The commodification of the rainbow culture has been in full force lately. The Auckland Pride Board made a decision to not allow police officers to march in uniform in the Auckland Pride Parade. The police said if they couldn't march in uniform then they wouldn't march at all. Don't be under the impression the police were banned. They were not. They were still invited to march, but in fancy or plain clothes. This was not good enough. Since then all hell has broken loose. Both from outside the LGBTQIA+ community and within it.
First off, the Pride Organisation doesn't need a reason for this ban. It's their parade. Not the sponsors', not mine, and certainly not the police's. But they still provided a reason. They said that after seven consultation meetings - yes, seven - the feeling was that the uniform of the police represented oppression and ill-treatment of members of the LGBTQIA+ community and that some of the more marginalised members of the LGBTQIA+ community felt threatened by it, particularly Māori and Pasifika members.
I'm a white, cis-gendered, hetero dude. I am the reverse of marginalised. I sit right at the top of the social hierarchy. I can't properly fathom what it means to be marginalised even at its most simple level like being a different ethnicity, or a different sex, let alone being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and then there are still marginalised groups within that marginalised group.
From my position, Pride seems to be a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community, and to give them a safe place where they can live in a way that someone in my position gets to live every day. The fight for full and equal rights is nowhere near over so events like these, while still a celebration, are also tinged with the spectre of activism.
Following the decision to ban police uniforms from the march, a number of sponsors pulled support for the parade: The Rainbow Charitable Trust, Vodafone, BNZ, ANZ, Westpac, the Defence Force, Fletchers, Sky City and NZME. NZME publish my column. I have spent the past few days trying to work out if I should quit this column in protest or write one critical of the decision. I have gone with the latter because I have this privileged platform from which to speak out, and if I quit my column, who's to say they won't just get another clone of a bunch of other columnists who may not speak out on these issues?
By pulling funding and support for an event because the police are not allowed to march in uniform, those organisations are sending a very clear message to the LGBTQIA+ community.
First off, it says that the LGBTQIA+ community is there to be commodified. Those organisations have made their support contingent on their own rules. They are not supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. They want to receive the halo effect by being seen to support it, but as soon as it gets a bit messy and tricky, as fighting for rights does, they bail. The most marginalised of a marginalised group are saying that the presence of police uniforms is concerning and threatening to them. These organisations have now made them even more marginalised; going so far as to flame internal arguments within that marginalised group. It's sickening corporate ownership of something that should be supported. If you are an ally of the community then you are an ally of the community.
The police are the law-enforcement department of the state. And the state didn't even recognise the legality of gay relationships until within my lifetime. The police have also admitted that their track record of dealing with the LGBTQIA+ community has been bad. And internationally police departments have taken it upon themselves to make the decision not to march in uniform in Pride Parades out of respect and in an effort to develop a better relationship.
This is not to say the police haven't tried to improve their treatment of minority groups. But it's Pride's parade, if they want the police to march in something other than their uniform then the police should think about respecting that. And those companies who rushed out the door as soon as this happened should have a think about their sponsorship strategies. Are they genuinely being supportive, or is it to gain currency and benefit?
To all the corporates who have pulled their sponsorship, you have shown your true colours. And they are not rainbow.
- David Cormack has worked for the Labour and Green Parties and interned for Bill English while studying