With both the Rainbow Pride Parade and the Pride March imminent, Sam Brooks looks back on the schism that led to the end of the Auckland Pride Parade.
What’s the difference between the Rainbow Pride Parade and the Pride March?
Glance at photos from the two events side by side and you might think you’re looking at the scenes from the same parade. Both take place under the sticky February Tāmaki Makaurau sun. People are waving rainbow flags, smiling and laughing. The overwhelming mood is one of celebration, joy, unity. A defiance of a traumatic history, striding into a better future.
But these are two separate events, held just weeks apart. One is the Rainbow Auckland Parade. The other is the Pride March. They have a great deal in common, of course, but they also contain crucial differences.
The Rainbow Auckland Parade is the flagship event for Rainbow Pride Auckland. Established in 2019, it is a not-for-profit organisation focused on delivering “celebratory LGBTQI+” events in Tāmaki Makaurau. They run multiple events, but the flagship is the Auckland Rainbow Parade, which marches down Ponsonby Road, the traditional route of the Auckland Pride Parade and the Hero Parade, which ran nearly annually from 1992 through to 2001, before it.
The Pride March is part of the Auckland Pride Festival programme. In its ninth year since relaunching in 2013, the festival boasts a month-long programme of events. A membership-driven incorporated charitable organisation, it holds regular community hui to ensure it is being guided by the people it’s held for. This year the festival includes more than 100 events, including its signature gatherings: the Pride Gala, the Big Gay Out and the Pride March, an explicit successor to the Gay Liberation Protest led by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku in 1972.
The most pronounced and public difference between the two groups, however, a difference that divided the community two years ago, concerns the participation of police. In only one of the photos, that of the Rainbow Pride Parade, will you see officers participating in uniform.
The police have a fraught relationship with the queer community worldwide. The very first Pride Parade, in Chicago in 1972, has its roots in the Stonewall Riots, which occurred after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York. The adage “the first brick” is a reference to Martha P Johnson, a Black trans woman who threw the first brick at Stonewall in that protest. Queer people, especially queer people of colour, have disproportionately high rates of discrimination from the police, and also from Corrections.
While NZ Police was the organisation at the centre of the split between Rainbow Pride Auckland and Auckland Pride Festival in 2018, it’s more accurate to say it was the spark that lit the match on pre-existing divisions within the community. Pride is not a monolith, it’s a many-headed hydra. The queer community is a spaghetti junction of intersections, and not one group within the community has the same priorities and values. If you’re a white cis gay man, chances are the life you’ve led will mean you have different priorities and values than a trans woman of colour, whose life and oppressions are notably, if not vastly, different. To say nothing of the other communities that fall under the rainbow umbrella.
The queer community is also one where trauma is woven into our history, and by asking someone to put aside their differences, you might be asking them to put aside their trauma and their history. Easy for some, impossible for others. What might be historical trauma for you is someone’s very real present. The issue of the police marching in uniform was a symptom of a community who are united by their queerness, but not necessarily their values, and definitely not their priorities.
That trickles down into what those communities want Pride to be and believe Pride to be. Pride may have started as a protest, but it’s current existence involves piling many, many things on top of that original purpose. Even so, as an organisation with a fraught history with the community, and one that sits very much outside the community, it’s surprising that the police became a sticking point for Pride in Tāmaki Makaurau.
The glitter bomb hit the fan at the end of 2018 when, after three months of consultation and four hui around Tāmaki Makaurau and on social media, the Auckland Pride Festival board voted six to three that the NZ Police could only participate in the Pride Parade if they didn’t march in uniform. The NZ Police had marched in the Parade for the three previous parades, despite protests from No Pride in Prisons in 2015 and 2016. However, others in the community believed the board had not consulted widely enough, and it represented a massive step backwards in the relationship between the NZ Police and the queer community. The board stressed that while they stood with officers from the queer community, they could not stand with the police as an institution.
That was November 5. Four days later, Tracey Philips, the self-appointed senior diversity coordinator for the NZ Police, commented to Stuff: “Police fought really hard to be included in Pride, and to march in uniform. We’re not prepared to go backwards and march in T-shirts, like we had to previously.” (Officers appeared in a “relaxed uniform” at the Waitangi Day commemorations in 2019, alongside uniformed officers.)
In the weeks that followed, much of the media narrative, mostly reported from outside the community, was that the Auckland Pride Festival board had been usurped by extremists and was going against the established values of the festival and the membership. Corporate sponsors withdrew from the festival, among them the Ponsonby Business Association, the Rainbow New Zealand Trust and Fletcher Building.
