The ex-Mormon Prime Minister of New Zealand has become their first premiere to march at an LGBT pride parade.
Jacinda Ardern, who became PM last year in a surprise election result, took to the streets with activists and allies for Auckland Pride.
The 37-year-old Labour leader strolled through the streets, danced and took selfies with members of the public as she embraced the carnival.
More than 25,000 people turned out for the parade, including Arden’s finance minister, Grant Robertson, a gay man, and Louisa Wall, a Labour MP who is gay.
Speaking at the event, she admitted that there was still far to go for LGBT rights in the country: “Ultimately this is a parade about diversity and inclusiveness.
“And I’m really proud of the work the team has done to make that real over the years and in our laws,” Ardern told TVNZ.
“But we can’t be complacent. As long as there are kids in New Zealand, if they are LGBTQI, if they have high levels of mental health issues or self harm, that tells us that we still have work to do.”
The producer of the parade, Shaughan Woodcock, told New Zealand Herald the PM’s decision to march in the parade was “very exciting” and an important step forward.
“I think the overall message is that we are being led by a progressive government, a government that stands for all groups not just some,” Woodcock said.
“It also sends a very clear message that New Zealand is leading the way around basic human rights and human rights for our rainbow community, and that it is time for the other countries to step up.”
The New Zealand native was raised as a Mormon – a religion which holds staunch anti-LGBT views and continues to oppose same-sex marriage.
During the 2017 general election campaign, Ms Ardern spoke about how she came to reject the church and support LGBT rights.
Explaining her evolving views, she told the New Zealand Herald: “‘For a lot of years, I put it to the back of my mind. I think it was too unsettling.
“If something like religion is part of your foundation, and then suddenly you start questioning that – it’s quite a confronting thing to deal with.
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“Even before the Civil Union Bill came up, I lived in a flat with three gay friends and I was still going to church every so often and I just remember thinking ‘this is really inconsistent – I’m either doing a disservice to the church or my friends’.
“Because how could I subscribe to a religion that just didn’t account for them? It was one of the issues that became a real flashpoint.
“You drift along a bit, there are always going to be things you can’t reconcile, but I could never reconcile what I saw as discrimination in a religion that was otherwise very focused on tolerance and kindness.”
The revelations led her to leave the church and become agnostic about religion.
“I have a real respect for people who have religion as a foundation in their lives. And I respect people who don’t.
“I’m agnostic. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.
“I just think people should be free to have their personal beliefs and not be persecuted for it, whether they be atheist or staunch church members.”