New Zealand has elected the queerest Parliament in the world since the last elections in October 2020. How has New Zealand got to the point to reach this result? What’s the history behind such a progressive achievement, not only for the country itself but also for the ones witnessing such a victory? Surely, the historical path and the cultural background have brought to these consequences.
Tūtānekai loved Tiki, and said to Whakaue (his father):
‘’I am stricken with love for my friend, for Tiki.’’ – Tūtānekai and Tiki, a fragment about a pre-colonial Maori love story.
Homosexuality and transsexuality have been documented in New Zealand culture for centuries. In pre-colonial history, these ways of being were so widely accepted by the society, that the Maori language adopted a specific glossary for queer individuals. ‘Takatāpui’ is the word that, in Maori times, meant having a devoted same-sex partner, whereas nowadays it encompasses both the sexuality and gender-identity spheres. In Maori culture, also transsexuality was recognized as familiar and two words were used to express it: ‘whakawahine’ and ‘tangata ira tane’. The former was assigned to those who lived in the body of a man but felt and acted like women. The latter, instead, referred to females feeling and acting like men.
However, in the IX century, Christian settlers landed in New Zealand, spreading the destructive doctrine of homosexuality’s sinfulness. When New Zealand became a colony of the English Empire in 1840, it embodied the British rule of law, hence adopting sodomy as a capital offense (Buggery Act 1533). Fifty years later, New Zealand outlawed male sexual activities with cruel penalties such as imprisonment, hard labor, and flogging; whereas homosexuality between women was never actually criminalized. In spite of those policies condemning gay activities, LGBTQIA+ subcultural groups developed and gathered, gaining strength. Nonetheless, as history reminds, violence against gays and lesbians was tolerated, as seen in the case of Charles Aberhart.
The wind of change, triggered by many aspects, started to blow, paving the way for that inclusive atmosphere proper of today’s New Zealand. Stonewall riots of 1969 had a deep influence on it and led to the first New Zealand gay pride week in the ‘70s. Furthermore, the homosexual law reform was possible also due to the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, established in 1985. Its supporters believed removing the stigma from the homosexual community would have helped not only the legislative reform but also the spread and treatment of the disease itself. It was only one year after, in 1986, that the Homosexual Law Reform Act, proposed by the Labours, passed. Thanks to this act, the previous norms going against LGBTQIA+ rights got repealed and consensual sex between gay men from 16 years old was legalized. But the progressive wave towards tolerance of LGBTQIA+ individuals did not stop there. One further step was taken in 1993, whereas nowadays, some western countries of Europe, Italy for example, are still struggling to achieve what they reached thirty years ago. It consists of the drawing up of the Human Rights Act. Specifically, section twenty-one prohibits any kind of discrimination on religious belief, race, disability, and sexual orientation, including heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual. In the past few years, two last steps were taken. The Civil Union Act was passed in 2005, allowing civil unions to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and conferring them rights and obligations of marriage, including immigration, social welfare, and matrimonial property. Secondly, in 2013 the Parliament amended the Marriage Act (1955), adding the definition of ‘’marriage’’ now meaning‘’ union of two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.’’
The harsh and long path made by the story of every single individual, suffering the oppressiveness of society, resulted in the current political situation. Due to the latest elections, the New Zealand Parliament reached 9.16% of MPs identifying as part of the LBGTQIA+ community. The government, led by Jacinda Ardern, is based on the name of inclusiveness and respect for diversities. Half of the Cabinet is composed of women. Between them, there is also Naia Mahuta, the first Maori woman heading the Foreign Affairs Ministry; and Grant Robertson, the first gay vice-premier of the world.
The pattern proposed by New Zealand offers security and wellness to its citizens. A country where every person is protected by law permits the inner growth and self-experimentation of individuals, granting also a subsequent positive economic return. Protection of rights is at the basis of modern constitutionalism and the so-called ‘’democratic’’ countries, that do not respect queer people rights, are missing the basis of this doctrine. Sadly, many are the states where the most predominant line of thought is the conservative one, basing its ideals on the hatred towards diversity. And if the Maori culture of past centuries had already understood that diversity means enrichment, that diversity is the metaphor of an orchestra where – the more instruments play, the better it sounds – then why can’t we?