The Rainbow Rejects the Thin Blue Line

While the French are rising up against their government and being confronted with armed police and tanks, Auckland’s queer community are in the midst of a small battle of their own.  Thursday December 6th saw the debate about whether or not to allow an oppressive force to march in full uniform in a parade commemorating the struggles of the queer community against a colonial state reach its zenith.

Last month, after multiple opportunities for community consultation, the Board given the task of organising February 2019’s Pride Parade let police know that they are welcome to march alongside the LGBTQ+ community, under the one condition that, if they choose to do so, they are not welcome to wear their uniforms.

This kicked off a series of melodramatic but necessary events which have seen the withdrawal of the Police, military, and several major corporate sponsors from the Parade.  For some reason, this is considered controversial. The culmination of this supposed crisis has lead to the overwhelmingly wealthy, white, male, cisgender members of the queer community — a group who themselves only became socially accepted very recently — to try and have the Pride Board dismissed.  Large groups of people from this side of the debate banded together to try and reinforce their argument.

Many have forgotten the not-so-distant days in which being gay was an arrest-able, sack-able offence.  They’ve forgiven those who would have arrested or fired them for stepping outside the closet doors. They’ve seemingly lost their memories of the very recent arguments about the legitimacy of their own relationships.  They’ve become so rapidly assimilated into the presentable that they’ve left behind their former comrades-in-arms, blinded by their own desire to be accepted into “polite society”.

Auckland Pride saw a massive upswing in membership registrations, with people from both sides of the debate joining to vote either for or against the no-confidence motion against the Board.  In defence of the Board, a slick video was made, while a queen from Ru Paul’s drag race sent a message of support to those of us who would stand by the victims of police and systemic brutality.  The media started on one side of the fence (pro-police, pro-white gay man), then moved to the middle, then many started to understand the arguments posed by the other side.

The Special General Meeting (SGM) to vote on the motion was held on Thursday last week.  A small group of protesters from left-wing organisations Socialist LGBT, Socialist Aotearoa, and People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) stood outside, handed out booklets presenting our argument, and spoke to the media who were present.  John Campbell appeared sympathetic. Pictures of the massive queues to get into the meeting and of the small protest outside were taken for posterity, and to enhance interest in later articles.

Comrades from Socialist LGBT, Socialist Aotearoa, and People Against Prisons Aotearoa, demonstrating outside the Special General Meeting

Inside the meeting, both sides were given the opportunity to speak.  The meeting was chaired by an independent individual, who managed to maintain tight control of what could have become an unproductive, even more highly charged, emotionally distressing encounter.

The first speaker, a well-dressed, white, cisgender male, the epitome of the pro-Police faction, spoke to the motion to have the Board dismissed.  He opened with arguments which were echoed by his cohort throughout the meeting: “if we exclude Police now, who will we exclude next?” “Exclusion fuels hate, though with People Against Prisons leading the opposition, perhaps that’s the point”.

This man, clearly never having faced a day of state sanctioned oppression in his life, used the idea of “removing barriers” to Pride.  Pride, apparently, is about the inclusion of all; it’s about celebrating and embracing who we are. He conveniently forgot that the whole reason in the first place for this division inside the queer community is that for many, celebrating and embracing who they are has lead directly to them having the proverbial beaten out of them, by the same people this man proposes to include.

The targeting of PAPA as an “anarchist group” (a hilarious accusation for those who know the politics of PAPA) of weirdos, who want to destroy the Police, prisons and justice system, was also repeatedly echoed through the night — as was blaming the Board for inadequate consultation (seven hui anyone?), and calling the Board arrogant.

The seconder to the no confidence motion was in no ways different.  Again white, cisgender, well dressed, male, though he went a step further and to try and disrespect PAPA by calling them “No Pride in Prisons”, a name no longer in use.  One speaker even suggested that Police in uniform, wearing a rainbow pin, may be PAPA’s greatest allies, a suggestion met with much laughter — clearly showing he and his friends rather miss the point.

The only non-white cisgender speaker for the motion to remove the Board was an African gay man who also self identifies as a drag queen.  He spoke of his history of being disowned by his family and his community, and used his examples of how being gay was better in Aotearoa than his country as a reason to dismiss the experiences of other members of the queer community.  There was only one woman who spoke to roll the board. She reiterated the same arguments.

There was one speaker who indicated she’d prefer to abstain from the vote. She supported the Board, but not their decision to exclude Police.

