Queer History objects

As we near the end of Queer History Month, I’ve been thinking about how objects at Te Papa work together to illuminate aspects of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) life in New Zealand. One particular aspect I’ve noted is how society can both celebrate and marginalise particular groups of citizens regardless of legislation and our commitments to human rights.

For example, in March 2011 Wellington hosted the 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames. It was the biggest festival of LGBTI sport and cultural events ever held in New Zealand. Over 1300 participants from 26 countries competed in a wide range of sporting competitions. It was a great success and brought a celebratory air to the capital city. Te Papa collected a range of material from the games including this cheeky drink bottle.

Orange drink bottle featuring image of two Dutch male figures kissing.

‘Kissing’ drink bottle, ‘2nd Asia Pacific Outgames’, 2011 (Te Papa, GH021606). Gift of Gareth Watkins and Roger Smith, 2011

But only three months later in June 2011 people were marching in the streets to reclaim the night in response to recent violent attacks on members of the LGBTI community. Queer the Night Collective noted: ‘Attacks based on an individual’s perceived sexuality or gender are an attack on us all…. The only real way to battle community violence is through community action…the march is not just about fear of being attacked on the street, but also the institutionalised homophobia and transphobia in our society.’

Poster titled 'Queer the Night' featuring a unicorn leaping across the moon, trailing a rainbow.

This poster features two symbols of the queer community: unicorns and rainbows. ‘Queer the Night’ harks back to feminism’s ‘Reclaim the Night’ protests of the 1970s. Queer the Night poster, 2011, designed by Sandi Mackechnie, published by Queer the Night Collective (Te Papa, GH024579)

Later that year in October 2011, The Queer Avengers also used these symbols for their poster advertising the ‘Queer our Schools’ campaign. They demanded that the Ministry of Education make ‘all schools accessible to transgendered, queer and gender-variant students through providing flexible dress codes and non-gendered bathrooms; and incorporating sexuality and gender diversity into school subjects.’

Poster featuring two unicorns and a rainbow.

Queer our Schools poster, 2011, designed by Corentin Esquenet, published by The Queer Avengers (Te Papa, GH024580)

By collecting such objects and bringing them together, we’re able to reflect the complexities of society at a particular moment in time, and remind ourselves that there’s still a lot of work to be done to eliminate discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

Stephanie Gibson, Curator History (Contemporary Life & Culture), Te Papa

8 Responses

  1. Kerry

    Stephanie

    Slight correction – Queer the Night grew out of the collectives running ‘Reclaim the Night’ from 1999-2009 in Wellington.

    There was a crossover between feminists running rape survivor support activism, and the youth support for queer students on & off campus, which lead the 2011 activism.

    Speak to Kassie Hartendorp at Evolve (youth worker) if you want to get context for the ephemera you have acquired, such as the names of poster designers, and the herstory of the collectives that ran those events.

    Reply
    • stephaniegibson

      Thanks very much Kerry – this is so helpful! Kind regards, Stephanie

  2. Kay

    Where in Te Papa would I see this exhibit? Or is this a virtual recognition only?

    Reply
    • stephaniegibson

      Kia ora Kay – this is a virtual recognition only, but there are various LGBT presences on the floor, most notably in Slice of Heaven: 20th century Aotearoa, and a small display of Carmen’s accessories, both on level 4 of Te Papa. Kind regards, Stephanie

  3. Bella

    This is so awesome, it’s always sucked having Te Papa as this beautiful treasure trove full of history but hardly ever see anything represent myself or our trans community.

    Also its transgender, not transgendered <3

    Reply
  4. Kay

    The Queer Avengers are in recess as a group but individual members are still part of Wellington’s “rainbow” community. We can be contacted via the Facebook group.
    https://www.facebook.com/QAvengers

    There are many longer running groups in Wellington too, like th Wellington Bisexual Women’s Group which was founded in 1988 and still exists 🙂

    Reply
  5. Ron Brownson

    It is encouraging to see Te Papa promoting that it holds items made by Queer New Zealand artists in its collections.

    I see that 1 object was a private gift rather than a Te Papa initiated acquisition; how did the other 2 objects come into the collection?

    Also, can Te Papa tell the story of The Queer Avengers? I am sure people would be interested.

    Regards to all. Thanks Stephanie for your posting.
    Ron

    Reply
    • stephaniegibson

      Thank you Ron for your comments and support. I collected the posters myself from walls around the city because I was particularly struck by both their design and calls to action. The Queer Avengers ‘challenge gender and sexuality oppression in Aotearoa New Zealand and speak out in solidarity on oppression anywhere’ (https://www.facebook.com/QAvengers). They grew out of the Queer the Night march and campaign on issues relating to queer youth in schools, gender diversity and queer seniors. Kind regards, Stephanie

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