Five years on, the 2019 pride parade that wasn’t.

As the 2024 parade prepares to head up Ponsonby Road, I thought it timely to reflect on the incident that preceded the 2019 pride parade here in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland. Or rather, the lack of a 2019 parade. Many I speak with have strong feelings about what went down towards the end of 2018, and, with my summer reading, including several books on queer history, I can’t help but think we have again failed to preserve and convey our shared histories. Five rather challenging years later, I have been thinking about what, if anything, we have learned about the expression and celebration of our identities and the changing nature of rainbow communities.

Recalling the incident

The incident relates to a decision by the Auckland Pride Festival Board not to allow the police to march in uniform in the 2019 parade. Previous parades saw protests over the presence of police and increasing vocalisation of the parade’s role as pinkwashing for government agencies and corporations who did little else to uphold the rights of rainbow people. Protest at a pride parade was nothing new in Auckland and elsewhere worldwide. What was new was a decision to ask a government agency to ‘dress down’ and in the process, offer proactive, rather than reactive, deference to the protestors of previous years and other voices.

A swift reaction

Reaction to the decision was swift. Police said they would not be marching if they couldn’t march in uniform. Rapid conversations were held amongst staff rainbow networks across other public sector agencies, with many deciding to withdraw in support of their uniformed colleagues.

The reaction was equally swift from corporates and their rainbow staff networks. Most withdrew their participation and, with it, the primary source of funds to hold the parade on Ponsonby Road. The parade was no longer viable, but with a long history of a festival of events beyond the parade, the Auckland Festival Pride Board turned their attention to a slimmed-down 2019 festival that included the birth of the Pride March.

Fallout

The incident was far from over, however. Several members and founders of the Auckland Pride Festival organisation submitted a vote of no confidence in the Board, triggering the constitutional requirements to hold a Special General Meeting (SGM). The organisation’s membership swelled from a few hundred to over one thousand overnight, and the logistical nightmare of organising an SGM within loosely defined rules and under high scrutiny began.

The SGM was tense. Held in the Methodist Church on Pitt St, it added a slightly surreal quality, with hundreds of fired-up rainbow people filling the traditional wooden pews. A few were seated near the front, brandishing fists full of purple proxy ballot forms. An outside expert, who wrote the book on meeting procedure apparently, was brought in to chair the meeting.

As I write this, other details come back to me—many more than a few paragraphs can do justice. However, in the end, the motion failed to pass by a sufficient margin that all accepted the result. The Board of the Auckland Pride Festival remained in place. The following months saw the founding of Rainbow Pride (Whakahīhī) Auckland for the express purpose of returning a parade to Tāmaki Makaurau, and, in March 2020, the newly established organisation held their first parade down Ponsonby Road.

A personal reflection

I worked alongside the Auckland Pride Board during the incident, being appointed to the Board as treasurer later in 2019. I observed the Board make a careful and considered decision in asking the police not to march in uniform, attempting to balance the progress made by police with the live, systemic issues many in our rainbow communities still experience. I would have supported the decision had I been appointed to the board then.

I also had first-hand experience of the incident as part of the rainbow staff network at Auckland DHB. Whether they knew I was also in the employ of the Auckland Pride Festival, I’m not sure, but I did sit in on the hui where the Auckland DHB rainbow staff network decided they would not participate in the 2019 parade. It was clear to me how proud many were to work as public servants, work in a uniform that identified them as such, and be able to bring their rainbow identities into the workplace. The decision was consistent with the values of the rainbow staff network.

Five years on

In early 2024, where do the rainbow communities of Tāmaki Makaurau find themselves? The Auckland Pride Festival has evolved from a modest community festival into a much larger arts festival, with a significant focus on profiling Māori and Pacific artists. Rainbow Pride (Whakahīhī) has grown yearly, and the Ponsonby Road parade is again featured within the Auckland Pride Festival calendar of events. Has the personal and community toll of the incident been relegated to inconvenient history?

While the incident created a lot of division and upset within the community, I think it also brought the conversation about what pride is and who it is for out into the open. It created space for a rainbow parade (Rainbow Pride Auckland) and the pride march (Auckland Pride Festival) to emerge and complement one another. It helped shift the conversation from community to communities and highlight the changing expectations of those of us who are part of them.

Healing is still needed

Yet, there is still healing to do five years on. People were spat on, verbally abused, horrible things written online and more that were not ok. However, few spaces exist for this healing and shared understanding across our communities. Intergenerationally, there are few structures and institutions in rainbow communities where knowledge is handed down, like happens within whānau, schools, workplaces, church, and on a marae.

Rainbow communities in Aotearoa have a phenonium of being streamed by age. Many of the largest rainbow community organisations in Aotearoa are dominated and led by Millennials and Gen Z. With the Boomer and X generations largely absent, it is easy to understand why lessons from, and deemed relevant to, the AIDS crisis are missing from these spaces. We need not delve into generational stereotypes to identify the need for opportunities to get to know one another and share knowledge and wisdom.

Conclusion

5-years on, much remains unaddressed from the incident of late 2018 in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland rainbow communities. Our annual events have moved on and grown, yet opportunities for us to come together intergenerationally remain sparse. In my next blog post, I draw on other examples to unpack this topic more and look at how we can heal and build understanding between our generations of rainbow communities.


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