On the side in support of the Board and of defending victims of Police violence, speakers were a lot more varied.  Gay white males, with all the privilege afforded them as the socially acceptable pinnacle of queerdom, stood up beside women, trans and non-binary people, and those of colour who are also part of the community, to remind their supposed comrades why it isn’t appropriate for the Police to show up in force.  The arguments varied as much as the speakers did, in sharp contrast to the other side.

Charlotte — a member of the Green Party, not of PAPA — called for empathy in remembering the victims of Police  brutality. She asked those who have not experienced it to listen to the voices of those who have, including her own.  She stated that she would not be able to march in the next Parade, in fact has not been able to in the past, because of Police uniforms, as it was a trigger point in reigniting the trauma she herself has experienced.

Alexander — a real live PAPA member! — spoke very briefly about how if PAPA had been as successful in hijacking the Board as they’ve been accused of, then Police and Corrections officers wouldn’t be allowed to march at all, let alone in uniform.

Joel, who, like Charlotte, is also not a member of PAPA, spoke of the effects of traumatic experiences on the body.  He talked about how the idea of inclusion is an idea for the elite, and he shared his experiences of injustice and inadequacies within the justice system.  As a victim of sexual assault, and a high school student at the time of the Roast Busters debacle, he has seen first hand the lack of justice which can be served when it suits the justice system.  He reminded us that marginalisation of LGBT is not in the distant past — on the contrary, he pointed out, poverty, drug use, and homelessness are all still illegal, and far more likely to be experienced by people of colour and transgender members of the queer community.  He encouraged the Police to walk with us as equals, not hiding behind their uniform.

Sharon, who works with her local iwi — remarkably, another non-PAPA member! — reminded us of this country’s colonial history.  She spoke of the Police being the “tool of the Crown” in helping steal Māori territory and oppress the Tangata Whenua (“people of the land”) of Aotearoa by any and all means.  “I want to echo my people who have stood against the Crown and the Police”. She said that she hopes that someday all parties can march in solidarity, having acknowledged and resolved the wrongdoings of the past.  However, she made it clear, to the head shaking and denial of Pākehā in the room, that these wrongdoings have not ceased, nor have the wrongdoers acknowledged their part in the atrocities which have occurred.

The final speaker on the pro-Board side was Jenny.  She is an older, white, cisgender, gay woman, who, again, isn’t a member of PAPA, and who has fought for her own civil rights before even the Hero Parade was a thing.  She pointed out the obvious: that to include one group is to by necessity exclude another, and that that including Police was a “touchstone of exclusion” for many members of the rainbow community.

She came armed with facts which highlighted — at least, to those with compassion and a willingness to listen — that Police are hugely guilty of the ongoing discrimination which continues to this day.  Māori are twice as likely to be stopped by Police before a crime has even been committed; the Police’s own statistics from 2017 show that Māori are four times more likely to be arrested for the same offences as Pākehā, and eight times more likely to be treated with violence.  The Police are “enforcement arms of the state, and are still Colonial”. The police themselves have acknowledged that they have “unconscious bias”, and that they “go looking for a brown face”.

Her final message was a reminder that if we adhere to consensus, then Pākehā voices are the ones which will be heard, at the expense of Māori voices.  She wants us to “leave no-one behind” in casting our votes.

After a tense two hours of clapping, cheering, disbelief at the views expressed, and heartening empathy displayed by many in the room, votes were cast.  Half an hour of vote counting was brought to a close when the Chair announced, for all the world to hear, that the Board will stay!

The majority of people — 325 to 273 — had agreed with the Board’s decision that Police should not be marching in their uniforms of oppression.  Sorry wealthy white gays — empathy for those who still suffer at the hands of the state has won out over the wilful ignorance of those who would place Police uniforms above the voices of the marginalised.

The joyous response of the majority of the room was one I will never forget.

By Danni Wilkinson — Socialist LGBT member, nurses' union activist, and Co-Chair of Socialist Aotearoa

Socialist Aotearoa invites you to our end-of-year hui, 2018: The Return of Class Politics, where we will be hearing from Danni Wilkinson as well as Wayne Baker from Socialist LGBT, Anu Kaloti from Love Aotearoa, Hate Racism and Migrant Workers' Association, and Socialist Aotearoa organiser Elliot Crossan, about the successes of union, anti-racist, and LGBT struggles this year, why they give us hope, and what we must do to build a movement for transformational change going into the future. You can RSVP here.

When: 7pm, Thursday 13th December
Where: Unite Union, 6a Western Springs Rd, Morningside, Auckland

We would like to express our solidarity with one of our allied organisations in this dispute, People Against Prisons Aotearoa, especially given all the attacks leveled at their organisation over this.  Their website is here and their Facebook page is here if you are interested in finding out more about what they do.


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