Kevin Haunui has always known, from an early age, that he was gay, or Takatāpui*. Now 55, he believes his whānau connections have supported his self-identity and his wellbeing.

“I was born in Rotorua, but my mum and dad were both teachers so we moved around central North Island Māori communities with their jobs,” Kevin says.

“As teenagers we lived in Murupara and I remember growing up playing sports with my 11 cousins. We lived among my aunties’ families (Dad’s sisters) during the school term, but were also close to my Mum’s parents. They looked after me and two of my sisters when we were young, and we always stayed at my grandparents place in Raetihi near Ohakune, during school holidays. Mum was really good at pointing out all our iwi and whānau connections.”

Whānau important to self-identity

Kevin moved to Wellington in 1979 when he was 18 years old. For many years he felt unable to share his sexuality with his family and was in his thirties before he told them – after he experienced a relationship break up.

“I was on the train with Dad, heading home to Masterton from Wellington, and I was trying to explain to him why I was so sad,” he recalls. “Dad didn’t really understand my lifestyle – Mum was the same – but I knew that they both loved me and that was all that mattered, and all I needed to know, for my self-identity.”

Kevin says that rather than discussing sexuality directly, his whānau talk more holistically about being physically and spiritually healthy.

“We talk about life principles, such as tikanga, that helps guide me to enjoy life, but also keeps me safe – and that includes sexual relationships,” he says. “My whānau give me the confidence to go out and engage more broadly with the world; to live as full a life as possible, which is beneficial to all aspects of my wellbeing.”

Everyone is taonga

Takatāpui is a word Kevin came across in the early 2000s. He had joined the group that eventually became known as Tīwhanawhana and heard Takatāpui being used more and more often.

“As I learnt more about Takatāpui, it seemed to speak to me about being same sex attracted, but at the end of the day, Māori,” he explains. “It means I remember where I’ve come from, and who I am, within Māori society, but also how I can relate to others within the LGBTI** community. Takatāpui means I can be true to who I am.”

Kevin believes that having people in your life that see you as a taonga is important, as whānau and friends are a big part of what can heal you if you are unwell.

“Knowing I am valued and respected, and have something of value to add to all the different spheres in my life is good for my spirit and self-worth in the world we live in.”

Kevin features in the new publication Takatāpui: Part of the Whānau which was produced by the Mental Health Foundation and Tīwhanawhana Trust.

* Takatāpui is a traditional Māori word meaning "intimate companion of the same sex." It has been adapted to embrace all Māori with diverse genders and sexualities.
** Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex – also known as Rainbow.