This month marks the 30th Anniversary of the Homosexual Law Reform Act being passed in Parliament on 9 July, 1986, ending homosexuality being illegal in New Zealand.
Having already failed to pass twice before, it was the hard work and tenaciousness of Central Wellington Labour MP, Fran Wilde, who finally got the bill over the line in Parliament.
“I was lobbied and asked if I would support the legislative change and I said yes.
"It’s was a big black hole in our human rights legislation and it was quite wrong that we had this law sitting on the books from Victorian times which no body had done anything about. I felt strongly that we needed to change it.”
Fran says being a gay male in New Zealand at the time was very hidden and could be dangerous if exposed.
“Many gay men were hounded and entrapped. There were police entrapments and others were beaten and bashed up.”
She says no one realised just how big the reaction would be when the bill was submitted.
“We knew there would be a negative reaction but I don’t think anybody knew how massive, nasty and vindictive it would be. It was truly ugly.
“The opposition talked about, ‘Go back to the sewers, this is not natural, it’s not normal, and these are all child molesters and perverts.' They talked a lot about the mechanics of sex.”
Fran says they needed to respond with a big education campaign for New Zealanders to give them facts and destroy the mythology.
“We didn’t have social media in those days so it was all through television, radio, news, word of mouth, writing to people, lots of public meetings, and radio talk back.”
The former Labour MP says their campaign message was, “Gay people are gay, that’s who they are. We don’t know, it could be 10 percent of the population. They are not child molesters, they are not perverts. They are just simply gay and are entitled to be like other New Zealanders and not be criminals.
“We talked about the need for people to be able to have stable and loving relationships. So they were very different conversations that were coming out to the public.”
Fran says many New Zealanders didn’t realise that they knew any gay men and were quite astonishing when people started to come out.
“Part of the campaign was visibility because we knew that New Zealanders needed to know that these gay men that they lived with, worked with and were next door neighbours to were perfectly ordinary people and unless they knew that then they weren’t going to feel comfortable about the legislation.
“So all over the country, men came out, and it was very brave of them because if the bill hadn’t been passed, they would have been still criminals but they would have been identified.”
Due to aids arriving, she says it was particularly important that homosexuality was decriminalised.
“We needed men to go and report to health clinics and get treatment and not be hidden. That was very important."
After an 18-month campaign and many heated debates, the final tally was 49 votes to 44 and the bill was passed to cheers in the Parliament gallery.
“I’m delighted that I was able to help and I think it’s not just the LGBT community, it’s actually New Zealand. I think New Zealand is a better place for this because we’ve got access to all the talents of the LGBT community whereas before they were all hidden. So I think we’ve all benefited actually. It’s fantastic to have been involved in that.”
Fran was recognised and honoured at the Rainbow Gala event at Auckland’s SkyCity on July 9 as part of the 30-year anniversary celebrations.
She’s still just as passionate today about the LGBT community and an advocate of seeing it free from prejudice and discrimination.
“I’d like to see a lot more focus on young people, some of them are having a really hard time at school. And of course social media is quite difficult as it’s everywhere and of course kids are bullied.
“I think we are going in the right direction but we’re not there yet.”