Student Insights on LGBTQ+ Life in New Zealand


September 21, 2018

Are you wondering what it’s like to be part of the LGBTQ+ community and study abroad in New Zealand? Two of our students studying at Victoria University of Wellington have kindly shared their experiences of being a queer person in New Zealand. Have a read of their respective experiences and find some resources for LGBTQ+ community in NZ below.

Cleo P.'s Experience

“So, what is LGBTQ life like in New Zealand?” This was one of the first questions that a group of students asked one of our program coordinators. Her answer that Wellington was very accepting and open matched with answers that I had found during my previous research into New Zealand’s LGBTQ scene. My mom and I had done some research on New Zealand’s policies regarding the LGBTQ community and it seemed like a good fit where I could be open and be myself without fear of repercussions.

So far everyone has been very excepting of my orientation. I have a pride flag hanging very prominently in my room right alongside a bisexual flag and no one has ever so much as batted an eye. My flatmate who is pansexual has even more rainbow decorations in her room. When I went to club’s day a Victoria I was able to find the UniQ group’s table which is Victoria’s queer representation group. To quote their Facebook description about what they offer “we have regular lunch spaces throughout the year where you can meet with others and have discussions. We often hold other events like quizzes, movie nights, and bigger events during our annual Pride Week.” They also are now holding their first ball the UniQ's Inaugural Queer Ball! I am hoping to attend! I saw more queer representation during Sex in the Hub, Victoria’s annual day to promote healthy and open discussions on sex and sexual education. I was thrilled to see that there was a designated queer space with biscuits and drinks. Often non-straight sex education is overlooked, and young LGBTQ people may not have the necessary information on sex so seeing representation from Victoria is wonderful.

However, as accepting as everyone is of different sexual orientations, there is still room for improvement of gender inclusion. It would be nice to see more unisex toilets and the realization and usage of pronouns other than she and he. Overall though, I have found New Zealand to be very accepting and open place.

Caroline R.'s Experience

Queer people face an extra set of questions and concerns when deciding where we want to study abroad. The first and most important question is “Will I be safe?” followed by “Does this area have a strong LGBTQ+ community?”, “Will I be accepted and supported?”, and “How are the cultural attitudes towards queer people better or worse than in the US?”. 

Wellington is a popular option for queer students looking to study abroad in New Zealand. Any kiwi will tell you that it has a reputation for diversity, inclusivity, and open-mindedness. If you live in a red state like me, coming to Wellington might provide a much-needed break from the homophobia and transphobia that comes with living in a conservative area. Next to the trials of the Trump administration, New Zealand can look like a liberal utopia full of gay clubs and proud celebrations of gender identity, but after spending a few months here I’ve come to notice a different set of problems facing the queer community. 

While neither me nor any of my queer friends have felt unsafe, we have felt misunderstood. In a classroom setting, I’ve found that the dialogue around sexuality and gender can be limited. I’ve listened as one of my professors struggled to explain what it means to be nonbinary, treating the subject as something ridiculous and far-fetched. Another professor used an incorrect term for trans people that would be considered outdated in most American institutions. 

I’ve seen this kind of behavior outside of the university, too. It’s easy to find other queer people in town, whether in a gay club like Ivy, or in the meetups and formal events put on by LGBTQ+ organizations. Still, there’s a big divide between well-educated and respectful members of the LGBTQ+ community and people who are detached from that community entirely. I’ve talked to many straight people (mostly men) who identify as very liberal, yet only understand sexuality as a gay vs straight binary. These people might invalidate bisexuality and pansexuality or reinforce negative stereotypes about gender identities they don't understand. I’ve realized that even though Trump’s America makes it frightening to exist as a queer person, it’s also forced us to adapt, initiate important conversations, and work towards being more inclusive at a faster rate. 

The shorter and better answer is probably this: if you’re worried about being isolated, unsafe, or discriminated against in Wellington, don’t worry. As long as you aren’t coming here with the expectation that everything will be perfect, or that everyone you meet will be respectful, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. This city has a rich and vibrant queer community, and you’ll likely meet a host of beautiful people who will challenge you and change your life for the better. There will always be room for change and growth as our community makes strides towards equality, and Wellington gives me hope for the course of the future. 

Resources for LGBTQ+ Student in NZ

University of Auckland

UniQ Auckland provides a friendly and safe environment for queer and questioning university students and their friends to socialize and meet like-minded people. We have a coffee group during the semester, and provide events and outings throughout the year.

Victoria University of wellington

UniQ Victoria is the queer/rainbow representative group, a social and supportive space for queer students and their friends. It’s a great place to meet people and hang out in an environment that’s both safe and accepting.

University of Canterbury

QCanterbury is a safe social place for sexuality and gender diverse students to meet and engage. We are part of fostering a welcoming and comfortable community on campus that supports and accepts all students. 

University of Otago

UniQ Otago provides a social support service designed to meet the needs of Dunedin-based queer and questioning students. We provide safe, queer friendly spaces and regular social events. We run these events through a group collective and are always looking for more help!

New Zealand-wide Support

OUTLine is a confidential, free, LGBTIQ+ affirming support line and face-to-face counseling.

RainbowYouth is a charity that supports queer & gender diverse youth (ages 13-28) throughout New Zealand.