Friday, July 19

Six weeks since Kellie-Jay Keen: reflections from Mana Wāhine Kōrero

Tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna koutou katoa. 

Six weeks ago, in a historic inner-city park, two & a half thousand New Zealanders descended upon a women’s rights event and drove out our guest speaker by force. The odds were twenty to one, for the mob. 

Still taken from video footage, credit to Simon Anderson
                 Head Marshall Linda, patrolling the perimeter. Photographer unknown.

New Zealand wāhine were successfully prevented from talking about our biology, the loss of our words and our fear for our children – but we did not need to speak about the way we are treated when we raise our concerns. Everybody in the world with YouTube access can see it for themselves. 

Yet our media outlets persist in calling our words ‘hate’. They say our language is more violent than ever. The ‘Disinformation Project’ says we are now ‘community bridging’ via our transphobia into ‘genocidal’ terrorist and white supremacist groups. They tell us that at no time in history have ‘trans people’ been more persecuted. 

The ‘trans people’ and their supporters who arrived to terrorise women do not know the meaning of the word ‘persecution’. They are described as ‘taonga’ by our government ministers. They can behave with impunity and the police will stand beside them and do nothing. They can crash events and deface historic buildings, violate every noise ordinance, throw food on peaceful women, try to stomp them to death and punch and maim our Kuia and our Koro, our elderly. Nothing bad will happen to them. Indeed, they may be awarded Young New Zealander of the Year, for promoting Kindness and Inclusion. 

Shaneel Lal leader of the ‘trans folk’ protestors, winning Young New Zealander of the Year, five days later. Photo on left from Matthew Scott for Newsroom.

Our received wisdom tells us that when we are concerned about a public issue, we should participate in our democracy; write letters, contact our MPs, make submissions and start petitions; alert the newspapers and contact our school boards. 

Mana Wāhine Kōrero have tried all the above and much more besides. Hundreds of New Zealand wāhine and several other women’s groups all have. Some of us have been doing nothing but this for half a decade or more. We have been ignored and silenced throughout. 

Kellie-Jay had been invited to come to New Zealand many times – she was begged to come in fact during her livestreams – and when she said she would, the news spread quickly on gender-critical social media. We thought that her visit presented the opportunity to finally break the death-grip that gender ideology had on New Zealanders’ minds and be heard. We were relieved. Tears were shed by some of us, and we were grateful to Kellie-Jay that we had not been forgotten.

Kellie-Jay Keen at work for women’s rights in the UK

Within days of her announcement, New Zealand wāhine had come together and formed an event organising committee led by two groups: Mana Wāhine Kōrero and lesbian women’s organisation LOUT. The work of organising an international speaking event began immediately. 

For Mana Wāhine Kōrero, one of our primary goals was to welcome Ms Keen as our manuhiri and demonstrate manaakitanga. We respect her work and her courage. We consider her to be a true ‘Wahine Toa’; a Rangatira for wāhine and tamariki in her own right, with all that these terms bestow and the weight of our culture, our language and our tūpuna behind us as we say this. 

Manaakitanga is not just ‘being a good host’ and ‘being nice to the tourists’. It is our own strength as well, our own honour and dignity that are at stake. It is shameful to receive any guest with a lack of courtesy, or with nothing to offer or share; to take only. It includes care and thought and an intentional generosity of spirit and gesture.

This is what we wanted Kellie-Jay to experience in New Zealand. NZ wāhine purchased a pounamu taonga to present to her, and Rex and Di Landy took it to be blessed in the waters of Tūwharetoa. 

Tūwharetoa (Photo Frankie Hill, 2023)
Korowai: ceremonial cloak woven from harakeke. Weaver Rex Landy

A young Kaikaranga composed a karanga unique to Kellie-Jay, and travelled despite severe injury to Wellington, where she would have sung while a korowai was placed on Kellie-Jay’s shoulders, had our Wellington event not been cancelled for fear of violence or fatalities. These are significant gestures of respect and welcome. 

