27 Nov 2018

Pride and police: The history, issues and decisions behind the debate

8:59 pm on 27 November 2018

Analysis: As the debate surrounding the Auckland Pride parade continues to gather steam and rumours spread in all directions, here's a guide to the issues, the history and the decisions that led to the fallout.

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The LGBTQI community is not one community, but is many communities made up of people with diverse sexualities, sex and gender identities.

Just like wider society, people in these communities come from differing backgrounds, hold differing political views and have differing experiences.

As we are seeing in the Pride debate, not everyone agrees on the most pressing issues when all of these communities, and all of these people, are asked to come together as one.

And as such, there is not one person or group who can represent the views of all people involved in the debate, on either side of the fence. The general consensus, however, is that those who are outside of the LGBTQI communities altogether, do not.

What did the Pride board decide?

The Auckland Pride board, after three months of consultation with LGBTQI community members and seven community hui, decided police were welcome to march in the parade next February so long as they would not march in uniform. Instead, the board invited members of the police to march in plain or fancy-dress clothes.

The board said this decision was a compromise and was intended to encourage all people within the rainbow communities to feel safe and included at their own event - without excluding valued rainbow police officers.

"These discussions indicated that whilst there is goodwill towards the NZ Police, as an institution they do not currently meet the degree of safety and awareness of intersectionality required by our rainbow communities," the board said in a statement.

"The visibility of the police uniform, in particular, had made them (some members of the LGBTQI community) feel less safe about participating in the Auckland Pride Parade.

"Complaints about police consistently outnumbered feedback about any other institution or organisation," it said.

The board acknowledged it was a difficult and complex decision, but said it was one made based on extensive community consultation.

While they asked the police not to march in uniform, the board said it offered to facilitate opportunities for non-uniformed police officers to still march in next year's parade with local rainbow community groups and other participating organisations.

What did the police decide?

The police were never banned from the parade.

Police decided to withdraw their application to walk in the 2019 Pride parade. Diversity liaison officer Tracy Phillips said the decision - made by the internal police Pride parade organising committee -was made because if some members of the LGBTQI community did not feel safe, officers would not march at all.

In a statement about the decision not to march, police said "we support the Pride parade in creating a safe space for all to attend".

It also said "police are committed to supporting and working with our rainbow communities" and "also acknowledge that there are also areas where we can improve in this space".

Police have asked for a meeting with the Pride board, and say a date is set for this.

They say they have decided to work alongside the Pride board and rainbow partners on an ongoing basis to move forward and find solutions to concerns that were raised.

They have decided not to comment any further on this issue.

What are the issues?

The Auckland Pride board has spoken about members of the LGBTIQ communities raising a variety of concerns with them, but what exactly are the issues at the heart of this debate?

Community hui

There were four initial community hui held across Auckland, in the south in Manukau, in Epsom, online and in Ponsonby - home of the parade.

Following these hui was a 'hot topics' hui specifically related to the conversation of police in Pride.

Two open board meetings were then held that the community could attend.

Several topics came up time and again in the initial four hui and were recorded by the Pride board.

One of the standout topics was racism within LGBTIQ communities - a long-standing issue.

Alongside that, people raised the need for visibility of takatāpui community and supporting the development of takatāpui-led tikanga and programming. They wanted to balance celebration with political advocacy and reconnect with the community's activist roots. Wanted to address power structures like transphobia and misogyny.

Balancing corporate and community visibility within the parade was also raised at a number of the hui.

And, of course, the role of the State sector's place within Pride - specifically police and Corrections.

The debate that followed

As the conversation has developed and the debate has spread into the mainstream, a number of issues that have always been present within LGBTQI communities have come to the surface.

Those issues include racism, transphobia, pinkwashing (the State or companies presenting themselves as LGBTQI-friendly as a marketing strategy) and safety of LGBTQI people.

Safety is one of the big concerns for many members of the LGBTQI communities and many people have expressed they would not feel safe if police march in uniform.

But the safety aspect of this debate doesn't end there. People on both sides of the debate have expressed they feel unsafe about speaking up and having a voice in this discussion because the issues are so divisive. LGBTQI youth, who are already vulnerable members of society, have barely been represented, with those speaking out generally being older community members and people who are accustomed to having a platform.

Many of those who have been vocal as the debate has intensified are part of LGBTIQ organisations, and in some cases, hold leadership positions within these organisations.

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Photo: RNZ / David Steemson

Protest and Auckland Pride

Police walked in the Auckland Pride parade for the first time in 2015. It was also the first time the group No Pride in Prisons demonstrated in public, with three people breaking through the barriers on the parade route holding a banner that read 'no pride in prisons'. One of the protests suffered a suspected broken arm when security removed her.

Also in 2015, the group Queers Against Injustice threw pink paint over three ANZ branches and two police stations a few days after the Pride parade to protest 'pinkwashing'.

The Ponsonby Road ANZ branch at the time had a decorated 'GayTM' commissioned as part of the bank's diversity programme and the fee charged to people who used non-ANZ bank cards at the machine went to LGBTQI support organisation OUTLine.

In 2016, 50 protesters, led by No Pride in Prisons, demonstrated at the Auckland Pride parade.

