24 Nov 2018

Cissy Rock - Pride parade wrangle

From Saturday Morning, 9:06 am on 24 November 2018

The question of whether police can wear their uniforms in Auckland's Pride Parade next year has caused a huge row.

Some sponsors and supporters have withdrawn because of the ban on uniforms - most with the rainbow tick indicating the organisation is a welcoming place for people with diverse gender identity and sexual orientation.

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Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Cissy Rock is the president of the Auckland Pride Board and talks to Kim Hill about what's behind the move and the current state of the discussion.

KH: How is it going? Are you sticking with the uniform ban?

CR: We're sticking with the idea that there are voices that haven't been heard and we're not leaving anyone behind.

KH: Let's not be mealy-mouthed Cissy, are you sticking with the uniform ban?

CR: Yes, we are.

KH: And there is nothing that would make you change your mind, no matter how much sponsorship you lose?

CR: The sponsorship is not a big issue for us …

KH: How are you going to pay for the pride parade and the pride festival?

CR: We've already got a Givealittle page going, the community are really rallying around …

KH: You need over $100,000 right?

CR: Yes if we're going to do a parade like it's been done in the last couple of years.

KH: How else would you do it?

We could have a smaller, grass roots parade, more community involvement.

KH: A smaller parade would seem to be a backward step, don't you think?

CR: Well it all depends who we think is stepping backwards. What I'm interested in and I think what the board's interested in is voices within our community that haven't felt visible and haven't felt like they've been able to identify with Pride.

And they are all saying 'hey, you know what? I've never marched in Pride but if we're going to get one that's really community-based, that's really about our values I think I want to be in it'.

So who knows what might happen?

KH: Is this the trans community you're talking about?

CR: It's not just the trans community, it's a broad range actually, there's many colours in the rainbow and I would say that young people, people with disabilities, trans people, women, people of colour, Māori, poor people are all saying 'you know, we want this to be about us as well'.

KH: Good Lord, if all those people had a vote about what the parade would look like it would be impossible to have a parade right?

Cissy Rock

Cissy Rock Photo: supplied

CR: We are, as a board, trying to take a pretty middle ground.

There's big group of people saying we don't feel comfortable with the institution of the police, and I think that's important distinction to make. 

I've not heard anyone say anything about rainbow police people, we want them to be able to be visible, we understand how hard it's been for them to internally fight for their struggle, right, to wear their uniforms in their own institution, but as an institution in 2018 there's truckloads to still be done and we're saying 'well what can we do that's a middle ground'?

We've asked you to speak up, you've spoken up were not going to ignore your voices. What about if we look what's happening internationally? A lot police are not wearing uniforms as a nod to understanding that there's still more work to be done and showing that they care. And we thought that this could be a way forward.

KH: But it wasn't.

CR: Well, no, it hasn't been a way forward ….

KH: And it turns out that the reason it's not a way forward is because of a minority of people ... the spokesperson seems to be Emmy Rākate from a group which wants to abolish all prisons.

CR: That has been one of the voices.

KH: What are the other voices?

CR: At our community hui there were a lot of middle aged women, maybe even elders, standing up and remembering the work they'd done as Pākehā treaty workers, there were a lot of young cis gay men who were speaking up and saying 'if it's not about all of us, it's about none of us'.

You know, these might be small voices but they are negatively impacted and that's what we're about.

We're about making sure that there is space for everyone at the table.

Members of the Deaf Rainbow LGBT group take a mid-parade selfie.

Members of the Deaf Rainbow LGBT group take a mid-parade selfie. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

KH: Your online material says "the Auckland Pride Festival and parade would not be possible without the support of our family of loyal sponsors and proud partners" - you no longer have that support.

CR: Well, it might not be possible in the current form but there might be sponsors out there …

KH You want sponsors to step into the places where all those big corporates have gone? Ponsonby Business Association you've lost, Rainbow New Zealand Trust. You want people to step up and replace them?

CR: People who want to be alongside us with the values that we hold, I think there's room for that.

KH: I don't think you can have your cake and eat it too because simultaneously you have said the Pride Parade is so much more than its corporate sponsors and government institutions. Do you think that the way it's been means that it has not been so much more than its corporate sponsors or government institutions and you need to go back to basics?

CR: I think there is a community feeling that has happened at our broader meetings that we've had - we had a lot of community hui, not ones focused on the police but just talking about the relationship with Pride - where there's been a lot of concern that we've gone too far into the sort of corporate PR and marketing.

And, not enough visibility of queer people were certainly a lot of the conversations happening.

These are difficult conversations to have, because people have different opinions ...

