Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has always been an enthusiastic supporter of and participant in Auckland's annual Pride Parade. This year, however, she seems inclined to give the controversial "new-look" event a swerve.
Last week, the organisers of the Pride Festival finally announced what they have planned for next month's festivities, with the customary central event – the Pride Parade – taking a much smaller role in the week. And although the event is being promoted as being more political in nature, it seems likely that many political people and politicians will be actively avoiding it.
Jacinda Ardern did her best to keep out of the controversy last year over whether uniformed police could march in the parade, saying simply that she believed the experience was "at its best when it's an inclusive event". But she seems unlikely to attend herself, telling the Express magazine that "We haven't set the schedule for 2019. I am hoping to participate in Pride week in some form" – see her interview: Mother of the nation: Express talks to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Ardern made a highly-diplomatic statement to the magazine that is, no doubt, designed to carefully appeal to both sides of the dispute about police involvement in the parade: "I would be happy to see a time when Pride Parade organisers feel happy to include them… For me, the Pride parade is a celebration of diversity and equality for all. It's also rightly been a place where history – how far we've come and what work still needs to be done – has been acknowledged too."
The magazine reports that Ardern is unlikely to attend this year's pride parade: "when asked if she would be participating in 2019's scaled down march, she appears less determined to be involved with this year's effort". Furthermore, in a move reminiscent of John Key avoiding Waitangi for Waitangi Day, the Prime Minister appears to be getting around the problem by "removing her gaze from purely being focused on Auckland Pride and looking to support celebrations around the country."
The "new-look" pride parade was announced on Thursday as an "inclusive" walk replacing the previous celebration. The organisers who have, controversially, banned police from marching in uniform, have come up with a very different event to the traditional one after some confusion about whether the event would even take place, and whether it would be a celebration or protest march.
Many of the details are still unannounced, but the organisers have made the key decision to shift the event from Ponsonby to downtown Auckland. According to Melanie Earley, "The walk will take place on February 9, beginning at Albert Park in the central city and ending at Myers Park" with organisers explaining that "although the parade was traditionally held in Ponsonby many Pride members felt alienated from the suburb" – see: Auckland Pride Board reincarnates parade as walk.
Ponsonby is viewed by some as too mainstream and affluent. Hence, "The decision was intended to encourage all members of the rainbow communities to feel safe and included in the event." Significantly, the traditional backers of the Parade, the Ponsonby Business Association, had withdrawn their support for the event in light of the ban on police.
The new walking event is being promoted as more engaged with the queer community than corporates, and generally being more "edgy". Auckland Pride board's Zakk d'Larté has said the focus would be on getting people to participate, as it would be "less of a spectacle, with floats, for people to watch from the sidelines". And as well as being "queer, rainbow, beautiful and gayer than ever" the organisers say "It's going to be a grassroots-led parade".
But will there actually be much participation? Given the radical change in orientation of the event, together with the loss of corporate sponsorship, and the controversy over uniformed police being banned, some are predicting that it will be a flop. For instance, blogger Martyn Bradbury predicts that the walk "will be poorly attended and media coverage will be deeply negative." He says that this "could all have a terrible backlash", as many in the queer community and supportive public might be alienated by the organisers' actions.
Bradbury has derided the organisers as producing an event for a liberal, politically correct elite rather than for everyday people. In one blogpost, he reflects: "so this is what woke politics leads to, a walk for pride with the Green caucus, half a dozen reporters from The Spinoff covering it and a handful of Action Station activists from Wellington coming up in a bus? This could be the first pride parade in history that actually goes backwards!" He sees "an enormous boycott of the event" taking place.
In fact, broadcaster Duncan Garner has called on the queer community to boycott the event. In an interview last month with Rainbow NZ chair Gresham Bradley (who said there had been a "political takeover" of the Pride Parade), Garner claimed that the current organisers retained their positions through undemocratic means – see: 'Farcical stitch-up': Calls to boycott Auckland Pride parade after board wins vote.
In another blow to the new-look parade, it was reported last week that the Auckland Council is forbidding its staff from attending in anything that might identify them as council employees – essentially a different sort of "uniform ban" – see Express' news report: Auckland Council employees not to participate in official capacity at pride march.
Here's the key part: "Auckland Council employees have been told they will not be participating in the February 9th March in any official capacity. Auckland Council employees have been told the Council will not be participating in next month's Pride march which has replaced the traditional parade. Council employees are still able to participate but it must be in a private capacity with no council logos to be displayed."
The same article also confirms that the parade is no longer being funded by the Auckland Council: "The news follows Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) pulling their funding for the event as the new format of a 'march' did not meet Auckland Pride's previously agreed outcomes with the council authority."
It seems that the overall Pride Festival still has official Council support, but the new-look parade is now officially separate from the week of celebrations. On the Auckland Pride website all references to the parade have been removed, and when the Pride Festival publicity was released on Thursday, it contained nothing about what is usually the main event.
A separate coordinator has now also been hired for the new-look parade – former Green Party activist, Richard Green. Additionally, following ongoing resignations, the board has now been through the employment of two organisers for the main festival, and a third has just been hired – see Express' Auckland Pride appoint new festival coordinator – the second in less than a month.
The Auckland Pride organising board has clearly been through a difficult time. But in December they survived an attempt to get them removed by a vote of no confidence. Discussing this, the board chair, Cissy Rock, told TVNZ Breakfast that the backlash on the police-ban had been stronger than she had expected: "I expected it to have repercussions but I didn't think it was going to be like wildfire through the whole community" – see 1News' After surviving coup, Auckland Pride Board chair remains defiant on police uniform ban, corporate backlash.
The same news item also gives the views of an opponent, Stacey Kerapa, who had previously been on the board organising the Hero Parade, and had worked as a sex worker and transgender advocate for decades.
Her experiences and opinions are also covered well in a very interesting article by Julie Hill: 'They're about to destroy nearly 35 years of gay progress with the police'. According to this, "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".
Other members of the queer community have also been vehement in their condemnation of what's happened to the Pride Parade. For the most furious, see Levi Joule's How extremists hijacked the Auckland Pride board, railroaded a community and demolished our parade. And for a more unity-orientated critique of what has happened, see Michael Stevens' Representing a real rainbow.
There have also been plenty of activists standing up for the new-look parade and the right of organisers to ban police. For example, PR professional David Cormack has written about the "commodification of the rainbow culture" and "sickening corporate ownership" which has attempted to pressure the organisers not to ban the police – see: The price of Pride.
And for a sympathetic account of the background to the decision to ban uniformed police from the march, see Sarah Murphy's Pride and police: The history, issues and decisions behind the debate.
She emphasises that this is about long-existing issues coming to the surface of the queer community, including: racism, transphobia, safety concerns, and "pinkwashing". She points out that much of the debate has excluded young generations in the movement, "with those speaking out generally being older community members and people who are accustomed to having a platform".
Finally, for one of the best accounts of the whole controversy, see last month's 20-minute TVNZ item, The Story with John Campbell: The Pride Divide.