COMMENT

Next weekend, the Pride Parade was meant to snake its sparkly way through Ponsonby. Instead, tonight a march of who knows how many will proceed up Queen St.

It's been billed as a "march of togetherness", taking place in a location that won't "alienate" some members of the community. But is it really a "march of togetherness" when we've never before felt so far apart?

Will the central city – the home of big business, government buildings, the police station, the courts and expensive real estate – feel more welcoming to the queer community than the similarly expensive, though somewhat more eclectic streets of Ponsonby?

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Who will actually turn up? Will the media reports be filled with more division and dissent, giving those outside our community who rejoice at our ridicule even more reason to laugh at our expense?

I know I'm not the only member of the rainbow community to feel devastated about the loss of the Pride Parade. The debate that erupted at the end of last year was an important one, and one we should've been able to have maturely. Instead, it turned into a wrecking ball, causing damage that will likely take many years to repair.

Though I'm deeply sad that there will be no glittering, shimmering parade this year, I feel most sorry for those in our community who have yet to come out. While the parade has been dismissed as a frivolous, commercial, unrepresentative spectacle hosted in an elite and supposedly unwelcoming suburb, I remember just how much it meant to me when I was young, afraid, ashamed and closeted. Standing in the crowd watching people of all backgrounds and identities, and organisations of all stripes proudly marching before me, I felt that I'd found an important part of myself. I felt like the rainbow community was reaching out with open arms to welcome me. I felt like it would – somehow – be okay.

The parade had a bit of everything. There were sequins, feathers, fishnets, and towering high heels. There were tino rangatiratanga flags. There were Māori, Pākehā, trans, cis, non-binary, gay, straight, old, young and all other kinds of people. There were families with small children. There was a protest. There were politicians, activists and businesspeople. Everyone was welcome.

Though the parade of old certainly could be (and was) accused of being a honey trap for corporates performatively exhibiting their diversity and inclusion policies (and brazenly soliciting the pink dollar), to me it was a show of legitimacy. To the remaining homophobes, transphobes and other bigots still among us, it loudly declared that the rainbow communities had the support of business, Government, and organisations of all shapes and sizes. It told the prejudiced and narrow-minded that it was them, and not us, who should be ashamed.

In case you doubt the relevance of that message, just a few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I stood hand-in-hand at an intersection one evening, waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green. I kissed her lightly, and a young woman behind us shrieked, "oh my God, lesbians!" We froze, stunned, as she continued her tirade. "Maybe we should take them home with us… A blonde and a brunette… hot!" she said suggestively to her male partner, dissolving into laughter.

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Neither of us are shrinking violets. We're both articulate, confident women, who are perfectly capable of standing up for ourselves, and yet we were rendered speechless. I eventually managed to quietly say, "it's really not funny," as the young woman cackled. Her partner gave me a mortified look, and made half-hearted attempts to shut her down, but the woman's laughter and taunting continued until the light finally turned green and we were able to escape her.

There were other onlookers near us, but no one said anything. Our love was turned into a kind of circus act. If we'd been a man and a woman, that very tame kiss would've been entirely unremarkable. We still have a long way to go.

After the debacle surrounding the Pride Parade, that distance seems to have stretched even further. Our communities have become more fractured, as friends have found themselves at odds, and our divisions have been almost gleefully dissected by those on the other side of the rainbow. The ignorant, reckless abandon with which some straight media figures have waded into this debate has been staggering.

It feels like a bomb has gone off in our backyard and an audience has gathered, watching us gingerly sort through the wreckage while they munch their popcorn.

For the record, I supported the request of the Pride Board for the police to wear T-shirts rather than uniform while marching in the Pride Parade. I still believe that the police have dramatically overreacted, and done an enormous disservice to the LGBTQ+ communities through their show of "our way or no way" force. I was disgusted by the corporate blackmail that followed, as companies showed their true (non-rainbow) colours, effectively suggesting to the community that they'll support us but only on their terms. But I grieve that we've lost the Pride Parade as a result.

It should never have come to this. There are many shareholders in the blame game. The Pride Board, the police, certain media figures, the fair weather friend corporates… none of the parties are innocent. Between them, they facilitated the collapse of an iconic event, renewed denigration of the trans community, ridicule of the wider rainbow community and a spate of in-fighting so ugly that the scars will likely endure for years to come.

As a result, I'm struggling to feel proud this Pride. I won't be marching in the "march of togetherness" tonight. It feels like a bandaid trying to staunch the bleeding from a deep, gaping wound. I wish the attendees all the best, but to me, such an outcome is a cautionary tale of how to turn a festival into a wake.