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Indian Rainbow Community Shines At Auckland Pride Events

Indians at the Pride Parade last weekend in Ponsonby, Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

Members of the Indian community attending pride events in Auckland last weekend have praised New Zealand's inclusive approach to rainbow issues.

After its historic debut at the Auckland Rainbow Parade last year, Indian Origin Pride New Zealand once again represented the Indian rainbow community at the event in Ponsonby on Saturday.

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More than two dozen members of the South Asian rainbow community participated in the Auckland Pride parade accompanied by music and dance.

The Auckland Rainbow Parade is the flagship event for Rainbow Pride Auckland. Established in 2019, the not-for-profit organisation runs multiple pride events in Auckland.

The annual parade in Ponsonby pays tribute to those who fought against AIDS in the 1990s, and honours LGBTQIA+ advocates, representatives and trailblazers.

"We were the first South Asian group to walk the Auckland Rainbow Parade in 2023 and it was a huge achievement," says Suraj Malage, who's also known as Sam.

Malage, 35, was born in southern India but moved to New Zealand in 2010 as an international student.

Currently, he works in the public service advising on strategic event planning and is a board member of Indian Origin Pride New Zealand, the country's only Indian charitable rainbow organisation.

"There is a group of people within the Indian community that identifies as rainbow, and we are here to create a safe space for them," he says.

Malage highlights the importance of representing the Indian community in the rainbow parade.

He says attending the event last year was a nerve-wracking experience but was ultimately pleased to have participated.

"It's incredible to have Indian Origin Pride here for the second year at the Auckland Rainbow Parade," says Labour lawmaker Priyanca Radhakrishnan.

"To see a group that's proudly rainbow and Indian, I think, is really important because there is diversity in every space, including this."

ACT's Indian-origin MP, Paramjeet Parmar, highlighted the importance of ethnic groups in the parade.

"It's really great that New Zealand is such an inclusive country, and the ACT party is here to say that we are really proud of who we are."

Mahesh Muralidhar, National's candidate for Auckland Central in the 2023 election, was pleased to see Indian participation in the parade.

"We will keep supporting the Indian pride community, and it's great that in New Zealand anyone can be who they want to be," Muralidhar says.

Allies also attended the parade.

"This is the first time that I have walked in a rainbow parade, and I feel really liberated," says Sharmika Memane. "I'm definitely coming back next year."

Padmanabhan Lekshmanan has attended rainbow parades in other countries but hadn't participated in a parade in New Zealand before.

He is excited to connect with the ethnic rainbow community in New Zealand.

"I have to think twice before I step out before a rainbow parade in India because of all the stigma around the rainbow community, but there's no stigma here and it's comfortable," Lekhshmanan says.

He also acknowledges that hurdles still exist for Indian members of the rainbow community.

'It's not just you coming out, it's your family, too, and that can take some time," he says.

Adarsh Nayik, participating in the parade for the first time, expressed surprise at seeing political parties actively involved in the event - a notable contrast to the situation in India.

"I believe that political parties, by participating in the parade, are creating a lot of safe space for the rainbow community," Nayik says.

Indian Origin Pride New Zealand was the only ethnic organization that had registered for the 2024 Auckland Rainbow Parade, according to the organisers.

However, a spokesperson told RNZ that there was plenty of diversity, including ethnic whanau, within the groups that took part.

On Sunday, hundreds of members from the rainbow community gathered in Auckland's Coyle Park for Big Gay Out, one of the biggest rainbow festivals in New Zealand. It is organised by the Burnett Foundation.

Big Gay Out began 23 years ago when around 200 members of Auckland's rainbow community gathered in Point Chevalier's Coyle Park for a family-friendly picnic with a small stage for performances from local bands and drag queens.

Founded by the Hero Festival, Big Gay Out was held throughout the 1990s and 2000s as a platform to give Auckland's rainbow community a voice as well as a reason to celebrate.

"IOPNZ collaborated with the Ethnic Rainbow Alliance at the Big Gay Out because they have a similar kaupapa when it comes to ethnic rainbow community," Malange says.

"Sunday's event is more about being visible to the community and having a space to have that conversation about what we do and how we can help the community and vice-versa," Malage says.

Chinese Pride New Zealand also participated in the event.

"We represent Chinese rainbow community in Aotearoa New Zealand," Bing Zhang says. "We are like a big family and members of the community can come to us for any support."

Chinese Pride New Zealand represents the Chinese rainbow community in New Zealand.   Chinese Pride New Zealand represents the Chinese rainbow community in New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom
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