Article by Emilie & No Pride in Prisons concerning events at Auckland Pride 2015, reprinted from GayNZ.
Trigger warning: Rape mention.
I: ON THE EVENTS OF PRIDE 2015
Earlier this year, Auckland Pride Festival Incorporated (Pride Inc.) permitted the New Zealand Police Force and Department of Corrections to march their members in uniform and on horseback in our parade. The New Zealand Police Force engage in structurally racist policing practices, as does the Department of Corrections – from apprehension to conviction to sentencing, they institutionally discriminate against Māori. Most sickeningly, the Department of Corrections forces many trans women to serve their sentences in men’s prisons, where they are at extreme risk of sexual violence. They refused an Official Information Act request so we have no idea how many trans women they are subjecting to this treatment. We are not even allowed to know for sure what steps they take to protect trans women from sexual violence during their incarceration, but every indication seems to be that they simply put us into ‘protective’ solitary confinement for extended periods of time – a practice defined by the United Nations as torture. By every metric, these institutions are shamefully discriminatory ones – the Department of Corrections in particular were keeping Wellington trans woman Jade Follett in a men’s prison during the period the parade took place.
Pride Inc. did not only allow employees of these institutions to march in the parade – certainly, those individuals have the right to be proud of themselves as queers and march – but by inviting these institutions to march their employees en masse and in uniform, Pride Inc. used our parade to explicitly endorse these institutionally discriminatory organisations. This was a cynical hijacking of our parade, intended to celebrate our communities’ acceptance of a society which wants us dead or worse, to cosy up to repressive state apparatuses who only serve the needs of a white, middle class, cisgender clique. None of us have anything in common with these people, nor they with us. All they want is a position of power and comfort from which they can sell out our parade, our resistance, our community. Pride Inc. exist to sell us out to whichever bank or political entity will pay up, be they labour abusers like ANZ or apartheid terror states like Israel. Pride should be worth more than that.
This year a number of our members nonviolently impeded the Police Force as they marched in pride of place in our parade and I, the only visibly Māori and trans member of the group, was assaulted by a member of Pride Inc.’s security, who broke my arm and hospitalised me for days. (For the record – it was a broken arm, not a hairline fracture). This is the price of addressing Pride Inc.’s hypocrisy. This is what Pride Inc. values. Marginalised queers need to stay in the margins, or we will be forced there with violence. This is what Pride Inc. has made our parade into – an opportunity not to challenge the powers which destroy us and celebrate our victories over them, but to regurgitate their PR and participate in their marketing.
We are not proud of our racist cops. We are not proud of our torturing jailers. We are ashamed of them, we are ashamed that they marched in our parade – we have no faith in Pride Inc. and no pride in prisons.
II: IN THE AFTERMATH
Neither Pride Inc. nor the closely affiliated Gay Auckland Business Association (GABA), responded with anything but denial. The president of GABA can be seen in footage of my assault harassing me and trying to destroy another protester’s cellphone footage. They exploited the chaos immediately after the parade to pass off everything as unconfirmed rumours, even after the reality of my injury came to light. They have consistently refused to communicate with No Pride In Prisons in any manner more comprehensive or sensitive than publicly casting us as troublemakers, even fabricating details of No Pride In Prisons protesters assaulting parade-goers. The police were similarly more invested in making it clear that it was security who broke my arm than in taking any action to apprehend the man who had just dragged me by the hair and broke my arm in front of dozens of uniformed police officers. Four months later and I’ve still yet to hear anything from the investigation which the police promised.
GABA in particular were very hostile. Their refusal to be held accountable by the community extended so far as to include blocking all persons under 21 from engaging with them on Facebook – a striking decision from an organization which funds scholarships for school-leaving youth, their recipients including at least one member of No Pride In Prisons.
The public reaction on social media was much the same. Myself and No Pride In Prisons were incessantly attacked by members of the community. Some sent rape and death threats. Is this what we, as a community, want around our pride events? Rape threats and broken bones for young women sick of prison violence against queers and glory for the government departments who facilitate it? Are Māori queers and queer prisoners to be less welcome in Pride than their jailers?
When they incorporated themselves, Pride Inc. also opted to sever all of their obligations to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi. This is extremely worrying, and extremely telling. When a majority-Pākehā organisation takes steps to explicitly exclude itself from accountability to Māori members of the community which it claims to be representing, we are at risk of being further disenfranchised. Just as your queerness is precious to you, so are Māori experiences of sexuality and gender precious to us. These traditions were almost lost to us during colonisation, just as our language was almost almost lost. Like te reo Māori, the Treaty of Waitangi promises Māori the right to retain our precious cultural practices – including the uniquely Māori traditions of takatāpui. Any organisation purporting to be representing queers must accept the responsibility to work in partnership with takatāpui – not the tokenising, disrespectful, ultimately violent disregard Pride Inc. has shown us.
III: WHAT IS TO BE DONE
Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the increasing commercialisation and corporatisation of Pride, wherein businesses and organisations with a financial stake in Pride events come to be prioritised over those most marginalised members of queer communities. No Pride in Prisons’ original message was that the first Pride at Stonewall Inn was a riot, against the police, and that this legacy has been appropriated and erased by the subsequent Pride movement. What we saw at the 2015 Auckland Pride Festival was precisely this trend. We saw the visibility and prioritisation of corporations, oppressive institutions, banks, those members of Tāmaki Makaurau’s queer community who least need the movement, and the violent exclusion of anyone who objected.
The fact that the body running the Auckland Pride Festival now exists as an incorporated society, rather than a charity, means that those organising the Festival have a vested financial interest in the events. It also means that Pride Inc. creates the rules which govern its conduct. Pride Inc. is capable of evading accountability for its conduct and decisions to a far greater extent than it could as a public charity. In light of the events at Auckland Pride Festival 2015, this should worry the queer community.
No Pride in Prisons believes that when Auckland Pride Festival broke the arm of a protester, police neglected to allow her immediate treatment, and known Pride Inc. officials responded to the protest with disdain and vitriol, Pride Inc. lost its mandate to hold Pride events. Pride Inc. has proven its inability and unwillingness to listen to members of the community it professes to serve. As a group, they no longer represent us; indeed, they never did.
The time has well passed for them to be removed and allow for us to build something new; something better.
- 7 Thoughts on Pride and the act of Protesting, Kassie Hartendorp