KH: It's almost like all liberation movements - if you regard the gay liberation movement as one - fall apart and devolve into factionalism. Is this what's happening here?

CR: I guess it's seeming like people are taking sides rather than looking at having conversations and different opinions.

KH: You know people are taking sides, you've seen the social media, you've see the online stuff - it's outraged.

CR: Yeah I've felt it, I've felt that stuff.

KH: Are things falling apart Cissy?

CR: It's kind of a regrouping. I could think that, I could say 'oh, it's all falling apart', but I am so heartened by all the people in the community that are rallying around and then are saying 'this is an opportunity for us rebirth Pride, to reclaim Pride'.

KH: Who wants to reclaim it? That's the question?

CR: A whole group of people in the community that work every day inside queer communities. Young people, people who haven't felt like their voices have been at the table and I think that it's fair to say inside our community, there's a hierarchy. That's the same as in mainstream society: there's a group of people at the top.

KH: How long have you been involved in the Pride Parade?

CR: I have been chairperson since the AGM in July, but before that I've been involved off and on over the six years that it's been operating.

KH: At what point did you decide that police in uniforms was not appropriate?

CR: That was a very recent decision...

KH: But you said that you made that decision to ban police in uniform based on your principles 'and I can't see my principles changing' you said. So what? You just discovered principles?

CR: No the principles I was referring to are the principles around wanting to make sure that marginalised voices are heard.

I didn't feel like I could hold a hui, I facilitated at that hui, asked people to express themselves, to hear that pain, the pain that even police in the room were saying 'I'm embarrassed I feel like I need to apologise for what I've heard' and then ignore them. That was the principle.

And the board, too, we all felt 'hey we've heard these voices and can't say thank you very much we'll do something about that in the future'. We felt like we needed to make a small token, a gesture that would show we are wanting to move forward with everyone.

KH: Why is it a token gesture to, as Georgina Beyer put it, to 'shove the police back in the closet'? You've got a whole lot of LGBTQI officers who,as Georgina Beyer put it, 'fought so hard for the right to wear their uniform in the pride Parade' and you're saying 'nah, it's no good now'.

CR: I really feel for those officers and that's why we'd really like to sit down at the table with them ...

KH: But you've sat down at the table with the police for months and months and months and you've got nowhere. What are you going to say to those officers?

CR: 'Hey, what would it take? How can we get back at the table? What will it look like? We don't want to stamp on your mana, we are looking for some way that you as individuals can still be visible but your institution that you are working for doesn't get free PR as if it's a fantastic institution - when clearly it's not.'

KH: But everybody gets PR, I'm reading from your publicity "The 2019 Auckland Pride Festival and Parade offers a range of sponsorship opportunities that can be customised to achieve your organisation's specific marketing objectives". Now, are you entirely in favour of the big banks? Maybe next year the big banks will be ruled out should they ever front up again as a consequence of the furore.

CR: Well, they've ruled themselves out.

KH: Well, that's arguable.

CR: I think my role as chairperson is to try and find balance to try and find a way forward and try really hard to listen and not be argumentative and I'm open to sit at the table with anyone to find ways forward.

We all want a Pride …

KH: You're not happy to sit down at the table and allow the police to wear their uniform and yet you were happy to have NZDF wear their uniform.

CR: This decision was made after the police had made an application, the Defence Force haven't made an application yet.

KH: Well they won't make an application because they've decided that if you won't let the police go in their uniforms, then they're not joining in either.

CR: Yeah and I guess that the police are quite firm aren't they? It's just, like, 'uniform or nothing' and we just hoping there could be some room to move.

KH: It would feel like a retrograde step to them right? They have embraced the Pride parade, they've been marching in their uniforms for the last four years, and all of a sudden they have to be un-uniformed. How would they see that? Put yourself in their position.

CR: I really do feel that discomfort, and I guess hurt and pain that you would feel when you've fought for something hard won and then feel like it's taken away from you, but I've got to keep a bigger picture in mind that's around the whole community and the police as an institution and who it's not serving, and we can't leave people behind.

KH: When it comes to the increasingly sliced and diced identity politics that we're looking at now, is there a bigger picture? Because I'm looking at my texts and they are saying 'for heaven's sake the police have been our friends as much as our enemies'. There is no 'abolish the police' mood here - let them take part, in their uniforms. This is what people are saying to me: so much talk of inclusiveness, but we exclude police in uniform.

CR: Are we prepared to put the police in uniform above other voices?

Are we saying that's more important, that it's okay for us to have the police in uniform because that makes us feel more comfortable than it is for us to hear about people who have experienced humiliating episodes with the police - who are withdrawing, who are feeling isolated?

