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Political Roundup: Police, Pride and prejudice

By Bryce Edwards.

Dr Bryce Edwards.

“All liberation movements fall apart and devolve into factionalism” suggested Kim Hill yesterday in her RNZ interview with Pride festival board chairperson Cissy Rock. Although expressed in rather a negative way, Hill’s statement is one of the clearest observations of the current meltdown in the LGBTQ+ community over whether uniformed police should be allowed to march in the annual Auckland Pride parade. 

You can listen to the fascinating 23-minute encounter here: Cissy Rock – Pride Parade wrangle. The interview, which is sometimes terse and difficult, is a useful discussion of the colourful contemporary politics of identity, gender and sexuality that is part of the culture war tearing the queer community apart.

Of course if this current schism in the LGBTQ+ community proves anything, it’s that there really is no “queer community”. Instead there are broadly (at least) two different queer communities: a radical one and a mainstream one. And increasingly, it seems, the two sides can no longer be contained in one movement, let alone one Pride event.

The anti-police faction is championing a more anti-Establishment movement of protest, activism and an anti-authority ethos. This approach has a strong history in a movement that has had to fight in countries like New Zealand against a status quo that was opposed to their very existence.

The pro-police faction of the queer community now generally works alongside, as well as within, Establishment institutions such as the police, the armed forces, and corporations. After many important victories and a profound shift in public opinion, this element of the struggle has taken on a more politically mainstream character. This has meant that gay pride events have also gradually become less overtly political, and more mainstream.

These two radical and mainstream “factions” have always been there, but what’s changed is that it’s now simply proving too difficult to bridge these two sides together anymore. This has best been acknowledged by Green MP Jan Logie who says that the Pride board that organises the parade is making huge efforts to “hold together our communities, which have very different histories and realities” – see Jason Walls’ PM Jacinda Ardern says the Pride Parade is ‘at its best when it’s an inclusive event’.

The same article quotes other politicians expressing their disappointment and dismay about the Police and other institutions no longer participating in Auckland Pride. But should we be surprised about this major division in the queer community? Arguably, not.

A couple of weeks ago, when the issue first became public, I argued that the notion of a unified queer movement is akin to the idea that Māori form an homogenous group. As the Māori Party discovered, Māori as a putative political force actually can’t be easily contained in one political party: “The Māori Party was a lesson in this – it sought to represent Māori as some sort of homogenous voting group, but the contradictions of its support base meant that it broke apart (most notably with the more radical Hone Harawira departing)”

Likewise, there are very different political views and realities in the queer community, and these reflect the different demographics involved – see: The Schism in the LGBTQ+ movement over police (paywalled).

The evolution of sexual and gender progress in terms of civil rights and societal acceptance means that the whole basis of the “queer community” has changed. With important victories being achieved, the Pride march, for example, has come to reflect the mainstream majority of queers. It’s become a celebration rather than an activist event.

Politicians from all sides of the political spectrum now participate in Pride events, and large companies have become sponsors. The military, police, and prison officers have attended – increasingly in their uniforms. As part of the pride scene, now, there are rainbow coloured police cars and ANZ’s “GAYTMs” for withdrawing cash.

Not everyone in the queer community has welcomed this evolution. The more radical activists have been uncomfortable with the idea that “diversity” means banks, police, and other authority figures getting a place in their parade. For such radicals, these “oppressive” institutions are engaging in “pinkwashing” – in which institutions or corporations are seen as attempting to win over citizens and customers with superficial marketing.

There are other ways of thinking about the dispute. The Southland Times sees it as less about ingrained ideological differences in the movement, and more about the occasional problems of bureaucracy and democracy in all institutions – see: A momentarily pallid rainbow.

Here’s the editorial’s main point about the “whole shemozzle”: “Perhaps the Pride community is no more immune to eddies of disagreement, personality clashes, mishandled meetings, oldsters and youngsters exasperating each other, than the rest of us. In which case we’re seeing nothing much more than it being their turn to screw up, as malfunctioning committees are prone to do. Maybe, as one wag has noted, it’s just the case that the committee needs diversity training.”

