By Angelo Libeau, HELP’s Community Liaison & Rainbow Lead

Following a postponement after the recent Auckland flooding, Big Gay Out returned this summer on the 12th of March at Coyle Park in Pt Chevalier.  The festival is a celebration of rainbow, takatāpui and MVPFAFF+ (rainbow Pasifika) communities, and one of the largest and longest-running pride events in the country, starting with Hero Festival’s Big Gay Out in 2003. 

For those who haven’t attended BGO before, the festival includes performance and musical events, speakers, stalls for rainbow community organisations, a hauora hub, a queer and crafty marketplace, and a range of other businesses and organisations with a focus on making their workplaces and offerings to the community accessible to rainbow people.

Aside from all the festivities, another of the key focuses of Big Gay Out – historically and still to this day – is the use of this event as a critical opportunity for education and health promotion targeting rainbow communities. For those unaware, Big Gay Out is organised and run by Burnett Foundation Aotearoa (formerly NZ AIDS Foundation), Aotearoa’s national HIV prevention and healthcare organisation. As such, when organising BGO, Burnett Foundation invites organisations with shared values of health promotion, inclusive education and equitable service provision for rainbow communities, to share their kaupapa and provide a platform to their organisations. It is through this mechanism the Rainbow Violence Prevention Network (RVPN) was invited to operate a stall to share our collective vision of seeing our communities free from violence.

As someone who has lived in different cities throughout Aotearoa with connections to various local rainbow communities outside of Tāmaki, this was my first BGO experience! So aside from being stoked to be able to represent our organisation as a member of the RVPN alongside some of our other very passionate HELP staff, I was personally excited to be at an event where the sheer number of other people present for a rainbow event was so much larger than any community event I had experienced before!

With HELP being a member of the RVPN, this was also an opportunity to highlight the work of HELP as one of the main services supporting survivors in the Auckland region. We were able to bring awareness of HELP and our services straight to BGO – and the responses I had to this were incredibly insightful. Some people coming past were already familiar with HELP and were pleasantly surprised and excited that we were present at such a significant rainbow event. Others were emotional and talked about the relief they were feeling in seeing a sexual violence organisation working collaboratively with rainbow organisations, and recognising the importance of understanding unique rainbow experiences by making active efforts in connecting with rainbow communities.

I heard from trans people who were relieved some people could see them as they were and felt safer knowing that if anything were to happen to them, their friends, or their family, they knew they could call us without fear of judgement or discrimination. I heard stories from survivors who shared their past experiences of violence and not being believed – because this violence was experienced within the context of a queer relationship, and a lack of understanding that women might experience violence from their partners who may also be women. I heard lots of stories because the additional trauma of not being seen or believed still occurs to this day, and many of us at HELP will already understand this well. Having someone acknowledge and validate your specific experiences can be deeply emotional – especially after many years of feeling unsafe talking about such experiences. It was an opportunity for many to feel validated, and excited for a future where others will not undergo the same experiences when seeking help after violence.

I am always aware of the opportunity for disclosures whenever representing HELP or the work we do in supporting rainbow communities to seek healing and justice – and as a person who identifies with some of these experiences within the rainbow community, it would be inaccurate to say I wasn’t personally impacted by these. Much of this trauma has been historical – but for those going through it today, it is a relief for many to know that organisations set up to support survivors will not contribute to further harm by invalidating that which comes from the unique dynamics of being in queer relationships.

Amongst the stories and feelings shared, we were also happily blessed with a visit from Minister Marama Davidson who sought us out to show support for our kaupapa as an active ally in ensuring all people have access to safety and safe relationships. 

Thank you to those who dropped by and helped during the day, including Mac, Therese and Alexis. I’m already looking forward to BGO 2024!