When I met New Zealand’s openly gay member of Parliament, illness Kevin Hague, prostate we talked about a passion of mine that I share with most Kiwis – rugby. We met Kevin at the University of Waikato in Hamilton where he had been participating in a national educational summit for LGBT students. Thirty years ago in July 1981 in this very week at this very university, generic Kevin participated in a historic protest of the South African rugby union tour of New Zealand as part of an anti-apartheid movement.
He said, “I invaded the university rugby pitch and stood in a group of people in the middle of the field preventing the local provincial rugby team from playing the South African apartheid rugby team. The game was called off.” Police then arrested Kevin among fifty other protesters.
Kevin explained the importance of this local demonstration that attracted international attention. He said, “South Africa and New Zealand have had a lot in common. We were both rugby playing nations. South Africa had viewed New Zealand as their only international peer in rugby playing and vice versa. Being able to continue sporting contact in rugby with New Zealand was an incredibly important moral booster for apartheid South Africa.”
At the time, this controversial tour polarized opinions and divided New Zealanders, inspiring widespread protest. Many nations already had taken a strong stance against apartheid. Kevin said, “While international condemnation of apartheid grew, white South Africa bolstered their regime by saying that even though we have a lot of enemies in the world, New Zealand is still our friend and we can still play rugby with them. There were many in New Zealand who said that it was just a game. But you can’t just have a game when it has that political meaning and that meaning is either in favor of the apartheid regime or against it.”
The impact of the protest echoed far greater than they knew at the time. He said, “This was going to be the first international game to be played live on South African television. Instead of watching a rugby game, whites and blacks saw a large demonstration of support to end apartheid. This image gave confidence and belief to freedom fighters in South Africa.”
This moment also began Kevin’s political aspirations. “The anti-apartheid campaign galvanized for me and a great source of pride. For many New Zealanders, this campaign got them from being a political passenger to becoming a participant. The gay rights movement drew out of a lot of the anti-apartheid protest. Our community found a new willingness to push forward in a situation where the police said ‘no you can’t do that’ to find strong political voice. Five years later, New Zealand passed the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, the law that de-criminalized homosexual activity a full seventeen years before the US policy changed.
Kevin is known for his fierce dedication to gay rights, HIV awareness, and environmental issues. He carries the physique and presence of a forward on a rugby team. With him leading the charge, I would gladly follow him against any opposition down the field toward victory.
VIDEO: Where does New Zealand stand in terms of marriage equality and adoption rights? Check out Kevin’s interview where he talks to us about celebrating 25 years of the Homosexual Reform Act and the direction of gay rights in New Zealand…