Friday, 01 September 2023

Mayor Lewers proud to celebrate diversity and inclusion

Inclusion, safety and visibility are important values at Council – for both the employees and the community that we engage with each and every day.


This week, Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) like so many in our district has been celebrating Winter Pride. This is an opportunity to celebrate the wonderful diversity in our community and show our support, in particular for members of the Rainbow community.

Inclusion, safety and visibility are important values at Council – for both the employees and the community that we engage with each and every day. This is reflected in many Council activities such as QLDC Sport & Recreation’s pride week celebration classes where participants are encouraged to dress as colourfully as possible. And the fantastic events run by our hard-working libraries team such as the ‘Meaningful Conversations: Celebrating Infinite Colour’ talk supported by Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group. It was brilliant on Wednesday to see Council staff awash with bright colours and a few garish wigs!

As Mayor, these values are of great importance to me. I am extraordinarily proud to represent all of our community – regardless of race, gender, disability, religion, or gender and sexual identity. Council’s commitment to the Pride Pledge goes back several years (thanks to our former Mayor Jim Boult). It is one aspect of how we strive to reflect diversity and promote tolerance across all members of our community.

It has therefore been saddening to see a small voice in our community that has chosen to try to undermine and derail these events and question Council’s commitment to inclusion and representation. However much these people feel they are well-intentioned, vandalism – particularly that which is organised, pre-meditated and carrying divisive sentiment – will not and cannot be tolerated. Neither will direct threats to our staff or the people freely giving of their time to enable these events. Whether it’s defacing or ripping down posters, trolling social media, hiding or stealing books that don’t align with your personal views, or spray-painting offensive statements on or around Council facilities; these acts do not reflect the outlook shared by QLDC, myself or, I strongly believe, the vast majority of our community.

A recent spray-painted claim that one of Council’s Rainbow Reading sessions was ‘Child Grooming’ is, in my view, bullying and bigotry masquerading as concern about the extreme sexualisation of children. I was initially hesitant about including the specific wording of the graffiti but I think it’s important on this occasion to be upfront in order to provide a full explanation of why I, on behalf of thousands of others, oppose it.

My assumption is that one or more people took exception to the inclusivity and tolerance promoted by Council in general and specific services such as those offered by our libraries. It is essential that libraries in particular remain safe spaces for everyone. Their collections and events programme need to fully reflect the diversity of all members of our community – not a select few – and I know our Libraries staff are committed to sustaining this.

Whilst Pride Week often feels like a celebration these days, it’s important to remember that pride events began decades ago as a way for members of the Rainbow community to fight for equal rights and recognition. As a country we have come a very long way, but these recent events should be a reminder that we all have a role to play in ensuring all members of our community can feel included, represented, respected and safe.

From a Council perspective, I respect everyone’s right not to engage but I am firmly opposed to anyone who thinks they have the right to take choice away from others.


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