On December 6, a special general meeting was convened to hear a a motion of no-confidence in the board. Ahead of the SGM, Auckland Pride’s membership numbers rose rapidly, to the point where over 600 votes were cast. The votes fell thusly: 275-372 against the motion.
The biggest, most immediately visible consequence of the motion being defeated was the forming of Rainbow Pride Auckland. The new group put a stake in the ground by launching the Pride Parade, a replica of arguably the most recognisable event in the Auckland Pride Festival calendar. It would later be rebranded the Auckland Rainbow Parade. A considerable amount of the imagery and sponsors from the Pride Parade moved with them, as well as the producer of the parade, Shaughan Woodcock. The NZ Police were invited to march in uniform in the Rainbow Parade.
Auckland Pride Festival started the Auckland Pride March in 2019, with the hashtag #ourmarch attached to it. The following year, Stuff reported that 7,000 people attended. Meanwhile, according to Ponsonby News, the Auckland Rainbow Parade saw 10,000 spectators.
The schism was as painful from the inside as it was confusing from the outside. To casual observers, it looked like infighting. In the community, it was a drawing of lines. Not battle lines, but a delineation of values. During the split and in its aftermath, social media became a toxic place, for many on either side. Friendships were ended, people were harassed and comment threads seemed to be an endless stream of someone is typing.
Express, the city’s leading queer magazine, published pieces from both sides of the split. The Spinoff published an interview with Stacey Kerapa, who is currently on the board of Rainbow Pride Auckland, deriding the dissolution of what she saw as a progressive relationship between the police and the community. Commentators from outside the community waded into the mire, including blogger Martyn Bradbury and broadcaster Duncan Garner, and the issue was covered prominently on television, with lengthy pieces on Breakfast and The Story.
Two years on, I spoke to a number of people from both organisations. My questions were these: where do things stand now? Is reconciliation possible? Was this worth it?
What is immediately clear is that people remain steadfast in their views.
Michael Lett, who was secretary on the Auckland Pride Festival board at the time, maintains that the board made the correct decision. He says, “We need to purposefully bring to the forefront of all of our dialogues, voices of colour, and in particular trans and non-binary voices – and when members tells us they feel unsafe, we have to stop, and listen some more.
“Pride is about having difficult conversations. We can’t leave people behind just because there are challenges that make us feel uncomfortable. There should be a high threshold for being embraced by our communities. The bar has been set too low for too long, as if we’re grateful for any attention. Do I think that at the heart of every single police officer is a racist or homophobic person? No. But I do think that to have access to our LGBTIQ+ spaces and events, you need to work with us, and not just put a rainbow tick on it and say ‘job done’.”
On the other side of things, Matt Bagshaw, chair of Rainbow Pride Auckland, walked behind the uniformed officers, and believes the symbolism of seeing the police walking in uniform sends a powerful message to those within NZ Police. He says, “The LGBTI+ members of NZ Police that walk with us in the Rainbow Parade are proud to do so in uniform, and we celebrate that as part of our core value to deliver an inclusive parade to influence progressive societal thinking.”
Bagshaw also believes that the schism ran deeper than just the issue that sparked it. “It’s more about a community that was divided – not the two organisations. I have engaged with the Auckland Pride Festival board on a number of occasions over the last two years and we amicably co-exist.”
That co-existence is quite clear. While the assumption might be that the Pride March and Rainbow Pride Parade exist in opposition, it’s more that they serve different purposes, for people with different needs and values. Zakk d’Larte, who was on the Auckland Pride Festival board in 2018, agrees that there’s room for both. “I think the march serves a very specific part of our community. There are people who don’t want to be a part of a big corporate parade or watch it, or stand behind fences. The parade was always very much people standing behind fences and watching, and with the march, these people are involved, they’re marching. Now, this new parade services another part of the community.”
It also, inarguably, has led to a wider lens for the Auckland Pride Festival. In the years since, the number of events in the festival has ballooned, as have the communities represented in it. This year it has over 200 events and, speaking with full disclosure as a queer man of colour who had an event in the Pride Festival in 2014 and 2018, there’s a more diverse representation of people from across the queer community than I’ve ever seen. There are groups, like FAFSWAG and Coven, who I wouldn’t have imagined seeing in a Pride Festival programme back then who now sit happily within those pages.
