 16 they'll probably understand what community really means."

The 1.5km parade route travels up Ponsonby Rd from Western Park to Three Lamps from 4pm. Ponsonby Rd and all adjoining streets will be closed to traffic from noon until 9pm.

■ Go to bit.ly/UxUa74 for full information on road closures.

■ Go to aucklandpride festival.org.nz for more information on the Auckland Pride Festival.

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- Manukau Courier

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