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Let's talk about Hero
By Matt Akersten & Che Newth
25th March 2009 - 03:07 pm

Auckland had a vibrant LGBT Festival this year - but only just. So where do we go to from here? Do we need another Hero?

A public meeting has been called to discuss the future of the Hero brand and/or Pride Festival, and whether we need them, or something new? It's happening this Monday evening, but we asked around for some views from LGBT Aucklanders to help the debate get going.

The story so far…

The very first Hero Party was organised by the NZ AIDS Foundation in 1991, as a way to highlight the all-important condoms for safer sex message. Gay men were told to dress up for the party ("Come as your Hero, or the Hero you are!") which happened at the Railway Shed venue, then was moved to Princes Wharf where it attracted over 3,000 partygoers.

The party got larger each year, and in 1994 moved to the Epson Showgrounds. By 1996, Hero was also a fully-fledged Festival, including the première of the iconic Hero Parade down Queen Street, and later down Ponsonby Road.

One of Hero's most popular events, the Big Gay Out picnic day, began in 2000. By that time, Hero Party attendance had started to decline. The 2001 Parade - the biggest so far - lost a significant amount of money, and was never attempted again.

The Hero Party has been in various memorable venues this century, from the Town Hall (bathed in pink, with a Rainbow Flag on top) to the St. James Theatre, to the Civic Wintergarden, and this year underground at the Transmission Room. While the Party gets smaller each year, the Big Gay Out is as popular as ever - when the weather behaves itself! Other annual events like Wigs on the Waterfront, the Heroic Debate and the Heroic Gardens tour have also added colour to the city - while raising thousands of dollars for LGBT-run organisations (and, in 2009, supporting a few mainstream charities too).

A number of long-time Hero volunteers pulled out in 2008 due to travel and other commitments, leaving the two remaining Hero Trust members unable to arrange a Hero Festival for February 2009. By November a small group of event promoters calling themselves 'Pride '09' hastily put together the festival Aucklanders have come to expect each summer, with dozens of diverse events included, but without the name 'Hero'.

Now that Pride '09 is over, the Pride and Hero crews want your views on the future. Many LGBT event movers and shakers in the community are calling for the 'Hero' brand, with all its checkered history and baggage, to be scrapped, but is a very similar 'Pride Festival' each year the best way forward?

Canvassing K' Road

Feeling rather at home on K' Road, we rocked up to friendly punters last weekend to check out how many of them had actually attended this year's Pride Festival events.

The majority had attended this year's Big Gay Out, and here's what they had to say about it:

Genna B, 24: "The shopping was great this year! I just think that they need more food options."

Victoria M, 30: "I was impressed to see that CADS (Community Alcohol & Drug Service) participated, it's great to see the support of different organisations."

Briar C, 25: "We need more events, like BGO, like live bands and entertainment at night. I think it helps to promote awareness."

Stephen N, 34: "I enjoy BGO because it is a great way to socialize, for those of us who do not enjoy club/bar atmosphere."

Others we spoke to had been to more Pride '09 events, and mentioned Heroes Out West and the Fomo Party at Family bar as their highlights this year. Several said they liked the idea of certain events like the Hero Party and some fundraisers, but did not attend them themselves this time around.

So do people think Auckland still needs an LGBT festival each year?

Kirby M, 29: "Hell yes! We need diversity, events for teens, clubbers, families and oldies."

Andy R, 30's: "Yes there should be a GLBT festival every year. Why? Because it means we have something to be proud of."

Courtney E, 23: "More bands! Yeah, diversity needs to be celebrated every year."

Amy H, 25: "We need events that everybody can attend maybe more music in parks and Fire Poi!"

Genna B, 24: "Totally, it gives us something to look forward to. We actually need events all year."

Steve M, 30's: "Yes, a festival each year shows people we are getting stronger and helps others learn more about this community. It also lets non-out people know there are others out there and not to be afraid."

How do people feel about the names 'Pride' and 'Hero'? Or do we need to call it something else?

Victoria M, 30: "Hero has always had the implication of being specifically for Gay men, so I think Pride is a good name."

Andy R, 30's: "Using Pride this year reminded me of the now defunct Pride Centre. So get rid of the name Pride."

Amy H, 25: "I like the sound of 'Rainbow Pride'. Is that too obvious?