A gift bag of NZ souvenirs was collected, as we thought Kellie-Jay wouldn’t have time to get these herself, and we wanted her to take a few little gifts from her trip back to women and family in the UK. We booked a bar after each event for women to gather and celebrate with a bite and a beer and spent many hours encouraging women to come – so many are afraid to speak or be seen in public. 

Logistically, with only seven weeks from announcement to arrival, the pressure was on to find a venue, as Ms Keen runs permitted events as opposed to closing down streets and marching. Getting a permit for any event takes 4-6 weeks and many hours of paperwork – our final permit application for Auckland was twenty pages long and was required to include safety plans ranging from electrocution to dog bites. 

Unfortunately, a summer of torrential rain topped off by a massive cyclone meant that the Auckland City Events teams had very few suitable places left to offer us. We really wanted somewhere pleasant and open to the public, ideally with power for a PA, somewhere for older attendees to sit, and good parking nearby. 

During Cyclone Gabrielle, access roads and power were down for weeks in some areas. Relatives were unaccounted for, and wide swathes of our country were devastated, but we all felt that speaking with Ms Keen was too important, despite the chaos. Some of our team worked from their cars and late into the night after helping their neighbours, while more volunteers clocked up the kilometres visiting parks, monuments, and public squares in both cities, videoing venues for feedback from the UK. 

Enquiries were made regarding seven different locations in Auckland and three in Pōneke. In the end, Albert Park and Civic Square were the best options available. Quotes for fencing, security, and sound systems were collected, and volunteer female marshalls were called for and trained. A fundraising campaign was created, and New Zealand women were donating almost every day, in large and small amounts.

Pōneke women met on a Sunday to paint posters and discuss the upcoming Kellie-Jay Tour. Our head marshall for Auckland hand-made a beautiful banner covered in kowhai flowers, and a banner for Pōneke was painted at a lesbian weekend retreat. 

Stains on the handmade banner from the tomato juice thrown on our organisers and Kellie-Jay. Photo credit and much more to Linda Sutton, head marshall. 

Another group made Suffragette ribbons for wāhine to wear on the day – in part as a security measure for identification on the day for the security guards and NZ Police and marshalls – but also to represent our foremothers.

While Auckland Council had been helpful and responsive, the council in our capital city was not. Less than two weeks before the events, we were still asking Wellington City Council to discuss our event permit. 

They had refused our permit on the basis that we were a ‘protest’ and not an event, without a frame of reference, although we repeatedly asked for one. Our suppliers for fencing, security and sound systems had begun to pull out, fearing equipment confiscation and citing threats from WCC that they would lose work if they supplied to us. We couldn’t get a direct answer, and we were having difficulty finding replacement suppliers. We were left with no option but to engage a lawyer to assist us, and on the day the KC sent a letter on our behalf, our permit was finally granted. 

We first contacted the Police on the 17th of February to alert them to our event and create an initial event ID number. A number of communications were had in both cities with the regional Police teams. The Auckland Police had assured our police liaison that the matter was well in hand, and that they had a team prepared and a plan. The Wellington police were disinterested in communicating with us in detail until Wednesday 22 March, when they realised that we were hosting Kellie-Jay Keen, and that CubaDupa would also be happening at the same time. At this stage the Wellington Police did make what we considered to be a sincere effort to engage with us. 

And then, a gang of homophobic incel neo-Nazis gatecrashed Kellie-Jay’s event in Melbourne, achieving their own twin goal of greater publicity for them and simultaneously smearing a women’s right’s movement. The New Zealand media and political class immediately and collectively lost their minds. “Nazis! Hate! Anti-Trans!”, they screamed. In the week before the event, 158 news items with ‘Posie Parker’ in the headline were published. Nearly all of them called Ms Keen ‘anti-trans’ or worse. There are no doubt more. 

The New Zealand media and politicians at all levels increasingly used all their power and might to smear us. They said we were hateful, with abhorrent views, associated us with white supremacists and neo-Nazis – even the Christchurch Mosque shootings – called us transphobic and tried to discredit us in any manner possible. The Wellington mayor, Tory Whanau, said it was ‘grotesque’ that we were wanting to speak in Wellington. 

