During the past week we have seen a huge outpouring of anger and grief over the Auckland Pride Board’s decision to ban police uniforms from the 2019 Auckland Pride Parade. I have been incredibly disappointed by the public displays of this anger and some of the behind the scenes abuse members of our communities are receiving.
In order to make some sense of this situation, I have been talking to various people and groups privately about their views on what has gone on.
Before I share those views and make a few conclusions of my own, I just want to step through the process the Board went through as I understand it.
Auckland Pride held four hui this year to gain feedback from the Auckland Rainbow Communities about the annual parade and festival. According to a press release from the Board of Pride dated 15th November what the Board heard at these hui was this: “complaints about Police consistently outnumbered feedback about any other institution or organisation.”
Consequently, the Board organised what they called a special ‘Hot Topic’ hui in October 2018 to get deeper and specific consultation about the Police.
I have spoken to a number of people who attended these hui, and they say, despite small numbers of attendees at the hui many of them shared deeply personal and painful experiences they have had with police.
In an interview with Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand, Board Chair Cissy Rock stated that Police officers who attended these hui and heard these stories were deeply affected and embarrassed by what they heard.
There has been an assumption by some in the community that the four hui and the ‘Hot Topic’ hui in particular were hijacked by the group People Against Prisons Aotearoa, (PAPA), and that the stories told in the hui were by people ‘planted’ in the meetings by PAPA.
While PAPA did turn up officially at the ‘Hot Topic’ hui, it is my understanding they did not attend the other hui as a group. One person who attended a number of hui tells me there were a wide variety of people who spoke at those other hui and that they don’t believe there was a concerted effort to push an agenda.
After these hui, the Board voted to ban police uniforms from the parade and began a dialogue with the police about this.
One of the problems I encountered in trying to come to grips with this issue is the lack of information and the vague responses to requests for that information from Pride. Lets go back to Pride’s press release of November 15th and this paragraph:
“Issues and concerns relating to New Zealand Police were raised again and again throughout a series of four Auckland Pride Community Hui that were held across Tāmaki Makaurau during August. Complaints about Police consistently outnumbered feedback about any other institution or organisation.”
This is incredibly vague. To use words such as “time and time again” and “consistently outnumbered feedback” is useless without actual numbers or the stories that people were telling.
In saying this I am not buying into arguments around ‘majority rules,’ I am simply stating that it is impossible to come to a fair conclusion about this issue unless we have some actual evidence.
Why did the Board not share the stories they heard? There are a number of other questions that follow on from this.
Who were the people who got up and spoke? Were the allegations historical or recent? Did they occur randomly or during police investigations into crimes?
These questions are not designed to diminish those who shared their stories at the hui – but rather, to gain a richer narrative that explains the rationale behind the Board’s decision. If confidentiality was an issue, we could still have some basic information about the types of people who were speaking and the circumstances these incidents occurred.
More detail would give us all insight into a side of life that many of us do not, or have not experienced.
It is my understanding that several of the board members voted against the ban. That should have given them all pause on such a contentious issue, and a desire to look into it more thoroughly.
During my own investigations I have contacted a number of queer organisations and people with strong connections to our Rainbow Communities. Surprisingly, none of them were consulted by Auckland Pride either before or after the decision.
More than once in my discussions, people questioned the timing of the decision. Perhaps with hindsight, the Pride Board could have put out a consultation paper outlining their concerns and spent the next year getting feedback about it. The 2019 Festival could also have had events, or utilised existing events such as the Big Gay Out, to canvas a wider cross-section of Queerdom.
Who knows what they might have heard if they had consulted more widely? It’s entirely possible that many more people, other than those at the hui, might have told similar stories. At the very least, it would have engaged the community in a very worthwhile dialogue.
In light of all this, the Board’s decision, while potentially well-intentioned, has been divisive and incredibly counterproductive.
Undoubtedly there are people who are still marginalised in our communities and the New Zealand Police Force still has work to do to address that. Perhaps now, we can start a bigger discussion about participation and what inclusion and exclusion really feels like.
I for one, want to hear the stories of those still marginalised in our society. To that end, I invite people to contact me either through Facebook or via my website and tell me your stories. I can’t promise that I will be able to interview you all, but I do want to hear what you have to say and when I can, and with your permission, I will share them.