Steve M, 30's: "Neither, they have both had their day. Call it something else."

Garry P, 38: "Pride represents our 'pride of diversity' and the fact that we are not ashamed to celebrate who we are."

See you at the meeting!

Gay Auckland event punter - and costume designer - Joshua Lloyd Charles, past Hero Chairperson Anne Speir, and inaugural Hero 'Brand manager' Paul Rose are all disillusioned by the current state of Auckland's Hero/Pride festival, and are planning to attend Monday's community meeting to put their points across.

Joshua Lloyd-Charles
Joshua Lloyd-Charles attended several Pride Festival events this year. "I went to Big Gay Out, which I thought was a great day," he says. "I went last year for the first time and felt this year was just as good as last. The Caluzzi/Urge beer garden was fun, the mixing of drag queens and bears seemed like an odd combination but they pulled it together fantastically.

"I also went to the Hero Party. Like the Big Gay Out it was my second time there. I felt quite disappointed with the event, it felt very lack lustre, in its performances and the chosen venue. Whilst I understand that the event was pulled together in a very short space of time, it didn't do the Hero brand any favours. I feel it would have been better to cancel the party rather than put on a half hearted event."

Lloyd-Charles says he doesn't have issue with the name 'Pride' for the Festival, "as I have grown up on it and it is very self explanatory. It says we take pride in who we are as a people, and for those that have not yet come out this is a very positive message."

"As for Hero, there seems to me that there is far too much history attached to the name and maybe its time to move on. It could be rebranded entirely with a completely new name and maybe it should be opened up to a competition to rebrand the Festival, to breathe new life into it. I think the Hero brand should be dissolved."

Lloyd-Charles believes Auckland, like every major city in the world, needs an LGBT festival. "Whilst every member of the 'community' may not feel like it is necessary, there are people who may not be a part of the community but see the festival and see that there can be life within it.

"I feel that the festival should be more about visibility, as we are at a stage where we don't have to fight for too much within the way of our rights and equality. Taking part in mainstream events such as Round the Bays with a large LGBT participation is one way that we can make a difference.Letting your average heterosexual know that we walk amongst them and do the same kind of things, helps with acceptance and tolerance. There's a lot of people that say we are past parades but that is another way to have visibility within the larger community. They are also a lot of fun."

Anne Speir
Past Hero Chairperson Anne Speir has been keeping an eye on how Hero/Pride has been progressing lately, and regards this year's Pride '09 Festival as "a cobbled together range of events produced in haste, labeled badly."

"The event that used to be Hero should have been left to wither this year and replaced with public consultation about what we, as a community, wish to see for our celebration," she says. "The name Pride put me off to begin with. The events offered were fairly standard for any previous Hero Festival, nothing spectacular or innovative. I acknowledge the time restraint they had, but maybe nothing would have been better this year."

Auckland still needs some form of celebration or festival for our LGBT communities, but not under old and tired names like Pride or Hero, says Speir.

"Our herstories/histories are too oblique to find in general media, therefore we need to create festivities for us to learn about and celebrate our pasts - including the ex's - and our stories, as well as somewhere to continue the legacy of creative and intellectual innovations we have been known for.

"We have the basis of a festival - Pride 09 proved that, now we need to look at what would work from here. What do the young ones want, what would they go to? How do we integrate the old and the new?"

Paul Rose
Paul Rose, who among others was awarded an Auckland City 'Good Citizen Award' for his work with a past Hero Festival 'rescue', believes Hero/Pride "hasn't had its day" but has seriously lost its focus. "I know it's not for straight people, but a lot of straight people I know ask about the Festival, which I find now as less a community thing, and more about people trying to make some money - and losing their money in the process!

"I think we should lose the tag 'Hero', and lose the hero Trust set-up. Let's come up with something new which celebrates the fact that we as gay people exist, and are not going away.

"We need something celebratory, which of course sets out to involve as much of our community as possible. And more than ever, have fun!"


All interested people are very welcome to attend the public meeting about the future of Auckland's LGBT Festival, to be held at the NZ AIDS Foundation's HQ at 31 Hargreaves Street, College Hill, from 6pm to 8pm on Monday 30 March.

The meeting will be chaired by Hero's Trustees and the NZAF. Attendees please RSVP to by 3pm this Friday 27 March.






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