Content warning: This article discusses suicide, depression and self harm. 

Growing up, Whakamarurangi struggled with his sexuality. 

“I think I was 13 or 14 when I realised me being gay was going to be a problem for my relationship with my whānau,” Whakamarurangi says.

“I remember praying to God, ‘I want you to like me, so please get rid of this thing that's in me’.”

But once Whakamarurangi came out, he became more confident and comfortable in himself. 

“Growing up, I always thought that my biggest problem was being gay, but when you're an adult [and have come out], that’s not your biggest problem anymore.”

The story Whakamarurangi shares is one of the narratives featured in an exhibition called Tūmara in Hawke’s Bay.

Tūrama aims to prevent takatāpui and Pasifika Rainbow+ suicide through life promotion and sharing resilient stories.

The exhibition is part of Manioro, a multi-day event that aims to disrupt toxic narratives and challenge unhealthy stereotypes surrounding Māori and Pasifika Rainbow+ communities.

Shaqaila Uelese, co-executive director of Nevertheless, the organisation running the event, says queer people have historically been seen as a disruption to the norm.

“If you really think about it, just like in the way that water changes, or light changes, disruption is what causes difference, which is what causes beauty,” Shaqaila says. 

“Māori Pacific rainbow people are complex and beautiful and deep, multi dimensional and so talented.

“Our stories can't always be reduced to seeing us being on the margin of margins – we are actually the majority in all of our lives, we're not a minority.”

The Tūrama exhibition features more that 20 stories from takatāpui and Pasifika Rainbow+ communities from across Aotearoa.

The stories focus on lifelines and reasons why the subjects have chosen to stay despite facing hardship. 

“Instead of trying to prevent suicide, we share with people how positive life can be, and how resilient our Māori, Pacific and takatāpui have been in the past,” Shaqaila says. 

“I think a lot of our younger generation would thrive by seeing takatāpui elders, or even adults who are successful across multiple contexts.”

Below are three excerpts from a few of the stories shared at the Tūrama exhibition. 


Nephi Tupaea (she/her) is a 51-year-old artist who grew up in Havelock North. 

Nephi is trans and was raised in the Mormon church. Growing up, she had to deal with contradicting narratives from the church and te ao Māori surrounding her queer identity.

As I grew up, I was still fighting demons with myself. The colonial space of religion made me think I was doing something really bad, really wrong. 

And then the Māori side would go “Kei te pai”, all is good, you're not doing anything wrong. Love conquers all.

As Nephi grew older, she struggled with some dark times in her life. 

I’ve never told anyone this, but I think it’s important to say. One day, I got a needle in a thread, and I tucked my penis in. I stitched it to my skin so it looked like it wasn't there, so it looked like a Barbie doll. 

I remember one time I walked and it ripped my skin. 

That was the most demented I ever got. That was a call for desperation. I was so desperate to get rid of it. That was a really dark time for me.

I've now become more accepting of myself, and I'm 51. That's a 51 year process. 

I've lived on the streets, I've been homeless. But at the end of the day, I've always found there's a light. 

There's a light, there's a tupuna surrounding you. And that tupuna is always saying, “Girl, use this in your creativity. This would be an amazing book to write, or this would be an amazing installation to work with”.

Thank goddess I’m an artist because that is what saved my life.

Nephi wants young trans people to know that they’re not alone.

Talk to somebody about what you're going through. There are people out there who can help. There are sisters, like myself, who can act as a talking guide and give you advice.

I think the really important thing is telling these young girls how to love themselves, because I think gender dysphoria [makes us not love ourselves], or means we don't acknowledge ourselves as much as we should. 

With the younger ones, you have to continually tell them “I love you, I love you, you're amazing”. Just reaffirming that they are amazing human beings. Love that vessel inside and out.


Sophie (she/her/ia) and was born in Gisborne and moved to Australia with her whānau when she was four.

When Sophie was in her early teens, her father died by suicide. 

When my dad died, it was also the first time I had heard someone in my own whānau use derogatory terms towards gay people. 

And at that time, is when I started to realise that I wasn't straight. I had no intention of telling anyone [about my sexuality] at that point, but regardless, I started hearing people in my whānau use slurs. 

It just turned me into an angry, bitter 15 year old who didn't know where to put all of those heavy feelings.

When I was 16, I started to think to myself, “It’s actually better for you in your life to pretend that you're not gay because you're going to lose that whānau support”. And that's the only thing that kept me going for a really long time. 

So I kept myself palatable for them, so that I would still receive that love and care that I really needed to help me through what happened with my father.

Whilst I don't engage and kōrero around my queerness with [my whānau], I think that within itself kind of proves a point to them that until you unlearn the whakaaro that you've been taught, you don't get to know my business. 

You don't get to share with me the joys that I experience on a daily basis, because I am a part of a beautiful community that is whānau.

Sophie says that she feels lucky to have some family members who have accepted her for who she is.

The person who was most kind to me was my mum. When I came out to her she was really emotional in the sense that she was so proud that I could come out to her, and she was really proud that I deemed her as a safe person. 

She sent me this really long letter when I came out and it was really beautiful. It made me really emotional. 

She has been the best person throughout the entire process. Someone I could speak to really openly and honestly. I'm very lucky, very privileged, that she has always been there. She really is my rock. Yeah, shout out to mum.


Whakamarurangi (he/him/ia) grew up in Te Moana a Toi-te-Huatahi/the Bay of Plenty. 

When he was seven, his parents joined a local church. 

I think it was around when I was 13 or 14 when I realised that me being gay was going to be a problem for me, for my relationship with my whānau.

As I got older, especially around the age of 15, I started to get really, really bad depression. It was actually when I was 15 years old when I first attempted suicide. 

And a big part of that was because of my sexuality. I remember praying any time I had a gay thought. I remember praying to God, “I want you to like me, so please get rid of this thing that's in me”. 

After high school, Whakamarurangi moved to Dunedin to study at the University of Otago.

Once I was out [of the closet] in uni, I noticed people weren’t making a fuss about it, they were allgoods. 

I was just living my life, how I had imagined it would be like and no fear of being caught. No fear of being disowned. No fear of being cut off.

One night when I was really drunk, I messaged our family group chat and I was like, “Just letting you know, I've tried so hard to make you proud. I hope you remember this. I don't know what our relationship is gonna look like after this, but I'm bisexual”. 

I came out as bisexual because I thought that would be the safer option. To give my parents hope that even though I do like boys, I could have a wife. Even though I knew damn well I was never going to get a wife.

The biggest difference I noticed after coming out was being comfortable and being confident. I had zero confidence when I was closeted. 

I didn't trust myself to act straight enough and also struggled a lot with body dysmorphia and all of that.

Growing up, I always thought that my biggest problem was being gay. But when you're an adult, that’s not your biggest problem anymore. You're always gonna have to fight, but you get stronger.

Whakamarurangi says the number one thing that was stopping him from giving up was his five younger siblings.

I hated the idea of [my younger siblings] having the same thoughts that I was having. So I wanted to stay for them. And if they were having those thoughts that I was having, they could come to me. I have five younger siblings and they've always been my reason.

Where to get help:

  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community.

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