The tail end of 2018 witnessed fiery debate over the future direction of Auckland Pride. A year later, Jade Winterburn reflects on the developments since then and what that means for the future of Pride.
There has never been a moment where I was prouder to be queer than during this year’s OurMarch – a community-focussed participatory event happening the wake of the collapse of the corporatized Pride Parade. At least three thousand beautiful people, of every background, wearing every colour, flooded Queen street with queer excellence. There were no spectators, merely participants and bewildered bystanders. Brands were few and far between. Instead, we were out in force as friends, communities, activist groups and queer-led support services.
No PR person could have tapped into the energy we brought with us. We were being excellent and we did not need permission. We had a message: We’re here, we’re queer, give transgender people acceptable healthcare already! (Cheers to everyone involved with Gender Minorities Aotearoa, as always.) The Auckland Pride Board and the Auckland queer community together made pride into something where we could celebrate ourselves and at the same time push for a better, more accepting supporting society.
Point is, if OurPride 2019 had been controversial, you wouldn’t have known it on the day. Everything came together. There was even a whole surprise concert waiting for us at Myers Park, featuring beloved local musicians such as Whaea and the Rumble. Despite resignations, harassment, sponsor withdrawals, explosive hui, a failed vote of no confidence and dozens of misinformed screeds on how the festival was supposedly doomed, we did alright.
Auckland Pride 2020 looks set to capitalize on what made this year so special. At the launch party this past Sunday a number of announcements were made that have me confident that OurPride will deliver the Pride.
The first reason I’m so optimistic about OurPride is the leadership. Cissy Rock has continued in the role of Chairperson, bringing her unshakeable commitment and aptitude for community-building to Pride once again. Max Tweedie has assumed the mantle of Director of Pride. Tweedie recognizes both the party and the politics of pride, or as he puts it “celebration but also liberation.” Both leaders recognize the potential the platform of Pride has to challenge transphobia and homophobia while still celebrating LGBTI+ people. Without so much of the energy of those behind Auckland Pride being spent on putting out fires, these passionate individuals have had the chance to thoroughly execute on the vision developed for OurPride.
OurMarch remains the big showstopper, but with a slight change. The post-march festivities have been named OurParty, and Auckland Live is providing support for the event. There will be two stages for performers and a continued emphasis on highlighting local queer talent. It makes for a far warmer, queerer vibe than the NZ Police and Defence Forces marching bands that set the tone on previous year’s parades.
The Auckland Pride Gala, which could not be organized last year, is returning to Q Theatre as OurGala. OurGala has had a change of dress code: from black tie to “queer excellence.” The Pride Board are also working to keep ticket prices down, which I really appreciate as a scrappy youth who has never been able to afford tickets that cost as much as two avocado toasts.
Like this year, there will be a series of Pride events outside of the central city under the banner of Proud Centres. These events have an understated importance. They’re a chance to bring together more localised queer groups, rather than always having to head to central for some community. In Auckland it can feel like being different, looking different, is okay so long as you’re within so many kilometres of Karangahape Road. Displaying our identities becomes more dangerous sometime during the bus home after a night out. Announced so far is the return of the Queen of the South competition for South Auckland drag artists, and as yet unannounced events will be scattered across the suburbs. Auckland Pride are also eager for people to submit their own local events too.
The New Zealand Aids Foundation and Ending HIV’s partnership with Auckland Pride has produced the Pride Hauora Series. This initiative specifically provides funding for free events that promote wellbeing in the queer community. There’s going to be a lot for them to sponsor, judging from this year’s catalogue of free events. This kind of sponsorship could support groups like BreakingBoundaries, which usually rely on koha to fund the free events they put on throughout the year. While I’m no stranger to the bars and booze that characterize much of the queer experience, it’s hugely meaningful to be able to connect to people in my community outside of that. Events like potlucks, open mics, or yoga allow us to share space and connect to one another. Groups like BreakingBoundaries would be able to put this money to good use.
The unexpected announcement of a partnership with Spark was particularly welcome news. The Pride and Spark Empowerment Initiative will provide mentors, workshops and funding for community members wanting to put together their own Pride events. Resources can be a real hurdle for queer initiatives. For reference, the Counting Ourselves report found that the median income bracket for abled transgender people was $15,001‒$20,000. Furthermore, having put on plenty of events myself, this stuff is difficult. The Empowerment Initiative’s mentoring and workshop programs will undoubtedly help would-be event organizers take the step from throwing private events to contributing meaningfully to the Pride festival.
To some, partnership with a large company might seem like a contradiction of OurPride’s community-led, community-oriented values. Pride used to be very corporatized, a big chance for brands to appeal to the spending power of LGBTI+ community and cisgender heterosexual people with progressive values. Late 2018, after much community consultation, the Auckland Pride Board requested that police who were participating in the parade not wear their uniforms out of respect for the historic and ongoing police violence against marginalized communities. Instead of wearing T-shirts, having already run a T-shirt design contest, the NZ Police and the NZ Defence Forces completely withdrew, followed by most sponsors. This forced a complete reorganization of the parade as a political event.
Through this, Spark was one of the only companies that remained involved in Pride, even participating in OurMarch with a banner carried by proud employees. This partnership demonstrates the crucial difference between what pride is now compared to what it used to be. Pride is no longer a way for marketing departments to maximize their marketing dollars by an association with gay people that starts and ends in February.
To be a part of Pride, a company has to support LGBTI+ people for the whole year, and has to support our political action even when the cause is controversial. The Spark representative hit the nail on the head when he said “we’re really proud of how our partnerships aren’t just one way.” Spark absolutely get something as a brand from a partnership with Pride Auckland, but the point is that the brand image and exposure companies get must come as a consequence of genuine support of LGBTIQA+ people and issues.
Incidentally, it turns out the Rainbow-Tick approved companies that withdrew their smoke-and-mirrors manufactured support for Auckland Pride were not very safe workplaces for LGBTIQA+ people in the first place. Spark, by contrast, has a healthy internal queer network called Proud@Spark.
LGBTI+ people are often talked about as though we are one community. This means two things. Sometimes by
the community” we mean LGBTI+ as one big family that supports each other. That community does not exist except in the particular times and places we put effort into making it exist. That’s the celebration part of it, a chance to foster some whakawhanaungatanga. We need that kind of community because of the other way in which we are a community: We face related challenges and have the same political obstacles to overcome, so we ought to tackle issues together.
A big part of what Pride does is bringing us together so a queer community exists at all, rather than many small disparate communities that happen to be full of queer people. Because of that, it has been easy for those involved in what it used to be to look around, see themselves and say, “that’s it, we’re the queer community.” It’s an understandable mistake to make, I’ve made it myself before and I’ll probably make that mistake again. What OurPride represents is the conscious desire to recognise the LGBTI+ people who have struggled to find their place in Pride until now. As Cissy Rock, chair of Auckland Pride, says: “Communities have got to be at the heart of what we do.”
Note: Queer is a word that can have different meanings to different people. In this piece, I have used the term as a positive descriptor for people who are not cisgender, not exclusively heterosexual, or both.
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