I have deliberately tried to stay out of the debate around the Pride Parade. As someone only recently out, I didn't feel that it was my place to express a view, rightly or wrongly. Instead, I watched despairingly as an event that I held to be sacred was dragged through the headlines, smeared by one ignorant perspective after another. Finally, I couldn't take it any more.
While I agonised over voicing an opinion, Mike Hosking, Duncan Garner and Mark Richardson, among others, waded into the debate with almost gleeful abandon. Three straight, cisgender, men with some of the loudest media megaphones in the whole country proceeded to present, in my view, some of the most ignorant commentary around the issue that I've seen. Nuance, and the other side of the story, quickly evaporated.
Garner elevated the discussion to the level of calling the Pride Parade organisers "precious wee sausages", Mark Richardson pontificated about "intolerance", and Mike Hosking, veering off on a tangent, even suggested the Pride Parade wasn't necessary any more. "You can't have it both ways: being gay is either no big deal, or it is still a big deal. Given it isn't, why draw attention to it down a main street?" he said.
As I read Hosking's sermon, I wondered if he'd ever been to a Pride Parade. I first attended Pride in 2016. Back then, I was in the closet to all but my closest friends. To me, as a young woman too afraid to come out, being gay was very much a big deal. Standing in the crowd, listening to True Bliss and mesmerised by the gorgeous, glittering drag queens, I felt for the first time that maybe it was okay to be authentically myself. The atmosphere at Pride was so jubilant and loving I felt I would almost burst with happiness.
The Pride Parade holds a special place in the hearts of many of the rainbow community. As such, it is devastating to see it imploding before our eyes, with funding yanked, and participants withdrawing. But the issue beneath the media storm, which includes allegations of continued police brutality against some of the trans community, is far more nuanced than has been communicated with the public. As far as PR disasters go, this one has turned into Cirque du bloody Soleil.
I'm still formulating my views on the police uniform ban, but I strongly believe the reaction to it has been utterly blown out of proportion. The police were never uninvited from the parade, they were simply asked not to wear uniform. Instead of complying with the request, they withdrew from the parade altogether, inadvertently sending a message that they would only support the rainbow community on their own terms. The several large corporates that withdrew their funding in support of the police's stance arguably echoed the same sentiment, seeking to influence the outcome of a complicated discussion that needed to be worked through by the community itself.
The police, by their own admission, have "truckloads" of work to do. In July, Inspector Tracy Phillips, the coordinator of the New Zealand Police's diversity liaison officer service, told Stuff that as recently as 2015, when the police asked the LGBTQ+ community whether they trusted the police, "the resounding feedback was no. So that made us take a really good hard look at ourselves and say, well, what do we need to do?"
Such soul-searching within the force is admirable, but it would be naïve to imagine that any significant transformation could take place in three short years. The work that the police force is undertaking to improve its outcomes with women, Māori and the rainbow community will require long-term commitment and self reflection. The police have a troubling history with marginalised groups, and it will take time to earn their trust.
As a fair-skinned, straight-passing, cisgender woman, there are very few situations in which I would fear the police. That is an example of my privilege. All my encounters with police have been on a professional level, when I've been fortunate enough to meet officers, from constables to commissioners, who are doing important work for the New Zealand community. I support the efforts the police are making to embrace diversity within the force, and to improve their relationship with the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. But, just because my encounters with the police have been positive, I don't presume that everyone in the LGBTQ+ community feels the same way.
While it's easy to assume, particularly if you live in a major urban centre, that the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights has been won, for many in our community, the fight to be accepted is still raging. I've been lucky to experience very little homophobia, but I've still been on the receiving end of stares and glares, even in Auckland. There are people in my life who haven't been as accepting of my sexuality as I'd hoped. We've come a long way, but we still have a way to go.
Despite my own experiences, I know I'm one of the lucky ones. This was proven to me earlier this year, when my production company released a webseries on sexuality education, and we found the video about gender identity was the only one that generated backlash. The comments under the video were sobering, and as such were quickly moderated. The video on sexual identity, by contrast, flew by without a single negative comment. An enormous amount of progress has been made for the G part of the rainbow, and much for the L and B. The TQ+ part still needs our support.
Which is why it is so important for the New Zealand community as a whole to listen to our transgender whānau, particularly our Māori and Pasifika trans whānau, especially as it is their stories of encounters with the police that are often the most concerning.
Pride grew from a place of protest. As a movement, it has made many bold and, at the time, unpopular calls. Progress doesn't come easily. But this discussion deserves respect and patience. It deserves, in short, far better than it got.
• NZME, publisher of the Weekend Herald, is among about eight organisations to have withdrawn support for the Pride Parade following the ban.