KH: How many of them Cissy? Because at some point in time, painful as it is, the majority must rule, and judging by the response at your meetings and judging by social media and judging by the response I'm looking at here, a majority of people who are LGBTIQA are saying 'let the police march in uniform', and you've been overtaken by radicals.

CR: I find it so hard to understand why a community that has often been the minority voice is all of a sudden getting into this idea of the majority voice, and I don't think that we've been overtaken by radicals, there's no surprise element here.

We've been very transparent as a board the whole time about what we're doing - inviting people to take part in the conversations, and now people are very engaged. I guess it's a very positive thing that we've got huge membership that's very engaged and they are letting us know that they are not happy, and more and more people are also letting us know that they like the fact that the small amount of influence that we had, we've used to allow their voices to be amplified.

And that is one of the purposes of our organisation, it's actually in our constitution to give voice to members of the rainbow communities that are fighting for respect and equality and championing the elimination of discrimination of rainbow communities

KH: A texter has said 'would you prefer that clergy not wear clerical uniforms should they still want to support the Pride parade'?

CR: The thing is that the police as an institution have a different kind of power, don't they? They are a state institution that has power …

KH: Well, exactly as people have described the institution of religion or various churches. You're dancing on the head of a pin, the point of the question of course is 'who else would you want to exclude?'

CR: I don't really want to exclude anyone. I think this is the point - suddenly inclusion …….

KH: All right who else would you want to disrobe, as it were?

CR: I don't want to disrobe anyone.

KH: You want to disrobe the police.

CR: We as a board are saying - and we have community voices saying - as an institution ….

KH: What you're saying to the police is 'you should be ashamed of being police, we will only accept you if you downgrade your membership of the police force'.

CR: I thought what we were saying to the police was we're really pleased that the police have made all these changes and we don't want to cut you out of our parade - but we want you to be able to see that for everyone in our community, it's not a safe place.

Would you be willing to make a nod to them and say 'yes, we care, we understand what you're saying, by our own admission we've got a long way to go … let's all be in this parade together.

Kimberley Loeffen, Kay Kirkland & Maddie O'Mara marched with AUT (and yes Maddie's rainbow mohawk is her real hair, not a wig!)

Kimberley Loeffen, Kay Kirkland & Maddie O'Mara marched with AUT (and yes Maddie's rainbow mohawk is her real hair, not a wig!) Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

KH: With no identifying factors?

CR: I don't want to tell them what to wear.

KH: Yeah!

CR: They did a big competition on Facebook for a pride T-shirt. They could be wearing a T-shirt, could be wearing fancy clothes. I would like the police, and particularly our rainbow police and us to get around a table and work out a way forward.

KH: I feel like things have unravelled too far, what do you think?

CR: No, I'm still hopeful that there is …..

KH: But you're, with all due respect … how can I put this politely?

CR: Polyanna?

KH: No, 'old school lesbian' is what I was going to say. You can call yourself Polyanna, darling, but 'old school lesbian' - and these days, with the Ts and Is and the As it's just too hard - it's like herding cats.

CR: I think that this sort of radical lesbian feminist identity which I have had, I've realised now - and this is something that I've seen, a really changing face in our community-  and that's around that intersectionality where we are looking like being lesbian but also Māori, or with disability.

And this group of people that are getting behind the board and saying 'thank you' are made up of a huge different amount … including some old school lesbians, but also some young queer people and everyone in between.

KH: Someone has said 'I suppose those who are pro police marching in uniform are loud cis men', is that fair?

CR:I think at the top of the hierarchy, and there are a lot of white cis men, gay men in very powerful positions in our community and we've felt that.

KH: And finally Cissy, where would the Village People be without uniforms?

CR:This is so true!

KH: How are you going to get yourself out of this? Because I think people have put too much on the line to back down at all.

CR: I'm going to put my faith in relationships and in the power of the collective. I'm hopeful that whatever happens we have got an engaged group of people who are facing some of the issues that have been bubbling under the surface in our community for quite some time.

KH: Is your board all of them same opinion?

CR: No, we're not all of the same opinion, we have differing opinion - but we made a decision and we are working through that using the process of our constitution.

We have an SGM. If our membership says to us 'you're not doing what we want', we will respectfully step down, we're not here to fight our own community

KH: And intersectionality is something you're going to have to live with?

CR: I think intersectionality is a really powerful way to look at privilege and power dynamics.

KH: I'm not sure you can organise a parade with it though.

CR: We'll see, I'm still hopeful we'll be able to have a celebration of what it means to be queer in Auckland in 2019.