National Library of New Zealand
Harvested by the National Library of New Zealand on: Apr 10 2017 at 22:43:46 GMT
Search boxes and external links may not function. Having trouble viewing this page? Click here
Close Minimize Help
Wayback Machine
GayNZ Logo & Link
Tuesday 11 April 2017

Law Reform: raising the cash

Posted in: True Stories
By Jay Bennie - 10th August 2011

Bruce Kilmister
The fight for Homosexual Law Reform, to decriminalise sexual relations between consenting adult men and to help reduce institutionalised stigma and discrimination against other sexual minorities, took energy, bravery, strategy, determination... and money.

One of those at the forefront of fundraising was Bruce Kilmister.

Better known in more recent years as the chair of the Hero Project in the early days of that mammoth glbt festival and more recently as an openly gay Auckland local body politician, Kilmister is currently General Manager of HIV positive people's advocacy and support organisation Body Positive.

But in the early to mid-1980s Kilmister was, in his own words and tinged with irony given how the change in NZ economic conditions was soon to decimate his business and finances, an “ostentatiously wealthy” gay man. Wealthy enough that many of the day to day problems faced by gay men around the country were matters which hardly affected him at all. He lived in a world of A-list gays, a world apart, insulated by privilege and luxury. He lived, as he says, “a great life.”

Then, in the very early part of the public campaign, “I opened up the NZ Herald and saw a full-page advertisement arguing against the change in legislation and it was paid for by the Mayor of Mt Roskill, Keith Hay, and his team.”

Flashback: Keith Hay was the head of a devoutly religious family which included his son David – who would himself become a local body politician of note, the king-maker of the conservative faction of Auckland local body politics and eventually Auckland's deputy mayor. Hay senior had made a considerable fortune building homes and was based in Auckland's Mt Roskill bible belt. He was virulently anti-gay with deep, deep pockets - and felt called on to pour vast sums into the anti-law reform campaign.

Until Kilmister became involved the gay lobby had no way of matching Hay's spending. In fact, the pro-gay fighting fund never came near to the anti- resources, but Kilmister eventually helped make sure a decently useable sum was contributed to the final stages of the fight.

For Kilmister that Herald advert touched a nerve. “I was grossly offended,” he remembers. “It was the tennor of the piece, that family values were threatened and that morality was on the slide. I took it personally. All my life I had tried to be a good citizen and to do the right thing.”


His first step was to personally pay for his own full page ad countering Hay's diatribe. It set him back $6,000. That's $15,000 in 2011 dollars.

That was to be just the start of Kilmister's involvement. He contacted Peter Wall and Brett Shepard of the Auckland Gay Task Force, saying he would like to support the organisation. “Then I had a visit to my home by Peter and gay lawyer Alan Ivory,” (who would, with fellow lawyer and powerful legal mind Don McMorland draft the Law Reform Bill), “and we discussed how I could assist by not only making a contribution but by coming on board to become the main fundraiser... because the expenses were significant.”

“We had a range of ideas for fundraising,” says Kilmister. “One of the more significant ones was that every Monday night we would have dinner in a different restaurant. We would approach the owners and say that as Monday was traditionally the quietest night for a restaurant if we promised to fill it would they contribute a $500 donation to the campaign. In fact sometimes we had so many people we not only filled the whole restaurant but I had to rush next door or to the nearest restaurant to see if they would take some of the over flow and make some sort of recognition or contribution.”

Another significant fundraiser was an art auction. In recent years these fundraising auctions have become so commonplace they are now passe and relatively ineffective, but in the mid-1980s they worked well. “Annie and Peter Webb, who owned Peter Webb gallery and auction house, agreed to promote an auction with all of the artists contributing works with the funds coming to the campaign. We held that in the Regent Hotel in Lower Albert Street and it raised a lot of money.”


Despite the successful fundraisers and the generosity of affluent gays “there was never any spare money... it was the leanest, meanest machine you could imagine, calling on everybody to make some contribution. A lot of the support came from the Out! organisation in terms of administration and overhead costs and they were greatly supportive of the whole thing. Money counted for a lot and we always seemed to have nothing compared to what the opposition had for their nationwide petitions etc.”

Money was needed for obvious thing like advertising and poster campaigns, and also for travel so activists and politicians could gather from around the country and work closely together. Many people paid their own expenses but where this was not possible funds like those raised in Auckland and similar efforts around the country, stepped in.