The Rainbow Greens started petitions, wrote an unhinged and slanderous open letter to the Minister of Immigration asking him to bar Ms Keen from entering the country. When he declined, a coalition of Rainbow Orgs fought right up to the day before our event to have Ms Keen barred from entering New Zealand (this failed, the High Court ruled that the Minister’s decision was lawful).  

Less than a handful of national media outlets offered the organisers an opportunity for comment. Of those that did, the first was Rachel Smalley for Today FM on the 20th of March. (Thank you to the fabulous bold woman Katrina Biggs, for hosting this now-lost interview on her YouTube channel, in which Di Landy unequivocally denounces Nazis).

In the final days before the event, Auckland Council requested that we engage more security guards. We agreed, and hired additional guards – more guards than in almost any other city Ms Keen has visited. The Auckland security team had agreed to fly to Pōneke for the following day’s event, as our Wellington security had pulled out at the last minute, citing ‘a difference in values’. 

We had six security guards, ten trained marshalls, a double row of fencing and an expectation that the police would keep the peace and step in if there was violence or unacceptable behaviour. The total cost of our security, which Kellie-Jay Keen generously refunded us, was almost $10,000. 

Right to the last moments, when organisers from the Rainbow Mob introduced themselves to our organisers at Albert Park on the day, we believed they would be peaceful events. We had a great Kiwi music playlist set to go in Pōneke for the beginning of the event while women arrived. We wanted to read poetry, read speeches and sing songs. We wanted to discuss very real problems within NZ legislation. 

Our work was not wasted. The bravery of women who were there on the day was not in vain. The Kindness and Inclusion façade has been torn away, and we can all see the misogyny and cruelty underneath. But we had wanted to run a safe and enjoyable event, and what unfolded instead in Albert Park was more like a nightmare. Women were hurt; bones were broken. 

We knew of course that there would likely be a noisy and potentially aggressive group of hecklers, as had happened in other places. We had attended the ‘March for Trans Rights’ protests in Pōneke and Auckland on the 11th of February, to ascertain the likely number of protestors we could expect. At each event there were between 150-200 people. 

Police protect the ‘Trans Rights’ marchers. Photo Sarah Henderson

Our security planning was based on this and was altered as we reassessed the risks after what had happened in Melbourne. It is noteworthy that not one women’s rights activist screamed abuse of any kind at their February ‘Trans Healthcare’ march, or assaulted anyone, and the ‘trans folk’ were extremely well-protected by police. 

In contrast, when women tried to leave from Albert Park, they had to run the gauntlet.  As they were led through the mob by men who stepped up to help them, women were surrounded, spat on, shoved and thrown to the ground, screamed and jeered at and doused in various liquids. 

Our hired security confiscated several weapons from people, including a metal bar. There is photo evidence of a man who got dressed up to punch women with a metal arm gauntlet.

A wrapped first and arm gauntlet. Photo credit to Let Women Speak legal observer.

Crude and offensive signs denigrating wāhine were everywhere. Hundreds, if not thousands, of sirens, clanging bells, pots and pans, and piercing whistles made an unimaginable sound, described by one attendee as ‘noise torture’. 

Thousands of volunteer hours, donations, time, and effort was all undone in thirty minutes of frenzied, unadulterated hatred of women, and the manaakitanga we had wanted Kellie-Jay to experience, and the respect we wished to show her, was not realised. 

Ultimately, no woman spoke about how she felt about any of the new ideas around our spaces, new education guidelines, and our sex-based rights. Attendees were injured and some are still recovering. It was a traumatic experience for many. Many wāhine are now feeling unsafe in New Zealand, and deeply concerned for what it means for our children, ourselves, and our nation. Women’s voices are important in a healthy democratic society. 

The aggressive protestors claimed to be promoting love, human rights, freedom to live in peace and non-violence – but their behaviour demonstrated the precise opposite. We are seeking answers from NZ Police about their behaviour, and we will not give up our work. Until gender ideology is removed from our legislation and our social fabric, and the constabulary take their job of protecting wāhine seriously, we fear for the future of New Zealand.