COMMENT:

As the Auckland Pride Festival ends this weekend, not with its usual parade, I'm reminded of something that happened in Sydney in 2016. I was there to cover the 38th Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade for

Express

magazine.

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It was the most significant Mardi Gras since the first in 1978, a humble protest demanding the decriminalisation of homosexuality. A day earlier, the New South Wales police had formally apologised for their brutality in shutting down that first Mardi Gras, which resulted in the participants being beaten up, charged and thrown in jail.

Following the arrests, the 78ers as they came to be known, had their names published on the front page of a local newspaper, many lost their jobs, homes, were shunned by loved ones and in some cases, even had to leave the country.

At the 2016 pre-parade press conference, I asked one 78er how he felt about the police participating in that year's event given all he had suffered. I'll never forget his response. With tears in his eyes he told me how proud he felt. "Isn't this the biggest sign of progress? They used to beat us up, now they want to march alongside us."

What began as a protest is now the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a celebration of the LGBT community, of our progress, of our achievements, of the right to be who we are, love whom we want and the values of inclusion and diversity.

Auckland Pride (or its precursor Hero) has never been marred by police brutality, which at first glance made the current board's new-found fixation on banning uniformed police all the more bizarre.

What became clear as the Pride fiasco rolled on late last year however, was that the board's police ban was about more than just removing uniformed cops from the parade.

They knew the backlash that was coming, but they also knew it was their chance to radically alter an entire festival to fulfil their own fringe ideological agenda. They didn't want a celebration, of love, inclusion and diversity. Pride for this group is not about any of that, instead, it is about conflict and clinging to a marginalised identity regardless of the hard-fought progress that we have made.

Tragically, they have missed the very essence of what is means to have pride. Defined as "confidence and self-respect as expressed by members of a group, typically one that has been socially marginalised, on the basis of their shared identity, culture, and experience." As the reckless decision to ban uniformed police ripped the community apart, it was clear early on that Auckland Pride 2019 would not be echoing that mantra.

There has never been a better time to be LGBT in New Zealand, but to the Pride board that was not worthy of celebrating. This year's "walk" was a protest, yet it was unclear exactly what they were protesting.

Gone was the parade down Ponsonby Road with the glitter, sparkling lights and oiled up bodies. Gone also was the crowd. From 30,000 in attendance, including the Prime Minister, major corporations and the Defence Force in 2018 — to 2019 with no Labour or National party representation, no corporates, no major community organisations.

Instead we were served up a CBD "walk" between two parks with placards, banners and megaphones and a mere 3000 (a generous estimate) attendees. Looking through the list of groups attending, it was barely distinguishable from an anti-TPPA protest.

There is no denying there's a vocal minority who want this sort of grievance walk, but the pitiful number of attendees clearly indicate that was not the majority wish of the community.

As Sydney gears up for another diverse and inclusive Mardi Gras parade and festival focused on celebration with an expected 300,000 attendees, it's hard not to feel sad at what Auckland's LGBT community has lost.

• Levi Joule is a former editor of New Zealand LGBT publication Express. He was the inaugural Auckland University Student's Association queer rights officer and lives in Sydney.