Flesh and fantasy take pride of place

Last updated 05:00 17/02/2013

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At the eastern end of central Auckland's Ponsonby Rd, an almost-naked man in bodypaint and horns was limbering up. Labour's Jacinda Ardern was uploading a photo to Twitter. A group of middle-aged women were revving motorbikes, waiting for the parade to start.

Not far away, down Franklin Rd, American-born musician David Tillinghast and his architect husband Simon Dodd were holding a "Pride Parade Preloading" gathering at their house - a couple of dozen friends, a bowl of punch, some nice cheese.

"A couple of friends said they were really looking forward to coming and meeting more gay people. The joke is that it's mostly straight people here today."

That's part of the appeal of living in New Zealand, says Tillinghast. There's no desperate need to be part of a gay "community" as such, because no one cares terribly much what you are, as long as you don't "shove it in their faces".

Yet funnily enough, says Tillinghast, on a day like this "everyone's turning up with the kids and grannies to have it shoved in their face".

It's been a gay old month in Auckland. The Big Gay Out was last weekend.

On Friday the Sky Tower and the War Memorial Museum were lit up in rainbow colours.

Next weekend there's a "Proud" party in Victoria Park.

But the city hasn't seen a proper parade with flatbed-truck floats, drum majorettes and a high-revving gang of what can only be described as dykes on bikes since 2001, when the Hero Parade's financial woes finally killed it off.

Sure enough, as the parade made its way from Western Park to Three Lamps, there were plenty of grannies and kids and thoroughly hetero-looking nuclear families among the crowds lining the road. The more usual Ponsonby Rd types were there too: skinny young men with multiple piercings, eccentrically dressed uni students, middle-aged latte swillers and men in makeup and heels.

The serious exotica were on the road, though. In sweltering sun, around 40 groups walked, danced, rollerskated and, in one instance, were borne in a Roman chariot the 1.5km from Western Park to Three Lamps, as thousands cheered, ogled, knocked back a few drinks and passed judgment on Twitter.

"All of the homosexuals in the world are in ponsonby right now. ALL OF THEM," said one. "Drag queens on segways looking fabulous," said another. At least one of which statements was true.

There were bronzed men with rippling abs wiggling their toned buttocks. Nipples were covered with tassles or less. Hairy men wore groin-enhancing leather chaps. Ardern and her party leader David Shearer waved banners in favour of marriage equality. Greens weaved about on bicycles. Members of Socialist Aotearoa maintained their reputation for dourness and irrelevance by moping along chanting "Free Bradley Manning" (that's the American soldier behind the WikiLeaks leaks, who happens to be gay).

A contingent from Waiheke Island bashed away at bongos with insane glee and showed impressive self-knowledge with the slogan on their van: "Waiheke - full of Fruits & Nuts".

This wasn't Rio, despite the occasional flurry of samba drums and bum-waggling. It wasn't the Sydney Mardi Gras, despite the extraordinary washboard stomachs of some of the male dancers. It felt more like a small but incredibly enthusiastic Santa Parade, only with G-strings.

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The real stars, though, were the most conservatively dressed of all. For the first time, members from various branches of the Defence Force had given permission to join the parade in full uniform.

There were 30-odd of them, and their marching was the most disciplined of the day. They got the biggest cheer by miles, and no-one was shoving anything in anyone's face.

- Sunday Star Times

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