Politics at Pride, not police!

Pride is political again! All wings of the LGBTQ community seem to be in agreement on that. Calls to put debates to one side and delegate decisions to a “board” or to common sense are gone, replaced with hui in which the issue of cops at our parade can be discussed in lively detail. Not all is perfect. Far from it; one Māori woman prominent in PAPA was spat on by a member of the pro-police contingent, a frightening reminder of just how close behind civil debate outright violence can be. But we should take heart! Whereas three years ago it was lamented that protests lead by NPIP (now PAPA) were making Pride political, now our relationship to the police is opened up as a topic for acknowledged debate. People have to pick sides. Spiralling out of these arguments come questions regarding the nature of both corporations and the military.

Capitalist power isn’t facing the guillotine yet, but court is in session. What then, is the prosecution saying?

It is with this acknowledgement of the contradictory interests in our society that we should enter into the current discussion unfolding within Auckland’s queer community. The International Socialists absolutely stand behind the Pride Board’s decision not to allow the police to marching in the Pride Parade in police uniform. This decision came as a result of seven hui held priorly to consult with the community and an official vote (which passed) to hold the police accountable for its increasing violence against marginalised peoples, particularly Māori, for whom the rate of police brutality (as relayed in the Tactical operations research reports) has risen from 7 times that of Pākehā in 2014 to 7.7 times in 2017 along with the fact that misconduct allegations have increased across the board by 21% on 2017. The idea that the police “diversifying” will give rise to less violence on their part fails entirely to take account of what happens in the real world. This all occurs in tandem with a culture of misogynistic, homophobic and racist violence that is endemic to all the different wings of the criminal injustice system.

The seven hui and the subsequent vote within the pride board culminated in a community hui that happened on the 18th of November. There were around 250 people there, a lot more than expected. The atmosphere within the Hui was electric, with the room split in half over the decision. The first half hour saw democratic conversation nearly impossible with heckling ruling over minor points of process, let alone the arguments being put forth by critics of the police force. Slowly however things calmed down to a point where dialogue of a fashion was possible, specifics were clarified (i.e that the police aren’t banned they simply can’t go in uniform) and the litany of police violence in Aotearoa was conveyed very effectively – largely by left-wing activists who have been involved in this struggle from the very first Pride protests

It is no secret that the Board’s decision is disliked by many vocal members of the LGBTQ community. Some claim that relationships with the police can be healed; some suggest that statistics around police violence are being embellished; others want to put it about that it is a minority of ‘wreckers’ who have pushed this decision. The reality of the democratic process the Board went through puts paid to this old myth of the ‘outside agitator’. This kind of conception of our situation is not only ahistorical but misapprehends the role of State forces like the Police Force in a class society borne into existence by colonial imposition.

The Police’s relationship to the oppressed is fundamentally one of reproducing oppression. The police emerged in Aotearoa not because of apolitical need to maintain order in society – Māori had successfully done that for years and years before colonisation without anything as horrifying as police – but because of a political imperative on the part of colonising capitalists to take land from Māori and ensure the correct structures were in place for profitability. Moreover, the wins made by the LGBTQ community over decades have been won only through political struggle against deeply embedded social structures. And those are social structures which the police enforce, often with violence. Think, for example, of raids on gay bars, entrapment of men cruising for sex, historical – and contemporary – harassment of those who dress and act outside of what are socially accepted gender ‘norms’.

We have never won anything by being polite to the powers that be. Every struggle is painted as “wrecking” and completely unfeasible while its being fought and then as soon as it attains a goal its goal is portrayed as the natural outcome of social progress. The history of fighting is swept under the rug of collective memory. Only by pulling contradictions in our society to the foreground can we change the world. And in this instance the contradiction is a deeply material one. It is not simply a problem to do with conflictig ideas about the type of festial Pride should be, but a question of the structure and distribution of power in our society. There is no “good police force” we are one day hoping for who can then happily march alongside us. Because the police as an institution exist – like all state institutions – to claim to play an impartial role in conflicts whilst in reality coming down on the side of what is “normal”. And in a homophobic and transphobic society what is “normal” is violence against LGBTQ people.

The position of police in society is clearly demonstrated by one of the most brazen displays of open class warfare in quite a while following the most recent Pride Board Hui. At the time of writing BNZ, Westpac, Vodafone, The NZDF, The Ponsonby Business Association, The Rainbow New Zealand charitable trust, Fletcher Building, Skycity and NZME have withdrawn their support and funding from the Pride Parade, closing ranks around the police force. MPs are lining up to denounce the Pride Board. In the course of this seemingly small crisis, the ruling class institutions of our country have shown not only that they have never really cared about queer liberation but are also holding the Queer community to ransom against the most piecemeal of actions to hold the police force to account. This reprehensible action reveals the real relationships that underlie the veneer of democracy in Aotearoa, a relationship of capitalists being able to move information and money against upswells from within the proletariat. Except for the PBA and the Rainbow trust, all of the corporate sponsors that have withdrawn at this point are affiliated to the Rainbow Tick. It serves as a LGBTIQ+ consultancy and certification service to businesses of their status as ‘inclusive’ and LGBTIQ+ friendly whilst selling the idea to businesses that inclusive practices “serve the bottom line”.

“The state is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel” argues Engels this contradiction is – in part – between the oppresed and the oppresors and in every instance we stand loudly and firmly on the side of the oppressed.