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Chch Pride: reuniting a shaken community

Posted in: Our Communities
By Douglas Jenkin - 4th December 2012

Diva Mole
The Get it On! Fantasy Ball! at the weekend was the 38th and final event of the Christchurch Pride Festival 2012, encapsulating the spirit of the whole Festival.

Renee Billingsley, a member of the organising committee, says that the previous twenty days have been “a long haul but it has been worth it. “The events," she says, are “slowly bringing people back together” after the series of disastrous earthquakes which began in September 2010 brought everything to a standstill.

For the 2012 festival, Billingsley says, there was a focus on marriage equality - the logo was “I do Pride” with a rainbow heart - as well as a family picnic on a Sunday afternoon. “We had a beautiful sunny day,” Renee says, “and the only glitch was the bouncy castle going halfway down but it didn’t spoil that day which was awesome.”

Neil Hellewell and Tony Vine, part of team running the coat check at the Fantasy Ball, are a couple who feel that visibility is a key part of what the festival achieves. It’s also important, Hellewell says, that there are events for young people “especially in Christchurch where it’s fairly quiet and it’s easy to be invisible.”

Bear Richard
They question an article in the local newspaper which claimed that there had been a “gay exodus” from Christchurch. Vine feels the article was “somewhat shallow in its attitude that people have only left because there isn’t a nightclub here anymore and they’ve all gone to party somewhere else. I think there’s a lot more to being gay in Christchurch than that. It’s about having friends and people around you and to be honest I don’t know many people who have actually left.”

Hellewell also feels that Pride is important in that it provides a sense of things continuing as they always have – a rainbow coloured version of 'Keep calm and carry on.' “The fact that it continues despite all the upheaval is really important and it means people can actually get together and have a celebration and that’s quite cool.”

After a major profile in The Press the recently crowned Mr. Bear Canterbury Paul Newby told that he was only recognised once in the wider community. A shy check out operator at the supermarket smile and referred to him as “Mr. Bear.” It was, he says, "very sweet."

Members of the bears group have played major roles in several aspects of the Festival events. “The Pride Festival is important to the LGBT community as it shows we have progressed from being behind locked doors to being out and proud," says Newby. "This is illustrated by the amazing support and encouragement I have received from employers and work mates. I was excited to win the Mr. Bear Canterbury title as it shows me that being big and hairy is OK. I’m looking forward to going to Auckland to compete in Mr. Bear New Zealand and meeting bears from all over the country.”

Newby says he found the Christchurch Bears "group just before the first earthquake. The first night I went along I looked into the pub, saw the bears and ran away! I was too nervous to go in. A month later after a few drinks at home I walked down and went in. They could not have been a better group of guys and I have made some great friends.”


Douglas Jenkin - 4th December 2012

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