To measure the results of their campaigning, and that of the massive efforts of the anti-Reform movement, professional public opinion polls had to be regularly conducted. “We had to pay for Heylen polls virtually every month and they weren't cheap... that was our means of judging our success or failure of convincing New Zealand society to support the bill.”

The poll results helped the campiagners around the country fine-tune their tactics and results were sometimes quietly fed to wavering MPs to try to convince them that a vote for the legislation wouldn't necessarily be electoral suicide. The slow but inexorable increase in public support for the bill, as indicated by the polls, provided much-needed succour when at times the going got especially tough.

Another significant and important expense was to pay a wage to a Wellington-based researcher who would eventually enter politics and become a senior Labour government MP and cabinet minister. “Ruth Dyson was working as a researcher in Fran Wilde's office,” Kilmister recalls, “but Fran couldn't afford to employ her because she didn't have any budget for that. So part of our money-making campaign was to pay her wages while she was working full time on the Bill."


Kilmister acknowledges that a lot of support emanated from the Out! empire of gay businesses around the country owned by Brett Sheppard, Tony Katavich and John Penney, “and from Brett  especially. In all of his spheres of influence from Alfies nightclub to Out! magazine and their saunas they all pitched in supporting reform and a lot of the energy coalesced around them.” And it wasn't just money and use of their businesses' facilities. “I can remember Brett standing up in public and criticising the denigration of our community by the so-called politicians.”

“I remember going with Brett to a meeting on the North Shore. Norm Jones was speaking in a school hall. People queued up to get in. The principal said there was no more room but we all squashed up to take up just half the space. Jones was heckled and the police had to intervene several times. Peter Wall was dragged out, Brett stood up and objected... Jones was just overwhelmed. The meeting became too unruly and had to be closed. That meeting gave us a developing sense of power.”

The core members of the Auckland Gay Task Force met regularly to drive their part of the national campaign. “We met every Wednesday at Alfies … three or four months turned into eighteen. We'd meet with supporters and every Sunday in my home to strategise. We liaised with other Gay Task Forces and groups around the country.”


Progress was made but it wasn't always straight-forward. “I remember a meeting with about fifty lesbians - you have to remember that this was a period when feminism was at its height - to ask for support. Half of them walked out in protest that there was a man in the room,” Kilmister laughs.

Just as some closeted gay MPs in more recent times voted against Civil Unions and the Anti-Discrimination legislation which both helped raise glbt people to something nearer equality in the eyes of the law, several closeted politicians voted against the Homosexual Law Reform bill, which “outraged” Kilmister.

Kilmister says the fight for decriminalisation of homosexuality “had such an impact on our lives. We were all on edge regarding our lifestyle depending on the Bill. Things like the 1951 waterfront strike, rugby contact with South Africa... in my lifetime there have been few events which have been so divisive of NZ society. Everybody, no matter who they were, had a position one way or the other. And the division wasn't between the few and the majority, it was pretty evenly divided. In New Zealand most parts of society were firmly on one side or the other. It was a significant point, more-so than it has been recognised for, in changing NZ society.”


The final high-profile fight for change was not the end of the work that needed to be done to help create more equity for glbt people in New Zealand. “After Law Reform we had to have social reform. Social reform came about by changing people's image of what being gay was about. The stereotypical image of being gay back then was pedophilia, sexual deviancy, the seduction of minors, and all that had to be changed and that was the real message behind the Hero Project and the Hero Parade... not only honouring those that had died due to AIDS of course but also saying 'we're here, we're queer and we're everywhere.'”

For Kilmister the fight had personal ramifications. “I suppose it gave me a sense of pride in who I am. I mean, this was a massive movement that affected not only the NZ community but it also went right down into individual families and to individuals. And suddenly you felt that you had asserted your rightful place by being a full and equal member of New Zealand society. Because until that time you just simply weren't. Not only had legislation worked against us but also in society some may have tolerated it but the reality was you were never accepted as equal or of value.”


Following Kilmister's change from wealthy businessman to a person of more modest means the seeds of political and gay activism planted during the campaign for Homosexual Law Reform sprouted into involvement in local body politics and HIV/AIDS activism. He was on the founding board of the NZ AIDS Foundation and as an elected Community Board member ensured glbt interests were not ignored in the Auckland City Council's oversight of the city's inner suburbs - comprising the most densely glbt-populated gay area of the country.

In these roles Kilmister has often clashed swords, publicly or more discreetly, with David Hay and his ilk who, law reform or no law reform, remain determined to demean glbt people in every way they can.

   Bookmark and Share
Jay Bennie - 10th August 2011