I had high hopes that a public meeting about the current debate over police uniforms in the Pride Parade would result in a well-reasoned and civil debate from all concerned. Sadly, it unravelled pretty quickly and after almost an hour of acrimonious and shambolic debate over how the process would even be run I considered walking out. I persevered however, and now I’m glad I did.
The first sign that things were going to go badly occurred when a representative of the Tangata Whenua was rudely and aggressively attacked for speaking in te reo, our first language. That resulted in a mini spat that was excruciating to watch.
There then followed at least 40 minutes of the facilitator trying to get a consensus about what the meeting was for, and how it was going to be run. It wasn’t good to witness, and though he tried his best, the crowd was in no mood to be ‘told what to do,’ and bit back ferociously.
There has been a lot of criticism of this facilitator including that he was out of his depth and didn’t do a good job. Well let me tell you.. he behaved with dignity and respect and never once lost his cool despite being openly criticised by people and having to deal with a very rancorous crowd. He was not the one swearing, interrupting or being abusive.
I witnessed a lot of anger – I’m ok with that, people are passionate about this and that’s fine. What I am not happy with was rudeness, intransigence and an unwillingness to listen to other people’s viewpoints. There was also a pervading sense of majority rights, and that the Board ought to just overturn its decision because the majority want that.
This surprised me, since when have majority rules been a part of the LGBTQI approach to civil rights? If that had been the case, homosexual law reform would have taken much longer than it did.
As the meeting continued, there was some attempt to hear different speakers but it descended into chaos and anger and eventually some physical unpleasantness that resulted in a number of people being asked to leave.
Finally, someone asked the Board Chair Cissy Rock if the Board were prepared to change it’s mind – she said they weren’t and this prompted a mass walk out of probably at least a good third of the crowd.
This moment may have been misinterpreted. I assumed it meant the Board were not going to change their minds on the night but rather hear what people had to say. I could be wrong, and I have asked for clarification from the Board Chair.
Interestingly, after the walk out, the meeting actually settled down to some really good dialogue. While there was still some acrimony there was time for people to genuinely and sometimes passionately discuss why they were there and what this decision meant to them.
I attended the meeting because I wanted to truly understand why the Board made its decision. And I wanted to hear from the people who had been pushing for the police to not march in their uniforms.
Thankfully by staying I got to hear those voices. They were represented by group who are known as People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA).
This group is well known to the community and their motives and modus operandi have been severely criticised by many.
Last night, they presented some very uncomfortable statistics and information about policing activity in New Zealand that, if true, are quite disturbing. It is information that I have not heard before and at this stage I will not provide that information until I have investigated it more
If this information is verified I would like some answers from the police and indeed the government about what is being done to protect the most vulnerable members of our community when they come into contact with law enforcement.
Interestingly, one of the most dynamic, impassioned and inspirational speakers was a young lesbian who spoke eloquently about this issue. She posed the question: “why don’t you care about the marginalised in our community?”
It was powerful stuff and reminded me of the passion and zeal from our leaders during the homosexual law reform period some thirty odd years ago.
After it was all over, I went over and talked to these young people. And you know what? They weren’t monsters or brats – they were well educated, articulate and passionate young people who actually do understand and respect the history of the queer communities and value the generation who fought for the rights we currently have.
What they want is to ensure that those rights are extended to everyone. I sensed from them a deep hurt, resentment and disillusionment over the treatment of many transgender people in our country and the world.
I’m not sure I agree with all their arguments or the way they protest, but I was VERY impressed with their knowledge, their earnestness and their sense of justice.
By talking to them I now have a better understanding of why some in our communities are against the police marching in uniform. There are still unanswered questions, and I am not taking the PAPA position as gospel. I simply want to understand it and then see if evidence corroborates what they are saying.
Boycotting the Parade
Over the past day I have seen many comments from people I know in the community who now want to walk away from Pride and are also threatening a boycott of the parade.
Is this really where we as a community have come to?
At this stage I still want to see the Police march but I’m not going to walk away from an event that I believe is one of the best on the Auckland calendar, one that attracts large crowds and brings colour and pageantry to the city because I’m upset the uniforms have been banned.
So I ask you all now – do we really want to cancel the whole thing because of this?
You know who will be pleased about that? All the homophobic people in this country who pray for rain every year. Well perhaps they wont need to get out their bibles and prayer mats next year because the community may well rain on its own parade.
There is a very simple outlet for everyone who is angry about this. Create a protest float, dress in uniforms if you want, march in solidarity with the police and use the damn parade to make the point you strongly believe in!
That’s what pride parades are for. I remember the old Hero parades. They were at their best when they were filled with protesters. I will never forget the huge naked caricature of former Mayor Les Mills being symbolically whipped because he, and the then Auckland City Council, were against the parade. What an exciting and fascinating time that was!
Thirty three years ago in New Zealand the fight was for decriminalisation of homosexual sex acts, 25 years ago it was about the Human Rights Act provisions, 15 years ago it was civil unions and five years ago it was marriage equality. Now transgender rights are the ones that need addressing.
Globally LGBTQI people are still persecuted, and in 76 countries it is still a crime to engage in homosexual sex acts. In Tanzania anti-gay squads are openly hunting down queer people. In the United States transgender people are being demonised. Even across the Tasman in Australia, there is fierce debate about the rights of Christian schools to discriminate against gay teachers and students.
Here in New Zealand our most visible and acrimonious debate over ‘rights’ is whether or not the police should wear uniforms or t-shirts.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
What some in our community are asking for is understanding and compassion for the people at the margins.
I understand the anger in the community and I’m not dismissing it or trivialising it. What I am saying is let’s not view this as a ‘crisis.’ Instead, let’s take the opportunity to really question why this parade is so important to us, and why a segment of our own Rainbow Communities feels disenfranchised from it.
Let’s face it. Almost every one of us has had a coming out process, many of us have been deeply bruised by it and that’s why continued visibility is so important to us.
But do we really want to have a parade full of costumes and colours and balloons and proclamations about how fabulous we all are and how we have a right to be here, when behind the scenes racism, sexism, rudeness, gossip, internalised homophobia and transphobia exist within our own communities and in the wider society.
Let’s explore what inclusion and equality really mean to us and bring that into our Parade.
I still have not made a final determination on how I feel about Police marching in uniform. I now have a much better understanding of why there is opposition, and I will continue to ask questions so I’m even better informed. For now I will state publicly that I think the police SHOULD march in their uniforms, but as I investigate the underlying themes more, I might yet change my mind.