The mainstream voices

To get a perspective on why many in the LGBTQ+ community are frustrated by the exclusion of the police from Pride, see Aziz Al-Sa’afin’s opinion piece: The not-so-inclusive Pride Parade. In this, Al-Sa’afin explains why he’s boycotting the parade. He complains about the radicals that are now organising the event: “They do not speak for me. They do not speak for my friends. And, quite frankly, they do not speak for the entire LGBTQI community.”

Also strongly opposed to the ban on the police, Levi Joule, a former editor of New Zealand LGBT publication Express, has hit out at the radicals: “Those views are outdated and out of touch with the vast majority of our community who pay taxes, raise children and have careers. The LGBT community is colourful and includes people from a range of political perspectives, religions and ethnicities” – see: Let uniformed LGBT police parade their Pride.

Joule makes it clear that the positions of the two sides are rather intractable: “it appears a small group with extremist agendas are once again dictating to the rest of the community who can and cannot participate in our parade and festival, regardless of what the overwhelming majority of LGBT people want. Similarly, a small group had prison officers banned from the 2017 parade, attempted to forcibly disrupt the Israeli embassy from marching in the 2014 parade and have asked for a number of corporations they don’t like to also be excluded.”

Mainstream allies are also putting the spotlight on the radicals in the movement, arguing that they are extremists – see, for example, David Farrar’s blogpost, So how extreme are PAPA? He argues, “The banning of the Police wearing uniforms at the Auckland Pride Parade has come about due to capture by an activist group called People Against Prisons Aotearoa. Now their agenda is not just banning of Police uniforms at the Pride Parade. They are at what is basically the lunatic end of the political spectrum. Don’t take my word for it. Read their manifesto.”

A number of international mainstream figures are being asked to comment on the dispute – see Aroha Awarau’s Rupert Everett on Auckland Pride Board’s police uniform ban: ‘We can’t pretend they don’t exist’.

It’s possible that although police might not march in the Pride parade, there may be a protest fancy-dress “police” force participating in February – see: Facebook group set up to ‘Attend Pride Parade dressed as a policeman!’ in wake of ban.

The radical voices

With a large number of the corporate sponsors pulling out of the Pride parade, ActionStation organiser Laura O’Connell Rapira has launched a crowdfunding campaign to replace lost business sponsorship – see Amy Williams’ Crowdfunding for Auckland Pride parade raises $3000 overnight. The money raised now totals about $16,000.

And along with Kassie Hartendorp, O’Connell Rapira has explained the opposition to Police marching in uniform: “Police uniforms represent oppression and violence to many rainbow folk and people of colour. Because the history of police toward rainbow folk and people of colour is violent. In the 1940s and 50s, it was still legal for gay men to be sentenced to whipping, flogging and hard labour” – see: Police and Pride: We need to heal our relationships first.

There are a number of leftwing activists in the radical camp, and activist Eva Allan has explained their strong differences with the more mainstream faction: “At the core of the current dispute is a failure of the privileged within the LGBT community to compromise in order to allow wider participation in what should be a more open, less pinkwashed Pride Parade. This is a continuation of the old politics of respectability, where wealthy LGBT people largely ignored the plight of the less well off in the community” – see: No Pride In the Police.

Laura O’Connell Rapira has also penned a political poem that nicely encapsulates the radical view – see: Brown bodies and blue uniforms.

Overseas allies are also being pulled in to give support for the radical position – see Mandy Te’s RuPaul’s Drag Race star films video in support of Auckland Pride Parade’s uniform ban.

There’s a serious ethnicity component to opposition to police involvement in Pride. Waikato University’s Leonie Pihama has outlined her problems with the police and justice system that are relevant to the decision to exclude the police – see her blogpost, A day in Twitter-Verse.

Pihama argues that many police efforts to be more sensitive to her community are just superficial: “Painting a rainbow on a car does not make that a different kind of Police diversity car, it is still a car that Takatāpui and LGBTIQ are placed into for arrest. Just like painting koru and the word “Pirihimana” on a Police car does not make it a ‘Māori-friendly’ car, it remains a Police Car.”

Finally, veteran leftwing commentator Chris Trotter has come out in support of the radicals, and he explains how “the rainbow community turned out to be so conservative” and says there’s a need to make more progress on the civil rights of those at the sharper end of current discrimination – the “trans community” – see: The Perils of inclusion.