Read: Let’s not rain on our own parade!

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!

Conclusions

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. 

36 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Andrew…..very intelligent response

  2. Racheal McGonigal

    Well said thank you

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Thank you Rachael

  3. A well-reasoned response, Andrew. Thank you. I was there last night, and felt similarly to yourself. I fully understand where PAP are coming from, and can appreciate how the Pride board came to their decision. On a certain level, it makes sense, however I do consider the decision retrogressive, and although I agree that the majority opinion should never necessarily be the one we go with, I’m disappointed by the board’s apparent lack of engagement with the wider community. This was again evidenced last night when they seemingly stepped forward with great reluctance. Disappointing also that the meeting began with such hostility. Very difficult for any facilitator to pull a session back from that, regardless of when it occurs. I very much felt for Tim. Thank again for such a great summation of your thoughts.

  4. Andrew Whiteside

    Thanks Paul and I appreciate your comments.

  5. Kia ora Andrew, thanks for this thoughtful piece. I was one of the people speaking on behalf of People Against Prisons Aotearoa. I wanted to share this visualiser produced by the NZ Herald, using analysis conducted by one of PAPA’s supporters. The raw data comes from the Tactical Options Research Reports, which are compiled by the NZ Police. I agree that these stats show a grievous problem with policing in NZ.

    Visualiser: https://insights.nzherald.co.nz/article/police-tactical-options/

    Raw data: http://www.police.govt.nz/about-us/publication/tactical-options-research-reports

    Ngā mihi aroha,
    Emilie

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Hi Emilie. Yes I remember speaking with you a couple of times. thanks for this information.

      • Kia ora Andrew,

        I built the visualisation that was published as part of that Herald piece. I thought I’d let you know that there’s also a slightly more up to date version I have on Github, which includes a little more explanation beneath and also, probably more importantly, also includes another 6 months’ worth of data for January-June 2017. Here’s a link to it: https://cipscis.github.io/charter/app/tor.html

        It includes links to all the sets of raw data in the text beneath the visualisation. Though the link to the Police website Emmy provided above does contain links to NZ Police’s own reports on their use of force, it looks like they haven’t included links to the raw data that they’ve released under the Official Information Act.

        I also have data for July-December 2017, though I haven’t yet updated the visualisation to include that (it’s on my to-do list though, so hopefully I’ll get it done before too long), and I’ve just this week requested the January-June 2018 data.

        • Andrew Whiteside

          Thank you Mark, really appreciate your input on this. Will check out your updated information.

          • Hi again Andrew,

            Just thought I’d let you know I’ve now updated that visualisation to include July-December 2017 data. I’ve also added a tab for an aggregate view for the data from July 2016-December 2017, which will give a longer term picture that won’t show change over time but smooths out any peaks or troughs a bit better.

  6. Racheal McGonigal

    Emilie, thanks you. I took a look at the Insights article and the figures are a concern. Do you also have figures to show the percentages of who is more committing the crimes? Any figures or information on why they are committing crimes? Are as many pakeha committing crimes as Maori or PI folk?
    Thanks

    • Hi Racheal. The data is in the raw reports. Specifically figure 8 (of at least the last few years’ raw data) shows the % of tactical options used, by subject ethnicity. These tables show how many times the police used their various methods as a percentage of the number of incidences. Within a % or two, they used their various responses about the same for each ethnicity.

      • Kia ora Adrian,

        From my understanding of NZ Police’s Tactical Options Reporting (TOR) data (I did the analysis on the Herald article Emilie linked to), I don’t think that’s quite the baseline you might think it is.

        The information conveyed in figure 8 (at least of the 2017 report, I haven’t opened the others just now) looks at the rate at which different tactical options were used against someone at a TOR event based on their ethnicity, *given they were involved in a TOR event*, where each TOR event is the use of force by police against a single person.

        The way NZ Police track TOR events means that this disregards any difference in the overall rates at which people are subjected to police use of force. It just looks at the question “when police decide to use force, how likely are they to use each tactical option against a person of a given ethnicity?”

        So that table obscures, for example, that Māori experience police use of force at about 7-8x the rate that Pākehā experience police use of force.

        Likewise, that 7-8x number doesn’t consider how frequently police encounter people of different ethnicities (rather it uses population data from the 2013 census as a baseline).

        There will certainly be multiple factors contributing to that disparity, which are far more difficult to tease out.

