Alison Laurie: Creative Activist

Story by Libby Judge

Faculty of Education, 2018

Found in 'the closet'

Alison Laurie, former Director of the Gender and Women’s studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington and current staff member of the Education Faculty, grew up in a time when ‘coming out’ as gay or lesbian could get you imprisoned or institutionalised. Since the day her parents found a girl literally hiding in her closet over fifty years ago, Laurie has been engaged in creative activism in the pursuit of social justice.

Creative Activism

Creative activism is the intersection of the arts and political agenda that leads to boundaries being pushed; the lines between artist and activist becoming blurred. It is not the outright slandering of males, single-use plastic and abortion that covers many of the female toilet walls at Victoria. Because, as Henry Matisse once said, “creativity takes courage”. Rather, creative activism uses the arts to facilitate the cultivation of societal alternatives, subtly engaging the audience in new ways of thinking.

A Journey Towards Liberation

As the 1950s came to an end, seventeen-year-old Laurie ran away to Australia with her girlfriend in search of a more liberal attitude towards homosexuality. Instead, law enforcement proved to be hostile and corrupt. To even be seen with a homosexual, or a ‘known’ criminal as they were referred to, was an act worthy of arrest.

Two years after arriving in Australia, she moved to Britain and joined ‘MRG’, the Minorities Research Group, which was the first organisation to openly advocate the interests of lesbians in the United Kingdom. By the time the gay liberation movement began to take force in the late 1960s, Laurie was living in Denmark, thrilled to be engaged in such a radical political approach towards equality. In an interview with PrideNZ, she comments that gay liberation was revolutionary in that it wasn’t intended as a way for a minority group to seek human rights. Rather, it argued the perceived normalcy of heterosexuality if it needed to be made compulsory.

Coming Home

In 1973, Laurie moved back to New Zealand and quickly got to work fighting for equal homosexual rights. As well as being involved in political rallies, she began to construct creative communities. Circle, New Zealand’s first lesbian magazine, was in circulation from 1973 until 1986, and Club41, the first lesbian bar in Wellington (that sold alcohol illegally) was established. SHE, or Sisters for Homophile Equality—New Zealand’s first lesbian organisation was created—and opened the first women’s refuge in New Zealand. Laurie also helped to establish the first lesbian conference in New Zealand in 1974, held at Victoria University of Wellington.

Ten years later, in 1986, homosexual law reform happened, and in 1993, sexual orientation was finally included in the Human Rights Act. Without the relentless courage and creative approach of the likes of Alison Laurie, however, New Zealand might not have been the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. Laurie says, “All those communities required courage … It wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world to be doing. Homosexual law reform was able to happen because of those organisations”.

Creative Courage: A Driving Force for Change

When asked about her hopes for the future, Laurie said that, politically speaking, she hopes to see young people engaging with strong organisations. We are so lucky to attend a university that values creativity and social justice. Victoria University hosts myriad clubs and organisations that allow for engagement with a range of issues and interests with like-minded people. It seems a shame that, when compared with the courage Alison Laurie has demonstrated throughout her life, a bad slogan written in black vivid is the most creative act of political engagement some students can come up with.

Where Alison currently supervises

Waiteata Rd, Wellington, New Zealand