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Sunday 09 April 2017

Changing Paradigms

Posted in: True Stories
By Shelley Howard - 24th February 2014

"Notes on the second Auckland Pride Parade by an ex-Sapper turned old Queen"


I spent one of my lifetimes in the uniform of a New Zealand Army soldier and officer. It was for me a career well-spent but it was fraught with risk. At the time I enlisted, firstly to the Territorial Force and a little more than a year later, into the Regular Army, homosexuality was illegal and it was absolute anathema to the military. Transgenderism in the military was so ridiculous a concept it was not even a subject for crass humour. It was a great environment for such as I to hide and even now as a transgender person who lives openly as a woman, when I inform people I had a career in the Army, they are often surprised, sometimes shocked, that I could have ‘gotten away with it’. In the language and comprehension of my generation and of those that preceded it, such a thing was entirely implausible. It is seemingly still an implausible concept albeit no longer improbable.

Last Saturday, I formed up behind a body of Navy, Army and Air Force personnel in the guise of a veteran, and prepared to march the gauntlet of Auckland public who lined Ponsonby Road in that vivid celebration of diversity, the Pride Parade. The NZDF personnel who formed up near the start of the Pride Parade that Saturday night represented the very best of qualities we expect in those who we sometimes ask to go into harm’s way to serve our nation’s best interests: leadership, courage, selflessness in the face of bias, they were united in their determination to show that in diversity lies strength. There was too a message for those who remain oppressed by sexism and genderism among their colleagues which sadly still prevails but which is being eroded. That message, inherent in the presence of very senior officers standing alongside their LGBTIQ service members, highlights a determination within the NZDF to overcome such residual, outmoded attitudes and to lead New Zealand’s military forces into the 21st century and beyond.

Last year at the first Pride Parade, the NZDF were represented by a courageous but very small band of serving sailors, soldiers and airmen. I was very proud and honoured to show my support by marching with them as an ex-serviceperson. The response we were given by the viewing public was overwhelmingly disproportionate to our meagre presence. It left one feeling on the cusp of something momentous, such was the enthusiasm with which we were received. I wrote after that parade how in all the time I spent in uniform, never had I experienced such a sense of value and worth.


The success of last year’s presence encouraged NZDF to take an even more active role in the Pride Parade and the Services’ presence this year was bolstered with strong representation by senior officers and non-commissioned officers marching as straight allies to their LGBTIQ service colleagues. This provided an interesting segue for me personally. Two of the Army brigadiers marching as straight allies, happen also to have been peers of mine during that other lifetime. When I re-introduced myself to these able men, their only concern was whether I still went by the name they remembered me as. Thereafter, they used Shelley as if it were my given name. A small matter perhaps in the overall scheme of what was happening that evening, but a clear demonstration of their understanding and compassion when faced with a potentially awkward “transition”. It affirmed for me, the integrity of NZDF efforts to build its strength as an organisation around inclusion for all its people.

The experience of marching with the NZDF at the second Pride Parade last Saturday was, as I anticipated, momentous. Perhaps it was the drums but I know too that despite them, I felt again that sense of value and worth. The crowd reception was again awesome. As a non-uniformed representative I did not feel so constrained by conventions of drill and so I was able to step out of the ranks and occasionally interact with the crowd. The people of Auckland embraced us warmly and genuinely and again, I was left after the parade was over, with a sense that we are on the cusp of something momentous.

Only more so.

Roll on 2015


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Shelley Howard - 24th February 2014