  7. This is an excellent article Andrew, I was there last night too, for the same reason as you – to better understand the differing views,. And like you was very pleased I stayed till the end. The Board have a tough call as they consider their decision in light of the (highly fuelled) opinion/reaction. As you say, let’s hope this makes us re think what inclusion and equality means. Thank you for your excellent summary of the hui.

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Thank you Pam. I saw you at a distance but didn’t get a chance to speak with you. Hope you are well.

  8. Really fantastic piece Andrew – appreciate the objective, accurate and productive position taken.

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Thank you Robbie – appreciate your comments.

  9. Thank u Andrew a lot to think about well put but I struggle to accept the loss of all we achieved over 30 yrs I understand the struggle of minorities but we found a way to achieve results without destroying the past

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Hi Brian and thank you for your comments. Yes, it is a difficult one. Hopefully once the initial anger has subsided the community can come together to resolve this.

  10. Kia ora Andrew.
    You’re a wise man to withhold judgement whether the Pride Committee’s stance towards how Police may participate in the Parade is right or wrong. Testing the arguments that determined the decision, and whether the strategy of that decision is the appropriate response, is an opinion from you I look forward to.
    The Pride Board are a community voice and one that speaks beyond the rainbow borders of Auckland and New Zealand. They have the difficult task of responding to the voices and the causes that impact on the Pride Parade. They are to be applauded for listening to their communities. They would do well to continue to listen and to review decisions where warranted.
    In my view, this policy is not simply a matter of for or against. It is clear from the divided response of the rainbow community that arguments in support of both all have validity. Yes we can protest and yes we can celebrate.
    The present narrative engulfing rainbow communities needs to be shifted from an entrenched to an enabling position. We need to counter stand-over type responses with aroha but continue to move forward as a community. Andrew I think this debate is a sun shower in disguise. But like climate-change if we do nothing it may manifest into something far worse. I’m sure you are acutely aware that there are always wolves at the door looking for opportunities to exploit and undermine who we are, and our right to be.

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Hi Kevin. Thank you for your comments. Good to know that people like yourself are prepared to look at this issue and see the ramifications of it.

  11. Thanks Andrew very well written

  12. As I observe and listen to this latest of our disagreements the thing that hits home the most (for me) is an assumption that we must all get along to succeed (in this case with a Pride march) – as if THAT is more important than the issue we are debating.
    Our collective identity as LGBTQI is more important than our disagreements. Those who stand together succeed. Those who don’t don’t.
    So here’s the challenge – as a community we must decide what’s more important to us – our core values – or a collective public unity. What’s more important – to understand why some of us support our LGBTQI in police uniform or to work together to ensure we know what’s going on and to do our best to protect LGBTQI people from being mistreated by the police. Do we focus on understanding the motives of police who abuse LGBTQI or do we work to stop any abuse.
    Is there an inversion of priorities going on here when we can all voice opinions and even take actions over social media, but we can’t meet together and talk, and more importantly listen – to each others pain.
    This is only a disagreement. All great Pride Parades experience some pre-march wobbles. We can work it through together and do the right thing – for us, for Auckland and for NZ.

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Thank you for your perspective on this matter Te Miha.

  13. When I and thousands of others marched for Homosexual Law Reform in 1985 the police force weren’t marching with us. In the 1990s we marched in Hero Parade. That wasn’t a corporate PR exercise. Pride marches now seem to have become less for and by the “Rainbow community” and more about others, many or whom aren’t LGBTIQ+ showing rainbow colours to a family friendly crowd for entertainment. That’s not a bad thing but it does nothing to fix ongoing problems with police culture and how they treat some Māori and Pacific LGBTIQ+ people.

    I’ve seen abuse and bullying of young people by police and scars on friends who’ve been assaulted on protests. When Auckland Pride Board drew attention to these issues, it got more attention than many of the papers from Just Speak and academics showing the same patterns of racism and abuse.

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Hi Kay. Thank you for taking the time to write your perspective on this. This is what we need – a civil discourse!

