BURNS - VIRGINIA
B 3.8.77 D 18.6.17
LGBT community mourns loss of campaigner
Virginia Rose Burns, LGBT events organiser and campaigner: b Hastings, August 3, 1977; p Jac Lynch; d Wellington, June 18, 2017, aged 39.
Virginia Burns was a social media maven whose reputation for organising big, shiny LGBT events in the Wellington rainbow community was legendary.
She worked on many community projects over a number of years, from Out in the Square (later Out in the Park) to the Asia Pacific Outgames.
At her funeral service, one friend joked it was probably the only event she had not organised herself, although she did have a hand in making it a fundraiser for Outer Spaces, a group supporting queer and trans youth.
Burns was heavily involved in Out in the Park for a decade as chair, co-chair, community liaison, marketing and every other role one could imagine. Whether it was on the board or working behind the scenes, she would bluntly describe her work as "making shit happen".
The event, which is now part of the Wellington Pride Festival, would attract more than 10,000 people, many dressed in sequinned affairs and looking glam.
That was part and parcel of the celebration, Burns once told The Dominion Post.
"Quite often we're not visible in many aspects of our lives or conversely we are visible because of negative things like inequality or discrimination.
"So when we get together for an event like this we are visible and very positive and enthusiastic in a very glamorous way because it is a celebration of us as people."
She was co-chair of the 2012 Asia Pacific Outgames, the world's first gay games in Wellington that set a blueprint for future international gay sporting events.
It was an ambitious event with 300 volunteers and 1300 athletes covering nine sporting codes.
Using her experience with the Outgames, she also helped organise the Proud To Play tournament in Auckland in early 2016, an event based on the idea of playing sport in an inclusive environm
ent regardless of one's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Burns was intent on challenging people's assumptions about the rainbow community, a term that encompasses the gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender communities.
"There's plenty of lipstick lesbians – I'm one," she said in a 2009 interview.
"I don't have a buzz cut and the big, stonking boots and the overalls that some favour. There's huge variety in our community and we try to represent that."
Burns, who used the pseudonym Virginia Parker-Bowles as her social media identity, once said high-profile events such as Out in the Park and Proud were important because there was a huge sweep of people who do not fit into gender norms.
"It shows people don't have to be stereotypically masculine or stereotypically feminine to get along in the world and have a positive self-image and be happy.
"You don't have to be that rugby-playing beer-swilling lout, you can be anything you want and it's got nothing to do with sexuality. It's about the way that you want to present yourself to the world and how you interact with it. It's just about you being you."
Virginia Burns was born in Hastings and raised in Havelock North. She went to drama school in Hastings before moving to Wellington to study psychology at Victoria University.
Growing up in Hawke's Bay, she didn't really understand then that she was gay. One of the reasons she became so open about herself was because her visibility could show other young people, who may be unsure of themselves, about how to be confident and proud of their sexuality, she once said.
"I can see that if I had known about somebody like me when I was younger, I would have benefited from that immensely. That visibility and knowledge does help to set yourself up in the world," she commented in one interview.
She hadn't encountered serious discrimination living in Wellington, but revealed she was estranged from her parents for many years because of her sexuality.
After a period at the Ministry of Education, Burns went on to work at the Office of Film and Literature Classification. While there, for her 2005 psychology thesis she completed a masters analysing the impact of distressing material on censors.
Judge Bill Hastings, the former Chief Censor, called Burns' thesis significant and the only research he was aware of that looked at how censors in several countries cope with the impact of material they are censoring to prevent it injuring others.
Burns later moved to the Inland Revenue Department, where she was a researcher for the past eight years. She loved her day job and was described as a dedicated public servant committed to the idea of the social contract and a fair and transparent tax system.
In 2010, she met her partner Jac Lynch while organising events with the rainbow community.
A week before Burns died from breast cancer, the pair had a civil union ceremony. In a Facebook post soon after, Lynch wrote that while they had always supported marriage equality, neither of them were "the marrying types".
"I'd initially regarded it as pragmatic but it turned out to be the most romantic moment in my life," Lynch wrote.
"I'd wanted to keep it on the down low; V announced it on Facebook."
Ever the social media maven.
Burns is survived by Lynch, her parents Harry and Judi Burns, and her sister Gemma.
Sources: The Dominion Post, Jac Lynch, Greig Wilson