Walking billboards: the pervasive impact of the common t-shirt

Collecting fraught and hard-fought aspects of history is part of our role here at Te Papa, and given that last month was Queer History Month, I thought I would look at the acquisition of the Destiny Church ‘Enough is Enough’ t-shirt.

These t-shirts were collected in 2012 to be part of the Uniformity exhibition. Though on the surface the acquisition is of a humble, widely-worn garment, there are more issues at play with these particular t-shirts. The reason I have chosen to focus on this t-shirt after a month that aims to highlight the histories of LGBTTQIA+ communities, is to illustrate the marginalising attitudes that takatāpui people continue to endure in Aotearoa, something which this t-shirt exemplifies.

In August 2004, Destiny Church led a rally to parliament grounds in opposition to the government’s move to give legal rights to same-sex couples through the Civil Union Bill, as well as their opposition to the recently passed Prostitution Reform Act 2003. The rally saw around 5,000 marchers descend on parliament, many of whom were wearing the church’s black t-shirt.

The t-shirt itself is probably the most accessible of clothing items, they are widely worn and widely used as a mode of communication. This latter aspect was purposefully used by Brian Tamaki in the ‘Enough is Enough’ rally, and something that he acknowledged in his autobiography: “The black t-shirts were a natural outcome of our marketing plan to have as many ‘walking billboards’ as possible on the day of the event. They carried the ‘I Am Standing For The Next Generation’ slogan underlined by the date and location of the event.” Further photos from the event can be seen on Scoop.

Destiny Church protestors at the Enough is Enough march wearing the t-shirt acquired by Te Papa. Image copyright: Fionnaigh McKenzie.

Destiny Church protestors at the Enough is Enough march wearing the t-shirt acquired by Te Papa. Image copyright: Fionnaigh McKenzie.

For many onlookers, the black t-shirts made a threatening impression. A presence that was keenly felt by the counter-protest of around 1,500 people who had gathered at parliament early and ended up being encircled by the rally.

What has also been critiqued among the takatāpui community, and Māori more generally, was the way in which aspects of te ao Māori were used in the march. Aspects which included the rally being led by men in piupiu doing haka. The impression was given that anti-homosexuality attitudes were an inherent part of Māori culture and many found it galling to see haka used in combination with the threatening presence of the black, uniform, t-shirts. You can read more about this in the keynote from Ngāhuia Te Awekotuku.

Counter-protestors Hinemoana Baker and Fionnaigh McKenzie wearing self-made t-shirts. Image copyright: Ann-Marie Stapp.

Counter-protestors Hinemoana Baker and Fionnaigh McKenzie wearing self-made t-shirts. Image copyright: Ann-Marie Stapp.

Further criticism was lobbed at the rally’s use of Christianity as a medium for oppression. The most visceral reaction of which from then-MP Georgina Beyer: “How dare you use the cloak of Christianity when you are imparting to your children prejudice, discrimination, toward people like me, gays and lesbians, and other people who live differently but abide the law? And pay their taxes. Why do you do this to us?”

The rallying cry of ‘Enough is Enough’ ultimately failed and the Civil Union Act was passed into law four months later. It is still in force. In 2013, further progress was made when the Marriage Amendment Act 2013 became an act of parliament and same-sex couples were able to be legally married in New Zealand.

3 Responses

  1. adele

    This reminded me off Wairarapa Heritage Association some years back, having a meeting, dressed up to the part we play, I went along with a sandwich board, advertising what I did.. research headstones… was told had their been a prize I would have won, I said Sandwich Boards go back in history, though the best way to advertise what I do up here, even have one in the Christmas Parade in Carterton every year… no need to carry anything but wear it.. and on tee shirts!! thanks for reminding me!!

    Reply
  2. Siren Deluxe

    This was a truly impressive and memorable moment in which Georgina Beyer spoke bravely and eloquently in the face of aggression. Listening to that recording just now made me feel very emotional.
    For me T-shirts are a very basic and unsophisticated garment, which seems about right for communicating a very basic and unsophisticated argument….

    Reply
    • Matariki Williams

      What a great point Siren, I very much agree with you about the inefficacy of the argument.

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