  14. Thank you Andrew. I’m glad to read a clear and intelligent piece about all this. From the moment I saw what an uproar this was becoming I have felt the pain and anger has been so passionate about what appears on the surface to be such a small thing compared with the suffering of our global queer family. My position has been from the start to support the decision of the parade organisers, a position I felt more strongly the more people railed against them and threatened boycott. My reason was simply one of supporting my queer family, respecting their choice to not want police representation in the parade, and solidarity. It had nothing to do with, as I saw it, appeasing the cis majority who want our queerness publicly displayed only if it fits their cis expectations. Ignoring that there are still queer people in NZ who are and have been abused by the system that uniform represents. That the world over our choices are still not respected and at its worst our choices evoke a deadly viterol from the non-queer community. My hope is one day we can have police in uniform if we want it and it not evoke these very fresh ghosts that still haunt us. But it doesn’t have to be 2018. Our choices demand and deserve respect. If the people in charge of the parade choose to remember that Pride is not about forgetting our past, and want to keep police representation out of it then I support them whole heartedly. I understand the choice made this year and I’ll understand the choice made in 2019… Because if nothing else we need to support our queer whānau. We already have the rest of the world trying to force us into a shape that suits their ideals.

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Kia ora Riley. Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate hearing other people’s views on this.

  15. Thank you Andrew for your objective and informative reporting on this highly emotive and controversial matter.
    Initially I was incredibly annoyed and embarrassed by the Pride Boards decision and (in my view) the hijacking by PAPA, of an event that I am proud to be associated with. I have so many friends who are police officers, and who are members of the LGBTQI+ community. I have extended family members who are police officers and diversity liason officers. I know how dedicated they are to their work and how some of them were at the forefront of change within the police force concerning diversity issues.
    It saddens me that, if what PAPA claims is true, people within the LGBTQIA are marginalised by the NZ Police force. The thing is, for most of us, these statistics are not exposed in a way where they become a mainstream issue. And this bothers me.
    There has to be a way forward and one has to have faith that common sense prevails.
    Perhaps we have become too complacent as a wider queer community. BUT I am concerned that PAPA are using the Pride parade as a platform to pursue an agenda that only partially involves the wider rainbow community. Are the issues they raise important; of course they are, especially on a humanitarian level, but there is not a lot of transparency and I’m not surprised that they are being viewed in the manner they are.
    Whatever results, I hope the decisions are fair, inclusive and do not undermine years of hardwork completed by a host of very brave men and women.

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Hi Stuart. Thank you for sharing your views on this. Let’s hope this is resolved for the benefit of everyone.

  16. Thank you Andrew. I appreciate your perspective and feel more informed thanks to you.. We are moving through a necessary debate it seems to me. Of course we all have a personal context our thoughts and feelings arise from..
    Mine are shaped by being a young closeted cop in the 1980’s…before law reform and Hero and marriage equality, I couldn’t even imagine being out at work, and certainly not with the broad support of my colleagues! To have made such progress as to be able to march representing the org IN Uniform is still a miracle to me. There is always going to be more work to do to eliminate institutional bias (let’s face it…will we ever?). How that work is done seems to be at least part of the issue here. It seems simple. Don’t where the uniform that represents ongoing oppression. I get it. Except that as part of the same community, LGBTQI cops are then oppressed by being asked not to express themselves fully – proudly wearing their uniform. If I was still in the job I would want to march in my uniform – it still feels like a subversive act and I would feel PRIDE instead of shame. As it stands LGBTQI cops who want to march in uniform cannot ‘own’ their organisation and show they are in there (the cops) in a very public way. As usual, one decision will be perceived from many different points of view. It behoves us all to be open to the view points of others lest we get stuck in our own reality and fight for positions instead of progress. What is the answer? I do not profess to know but one thing remains true. Relationship is where understanding can be built. I do believe this painful moment for the Rainbow community will be for the good in the end….where progress is still needed, we must work towards that. Once the emotions have settled, I hope more can be done to identify and eliminate institutional bias such that uniforms are welcome in any Rainbow setting. Most cops are good people, just like in wider society….and there are bigots and baddies too. In principle I am leaning towards supporting the Board – a brave thing to do in the face of a strong community, and, if I was a rainbow cop I would see a wasted opportunity to be visible in my representative support – personally and professionally. I wish everyone who is afraid of the uniform would march with every cop that is brave enough to be out at work. For some 2019 would have been their first parade in uniform.. Feelings are mixed this end. Thanks again for your post. Appreciated. 🙂 Peace out

    • Andrew Whiteside

      Hi Amanda. So nice to hear from you and sharing your personal experience of being a cop and being in the closet. We can learn a lot from each other if we share our own stories.

    • Wow this is such a good post, it feels like such a nuanced perpective, layers upon layers

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