By SOPHIE STONE

On Saturday the 25th of February, the spectacular annual Auckland Pride Parade makes its return. The theme for this year’s parade is Pride and Progress, which both celebrates the progress achieved by the Rainbow community, and acknowledged the issues it continues to face.

The Parade has a historical link to Auckland. While the first pride events were held in the 1970s, it was in 1992 that the origins of the modern day Pride Parade began, with the Hero Parade, a near-annual parade held in Auckland.

Proving to be popular despite opposition, the parades drew around 200,000 spectators each year. They also attracted some government support, as Prime Minister Jenny Shipley visited the 1998 parade, a first for the National Government. Helen Clark, her opposition at the time, had visited the Parade several times prior.

Raising awareness of the struggles the Rainbow Community, the parades have done a lot to help to improve the rights of LGBTIQ New Zealanders. Unfortunately they lacked funding, and in 2001, the last Hero Parade ran. It was only in 2013 that it was revived as the Auckland Pride Parade, drawing huge crowds and renewing interest. It has run every February since.

Auckland Pride Parade

Now more than 30 years since the start of Pride events in New Zealand, and the passing of the Homosexual Reform Act, the Pride Parade marks the end of the Auckland Pride Festival, the annual two-week celebration of Auckland’s Rainbow community.

The Festival hosts a variety of events, including the ever popular Big Gay Out, the Pride Gala (which kicks off the Festival), Ride With Pride, a 90-minute bike ride from Britomart to Big Gay Out, the ‘Know Who You Are, Be Who You Are’ interactive Rainbow Youth and Auckland Libraries collaborative exhibition, and many more.

The popularity of the Parade has only waned slightly over the years. The 2016 Pride Parade exceeded expectations, with more than 50 floats and 50,000 spectators. A similar turn-out is expected this year.

It’s only fitting that the theme of 2017’s parade should focus on progress, given how far the community has come. This is especially witnessed in how much more support Rainbow events have gained in the last few years, with bigger corporations joining in by entering their own floats to show their support. This is a distinct change from the Hero Parades, which display again the progress achieved in gaining support since then.

However, as the official Auckland Pride Festival page points out, while the Rainbow community has made leaps, the struggles they face aren’t over:

“Homophobia continues to exist. Our young people are still not safe. We don’t enjoy the benefits of health equity. HIV/AIDS has still not been beaten. Women do not have pay equity. Gender identity isn’t included in the Human Rights Act and reassignment surgeries are woefully underfunded. Neighbouring countries still choose to deny our rights. We cannot afford the luxury of complacency. The momentum of change must continue!”

The continued prevalence of these issues both in New Zealand and in other countries necessitates the Pride Parade. It’s a show of solidarity and support for the community who continue to make gains and stand proud, despite facing adversity.

The parade kicks off at Ponsonby Road at 7.30pm on February 25th. For more info, click here.

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