The co-chair of Auckland Pride Festival, Kaan Hini (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Te Arawa), joined the organisation because he saw the need for indigenous representation at a governance level, and recognised that his relative privilege allowed him to enter that space more easily. “I feel we’re making great gains to open up the festival, to change what Pride traditionally means, and to encourage things like the China Pride Festival, and to encourage more Māori and Pacific creatives to build their own special place within the festival. That’s what makes Pride special here, our unique identity, our indigenous voices, and I don’t think this progress would have been possible without this split.”
Stacey Kerapa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa Tūhoe) also brings up the lack of indigeneity in the board back in 2018. Kerapa, a longtime advocate for Māori and sex workers, was a vocal opponent of the original Auckland Pride Festival board decision and is steadfast in her dedication to Rainbow Pride Auckland, where she sits on the board. She believes that, at the time, non-indigenous people were speaking to and for indigenous narratives. When you have alleged experts, or dedicated positions within boards that deal with cultural aspects, then mahia te mahi hei painga mo te iwi (do the work so the people will thrive) otirā kaua e hāngū e huna ana ngā amuamu te katoa (furthermore, do not hide and be silent address all the aspects of the issues).
The bruises of recent years have not healed. Friendships were ended over this debate. For many queer people, quite simply: our friends are our family, they’re our rock. Moreover to countless queer people, Pride is much more than an annual series of events: it is a deeply personal thing across generations, and even a festival that you’re involved with, and invested in, year round. To have your concept of Pride, and the way you practise it, questioned can be a very unpleasant experience. D’Larte says, “We were almost at a bubbling point already in this community. It just needed something to boil over and that was the root. We’re still feeling those trickles years later. Friendships that were once had are non-existent.”
Another issue here is that healing and reconciliation don’t look the same to anybody, and definitely not the queer community. One person’s decision to put differences aside is another person’s ignorance, one person addressing the past is another person holding an undue grievance. These different viewpoints stand true within these two groups as well.
Hini believes the division between the two groups does nobody any favours, and hampers the efforts of both to create lasting, meaningful progress. “A lot of the people who have supported Rainbow Pride Auckland were a huge part of rebuilding Pride after the demise of Hero, and I don’t want to brush away their work. They had a huge impact, and have done important work. But this is all how progress works. We change our perspective, we change our positions. The question for us is how do we bring them in on the journey, how do we make them feel heard, and how do we get them to hear us and find common ground.”
Cissy Rock, the chairperson of Auckland Pride Festival back in 2018, thinks the entire lens of healing and being “one” got the community to this place in the first place. “Being part of the rainbow community ties us together very loosely, not deeply.” Rock talked frequently with Bagshaw after the fallout. “What would it look like if we were working together? We met a lot, and talked a lot, and while we agree a lot, we’ve got different values and we’re standing up for different things.”
There’s that one blue sticking point, though. At the Auckland Pride Festival AGM last year, the membership voted that they will not have a relationship with NZ Police. The membership wanted to see the police act in good faith before continuing to engage, they said. The NZ Police provided a brief comment for this story through its media spokesperson: “Police have previously met with Auckland Pride and we remain open to continuing this in the future. We participate in a number of community events every year at the invitation of local groups as part of our wider community engagement. Police is open to meeting any group that may wish to discuss any issues, including our Rainbow communities.”
Bagshaw can’t think of a way that Auckland Pride Festival and Rainbow Pride Auckland can collaborate to produce a “fully inclusive Pride Parade” while the police are excluded. “There’s a journey ahead and both Auckland Pride Festival and Rainbow Pride Auckland share the same goal, I am sure. For now we respectfully co-exist but I do hope for something to evolve, and that’s really up to Auckland Pride’s membership to decide.”
The debate isn’t over, the lines are still there as strong as ever. This past weekend, Corrections withdrew from Big Gay Out after Ending HIV, the naming sponsor of the event, said that members of the community had told them they felt unsafe with Corrections staff being in attendance. A few days ago, the Aids Foundation pulled out of attending Rainbow Pride Auckland, due to a lack of interest in registrations from their volunteers. As long as disagreements within the community exist around this issue, so will the debate. With a community this varied, it’s unlikely that any resolution will come quickly.
One thing is clear: Pride is happening in Tāmaki Makaurau. There are more people participating in Pride than ever, and the queer umbrella is opening ever wider to cover more of our marginalised communities, as it always has and always should do. Some of us wear big wigs, some of us hold protest signs.
Auckland Pride Festival has the Pride March, still scheduled for February 27. Rainbow Pride Auckland has the Pride Parade, postponed from February 20 to March 13.
You’ll still only see the cops participating at one of them. That line was drawn in in blue, but today it feels less like a line and more like a scar.