By Marc Inzon
I sat down to talk with a couple of No Pride In Prison (NPIP) members as they tried to get a respite from their scrum with the police. One of them tells me “pride has historically been a protest and to deny protest for the rights of queer and trans people where it began in New Zealand is ridiculous.” Behind us, we hear more chants of ‘The police are violent, we won’t be silenced.’ Another round of pushing shoving with the police had begun while the pride parade carried on.
The people I was talking to are members of the No Pride in Prisons movement who, moments earlier, were involved in a pushing match with the police as they try to interfere in the Pride Rally. This is but their latest action in getting the word out of the plight of queer and trans prisoners and to protest the inclusion of uniformed police and Corrections officers in the Pride parade. Their goal was to interfere with the parade and let their grievances be heard by pushing back into this fight for basic human rights.
Their grievances stems from the Māori population are vastly over-represented in the prison population. Prison is hell on earth, but worse for the LGBTQ community whose basic human rights in prison are simply thrown out the window. Horrible tales of sexual abuse, harassment, and rape ripple through the crowd on K’Road.
“We took the actions we did in order to condemn the Auckland Pride Board’s decision to include violent, racist and transmisogynist institutions in its parade for the second year in a row,” says No Pride in Prisons spokesperson, Emilie Rākete.
“Given recent reports of racist police brutality and Corrections’ announcement to extend its ‘double-bunking’ policy, it is disgraceful that the Auckland Pride Board decided to include Corrections and police in the Pride Parade.”
“Corrections’ policies directly contribute to physical and sexual violence against trans and queer prisoners.”
We marched towards the pride parade a couple of hundred metres away. As the group turned on Ponsonby road, the police scrambled to take their formations to block us from moving further. Their chants got louder as they got closer to the parade, partly to fight the loud music of the parade itself but also to let their voices be heard by the already gathering crowd of onlookers behind the police. The police held their ground after being driven back a few metres by the protesters.
The length of Ponsonby road was barricaded by steel fences. The protesters ran through the cops, some of them were thrown back by the police but most of them managed to make another front near the centre of the parade. The protesters would be stuck here for a while as the police sent wave after wave of reinforcements towards us.
Police use their formation to hide the message on the No Pride in Prisons banner which simply reads ‘support trans prisoners’.
This entire time, several pride rally floats have already moved past the line of protesters staging their defiant stand against the police on the middle of the road. Their chants resumed, and louder this time, as the float for the police started making its way past them. But the most cruel irony of this whole event is how the police started violently forcing them out of the road while Amnesty International was moving through. The irony of it all was not lost on everyone there. Shouts of shame towards the police caught both the attention of the people around us, and the Amnesty people. A wave of frustration, disappointment, and outright disgust at what had just happened rippled through us.
There were no arrests made that day, after last year’s protests where security broke a protester’s arm. It would ruin the police’s attempt at this PR stunt to arrest LGBTQ activists during the Pride Parade. Disappointment and anger was palpable in the protesters all the way through the end, where the once proud history of pride as a symbol for Queer and Trans liberation has now become a cynical PR stunt for Judith Collins and her Corrections force.
By engaging in civil disobedience and protesting what Pride has become No Pride In Prisons have shown the true character of the modern Pride parade, with Judith Collins leading corrections in their march, the young Nats marching behind the AIDS remembrance float, Amnesty walking straight past protesters being shoved by the police. Those who were at the march have now become aware of this massive miscarriage of justice and human rights. Every person who asked about the protest came out of it with a profound appreciation of what they are trying to achieve.
NPIP was just a few activists last year horrified at the Corrections treatment of trans prisoners. It has grown significantly since then, with branches in other cities and they hope to achieve more in the future. I think their grassroots movement will only grow stronger in time. When people wake up to the almost satirical level of irony in a police force that espouses diversity in a pride parade but routinely denies rights to transgender prisoners, they will learn this whole system is a joke.