Stacey Kerapa has bitter first-hand experience of how brutal police are capable of being to Māori trans people, but the progress made over the years means that the decision to ban uniformed cops is a huge mistake, she says. Julie Hill reports.
Last year, I interviewed a group of trans women who were sex workers on Karangahape Road from the 1970s to the 1990s, in the years before legalisation. They detailed how members of Auckland Police’s vice squad had demanded sex acts from them in exchange for being allowed to work the streets.
One of them, Stacey Kerapa, who’d worked on K Road since she was 13, said giving police officers what they wanted was a way to get out of non-stop fines and arrests. She told me how a cop once pulled up to her patch in an unmarked car and raped her in the back seat.
Despite that, Kerapa is furious with the Auckland Pride board for banning police from marching in the parade in their uniforms. She said the move has “dropped an atom bomb” on to the queer community and may end up destroying decades of progress by her and others to forge a relationship with the police.
The decision sent a damaging message to members of the queer community within the police force, she said. “By taking the police uniform away from them, they’re stripping police of their pride.”
As a board member of the Hero Parade, which predated Pride, Kerapa said, “It was near impossible for us to come to any kind of agreement with police, because of those historical grievances. But over the years, attitudes have changed on both sides, and we actually saw the value of coming to work with the police and getting to know the police. They weren’t as bad as we made them out to be – but then, neither were we.”
The characterisation of racist, homophobic and transphobic violence by police has been exaggerated, she argued. “The way they’ve started acknowledging and treating trans people has done a complete 180. Before, we’d have young officers looking for early collars and early arrests, coming to pick on us on the streets. These days they take the time to find out how we are, what we’re doing.”
As a member of the Auckland Pride organisation, Kerapa said she is angry that the decision to disallow police was made without proper consultation with the base. “They didn’t even consult with the members, so I feel that my membership has been totally belittled and it means nothing.
She said she felt that the members who drove the campaign to prevent police from wearing uniforms had in effect co-opted their experiences without involving them in the dialogue. “A lot of the older Māori trans had no idea whatsoever that the meeting was on,” she said.
She said she was unimpressed by the protest approach by activists associated with the prison abolitionist organisation People Against Prisons Aotearoa.
“There have been a few encounters when they’ve been out there protesting and pushing their agendas, but they haven’t followed the guidelines of Protesting 101. They haven’t got their elders that have walked that walk showing them how to do it.”
As sponsors including the Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust, Westpac, Fletcher Building and SkyCity pulled their funding, there was a very real prospect there won’t be a Pride Parade next year. “It’s absolutely gutting,” said Kerapa. “They’re about to destroy nearly 35 years of gay progress with the police and Corrections.”
She said the board’s approach had driven a wedge into her beloved community. “Rather than see this war continue, I’d rather see it [the board] collapse and fall down around its ears, and something else be reborn from it. I believe there’s probably room for a new collective voice outside that of the Pride board.”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.