A unanimous recommendation that Hero be wound up and consigned to history was tonight whole-heartedly embraced by the organisation's two remaining trustees.
Thirty-five people gathered at this evening's public meeting to discuss whether Hero retained any continuing value to the Auckland glbt communities and what, if anything, should be done with the event that to millions of New Zealanders came to personify what it meant to be gay, lesbian or transgender.
In his opening speech to the meeting Trustee Richard Kittelty broached the possibility of laying the almost 20-year old annual festival to rest. He acknowledged the huge value of Hero in the past but warned that the already struggling event faced a difficult future due to costs of mounting events, the levels of personal commitment required of an increasingly few people who have sustained Hero in recent years, the tightening economy and a conservative-dominated Auckland City Council which is not expected to embrace Hero.
Anne Speir and Michael Stevens seemed to encapsulate the thoughts of all at the meeting when they recalled the passion and vitality which had marked Hero at its peak, but a desire to see it now "laid to rest." Speir urged the glbt community to honour Hero but to "let it die" after several years of struggle which saw a non-Hero festival mounted at the last minute in February as a stop gap measure when it was clear Hero had at last run out of steam. "Hero was fantastic," said Stevens, "but let's go into the future with a clean slate."
Hero trustees Kittelty and Mike Binis happily embraced the recommendation. "I am ecstatic about this," said Binis, clearly relieved that the end of his co-responsibilty for the Hero Trust is nearing an end. "I thought some people at the meeting might try to keep it going, but it is great that the advice to shut down was unanimous."
The theme of a tangi or wake to honour the Hero festivals and the people whose commitment made them possible was taken up by the meeting, with several people offering to create a celebratory 'farewell to Hero' event later this year.
Kittelty and Binis will now oversee the winding up of the Hero Trust and decide what to do with the slightly less than $10,000 remaining in its bank account.
However, it was clear that all at the meeting felt some replacement for Hero is likely to emerge, though its form is unknown at this stage. Representatives of community organisations tonight pledged to hold focus group meetings to canvas ideas, but no formal process has been put in place to draw the results of such meetings together. The need to involve young glbt people in consultations was repeatedly stressed at the meeting.
Hero began as a dance party almost two decades ago, as part of a New Zealand AIDS Foundation initiative to strengthen the gay male community at the height of the fear and isolation generated by the early stages of the HIV epidemic which saw hundreds of men dying every year. It was passed over to a succession of community groups to run and reached its peak of visibility and scale when hundreds of thousands of onlookers packed Ponsonby Road to watch the Hero Parade which TV viewers around the country saw via a two hour long delayed telecast. As well as encompassing a wide range of sporting, cultural and entertainment events Hero attracted thousands of partygoers to Auckland's huge Expo Centre pavilions to revel in at times breathtakingly fabulous Hero parties.
Hero was copied in other centres, with Wellington creating its Devotion parties and festivals and Christchurch mounting the annual Freedom events. Devotion and Freedom faded into memory years ago and only Hero remained, increasingly a faded shadow of its former glory.