The group said it was disgraceful that Auckland Pride allowed police and Corrections to march in the parade.

In 2017, the Department of Corrections was banned from marching in the parade as organisers said they hadn't followed through with promises to improve support for LGBTQI prisoners. The previous year the board and Corrections agreed to come up with ways to support transgender prisoners but the board said these had not been implemented.

Who is PAPA?

You may have heard a group called PAPA - People Against Prisons Aotearoa - and spokesperson Emilie Rākete in media coverage surrounding the Auckland Pride parade debate.

PAPA is not affiliated with Auckland Pride and there are no members of PAPA, or people subscribed to the PAPA mailing list, on the Auckland Pride Board.

The group is one of the many voices in this debate and are being called upon by media because of their history with the Pride parade, but they are certainly not the only voice.

They were formally known as No Pride in Prisons and was formed because the group was concerned about the treatment of transgender people in prisons

As a group with very strong opinions of the justice system in New Zealand, they have found themselves being asked for comment on this issue.

What sponsors and participants have pulled out?

  • The Rainbow Charitable Trust - Financial sponsor, will continue to provide grants to organisations wishing to hold their own events if separate to events managed by Auckland Pride.
  • Ponsonby Business Association - Financial sponsor
  • Vodafone - Rainbow Tick client
  • Westpac - Rainbow Tick client
  • BNZ -Rainbow Tick client
  • ANZ - Rainbow Tick client
  • Fletchers Building - Rainbow Tick client
  • Sky City - Rainbow Tick client. Union members will continue to march in the parade despite the company pulling support
  • NZME - Rainbow Tick client

Rainbow Tick clients are tested by the certification company on the practices and policies that manage the Human Resource of an organisation. Rainbow Tick tests whether a workplace understands, values, and welcomes sexual and gender diversity and where there are deficiencies it offers training, advice and support.

Despite media reporting that the New Zealand Defence Force pulled out of the parade, they had not actually applied to participate.

Will the parade go ahead?

Some are questioning whether or not the Pride parade will even go ahead next year, as a number of corporate sponsors have pulled out.

But board chair Cissy Rock says the board won't back down and the parade will still go ahead.

Whether or not the current board will be in charge of the parade is still unknown, as a group of people have called for a Special General Meeting (SGM) and plan to roll the current board, saying they have lost confidence.

With the loss of a number of corporate sponsors, members of the LGBTQI communities have set up a crowdfunding campaign to cover some of those costs.

At the time of writing, there are 475 individual donations, totalling $22,000, made to the Givealittle fundraising page from those who would like to see the parade go ahead and who support the decision of the Pride board. If the current Pride board is rolled, this money will be donated to a range of LGBTQI organisations, as decided by those who have donated.

Some of those who are supportive of police walking in uniform however are calling for a boycott of the parade.

Who called for the SGM?

Following the announcement police would not be marching in next year's parade, and a final community hui to discuss the issue, four members of Auckland Pride called for the SGM to be held in order to put forward a vote of no confidence in the current Pride board.

The four have also since sent a letter to the board to give notice of making the following motions:

  • That current board members, other than Emma Henderson, are removed from office and replaced by new board members. (Effectively removing all board members who they disagree with).
  • That the two board members who resigned over this issue be reinstated.
  • That the new board works with all groups to ensure all voices are heard in Pride.

The members who called for the SGM include former Auckland Pride parade registrations coordinator Baz Bloomfield, who resigned ahead of the 2016 parade in part because the board at the time would not consider banning the police from marching.

He said he had "serious concerns about the participation of the Department of Corrections and the police into the 2016 Pride Parade because of the issues facing the trans community" when in their care.

He also told Gaynz that one of the issues he raised with the board was that police treated him differently when he made an indecent assault allegation because he is a gay man.

He also "suggested to the executive officer that Pride question discriminatory policies of the Police..."

Mr Bloomfield declined requests for comment.

The SGM will be held on 6 December and only members of Auckland Pride will be able to vote whether or not the board should be kept in place.

It's a meeting that's set to be well attended, with Auckland Pride having received 500+ new membership applications within 24 hours when the SGM was announced.

Is this a world first?

This is not the first instance of police not marching in uniform at pride parades around the world.

In Minneapolis it was the police chief himself who decided not to march in the parade which he said was out of respect for the local LGBTIQ community.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo asked his officers to march in plain clothes if they wished to take part in this year's parade.

He said he was committed to ensuring the police increased its capacity to build allyship and acknowledged the pride representatives had conveyed to him the pain and harm that had occurred in their community which had not been addressed. He said this was specifically LGBTIQ communities of colour.

In Toronto this year police withdrew their application to march in uniform in the pride parade. The previous year they were banned from marching and their decision to reapply caused controversy.

Chief of police Mark Saunders said while he has expressed his sincere commitment to strengthen and renew the relationship between pride and the police, he was conscious of the need to avoid any setback that would undermine this objective and he wanted his decision to reflect that he is listening closely to community concerns.

Also this year, London Pride asked police officers to not march in uniform and Police Chief John Pare encouraged his officers still to participate saying that while he was disappointed, pride was about inclusivity and London Police were committed to working on training, consulting with the LGBTIQ community and educating officers and staff.

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