Auckland Pride Festival a time to celebrate

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 06/02/2014
Fairfax NZ

The Auckland Pride Festival kicks off on Waitangi Day.

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It's time for 18 days of fun, tease and a whole lot of sexuality - promoted safely of course.

The Auckland Pride Festival, a celebration of queer culture, begins today and features 70 events.

Highlights include a gala night to preview the festival, a Big Gay Out with musical acts, market stalls and sexual health tests and a Pride parade in Ponsonby Rd with close to 50 floats.

The festival had a lot of support which had not been the case during the Hero parades of the past, trustee Lexie Matheson said.

"The lack of negativity is just really exciting," Matheson said.

The passing of the marriage equality bill last year was something that would be on the minds of many at the festival events.

"Last year in the parade we had all the hopes of that," she said. "That will certainly be celebrated ... There's a feeling of joy and happiness in our community that a lot of the negative stuff that happened in the past is over.

"It's just great to be able to feel as if we are just part of the infrastructure of New Zealand.

"We are quite privileged in New Zealand in the sense that we can be open about who we are and march proudly down the street and have people from all walks of life cheer and clap."

Things had changed since the Hero parades which had gone against popular and political opinion at the time.

"I think we've changed as a community, we were sort of out and proud and waving our fists in the air.

"Now we just wave balloons and banners and rainbow flags and celebrate those areas where we are a little bit different perhaps than the mainstream."

One of the festival's acts will be entertainer and creator of performance show Aroha Mardi Gras Mika Haka, whose Mika Haka Foundation encourages young people of any orientation, race and gender to express themselves through performing arts.

For Haka, the Pride festival is all about inclusion.

"While it is heavily gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual ... these days the straight community especially in New Zealand is way more tolerant and wants to play with us.

"The importance and significance of Pride is this: without some kind of gay festival or something that reflects that community, there is still nothing."

Haka is releasing a new pop single, Dress to Express, during the festival which he says is influenced by pop stars like Lady Gaga, "because if you're not relevant, you're out".

The song urges the importance of the freedom of self-expression and features members of his foundation.

The underlying message throughout the festival will be safe sex, highlighted by the Love Your Condom (LYC) programme developed by the Aids Foundation and the gay community.

Drag queen and LYC co-ordinator Yaya said the festival was instrumental in showing that it was possible to break down the barriers of the past.

"It's about celebrating and it's our time to shine."

The Pride festival runs from today to February 23 at venues around Auckland.

For more information and the festival programme see aucklandpridefestival.org.nz

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- Fairfax Media

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