The Auckland, New Zealand police and Auckland Pride, an LGBTQ support organization, were unable to come to an agreement about police marching in the Pride parade. They did, however, produce one of the most oblique, passive, and ultimately pointless media releases ever posted. This is what happens when you’re not sure what to say, but you have to say it anyway.
There is a PR strategy that goes like this: if you have nothing to report about a controversial issue, say it as confusingly as possibly. But with the level of bullshit currently washing over all of us every day, I can’t endorse that philosophy. So, Auckland Pride, as much as I want to understand your desire to include every possible kind of person except uniformed police in your march, I’m afraid I can’t endorse your press release.
Instead, I will deconstruct it.
MEDIA RELEASE, 15 November 2018
POLICE AND AUCKLAND PRIDE MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER
Commentary: As you’ll see, this title is the exact opposite of what actually happened. The two groups aren’t moving forward, and they’re not together.
Translation: POLICE AND AUCKLAND PRIDE REACH EQUITABLE IMPASSE
Last week, New Zealand Police was advised by the Board of Auckland Pride that a decision had been made that Police officers were welcome to participate in the 2019 Auckland Pride Parade, but would not be able to march in uniform.
Commentary: Here’s a tip: if you read two stacked passives in the lede of piece of prose, someone is trying to hide something. Try the zombies test: The Police was (were?) advised by zombies that the decision had been made by zombies. Yup, painstakingly passive. And while some passives are benign, this one isn’t — Pride is (are?) clearly trying to evade responsibility for making a controversial decision. Speaking in the passive voice about yourself is always an act of evasion.
Translation: The Board of Auckland Pride told the New Zealand Police that they could march in the 2019 Auckland Pride Parade, but not in uniform.
The Board came to this decision following its annual series of consultation meetings, during which members of our rainbow communities had come forward with feedback about the presence of Police. The visibility of the Police uniform, in particular, had made them feel less safe about participating in the Auckland Pride Parade.
Issues and concerns relating to New Zealand Police were raised again and again throughout a series of four Auckland Pride Community Hui that were held across Tāmaki Makaurau during August. Complaints about Police consistently outnumbered feedback about any other institution or organisation.
Commentary: I always like learning a new word. In New Zealand, a hui is a Māori word for a community gathering. I guess in other parts of the world we would call it a committee meeting. Also, in this passage, notice the vague use of “less safe,” “issues and concerns,” and “again and again.” These people are afraid. Also, note the passive constructions that don’t indicate who is raising issues.
Translation: Some of us are afraid of police.
A special Hot Topic Hui was organised for October, so the Board could hear more views from our communities on the place of New Zealand Police within Auckland Pride.
The personal experiences of Police mistreatment shared by LGBTQIA+ people throughout this lengthy consultation process were deeply affecting. The Board could not ignore them.
Translation: Police have mistreated some of us. Hearing about this made the Board cry.
The Board’s decision to ask Police to march in the 2019 Auckland Pride Parade, out of uniform, was a compromise. The intention was to encourage all people within our rainbow communities to feel safe and included within their own event – without having to exclude our valued LGBTQIA+ Police officers.
New Zealand Police subsequently decided to exclude its own people, because they could not wear a uniform that was causing LGBTQIA+ people and communities to feel unwelcome at an LGBTQIA+ event. Auckland Pride values people over uniforms.
Commentary: Have you ever seen a Pride parade? People wear every imaginable costume. It’s about being yourself, as flamboyantly as possible. Apparently, the only costume you can’t wear is a New Zealand Police uniform. “Auckland Pride values people over uniforms” is a nice slogan, but what does it mean? In Pride, how you look reflects who you feel you are. Also: can the police actually ban their officers from marching on their own time, out of uniform? That seems strange. Notice that the Pride explains the police decision with the active voice — “New Zealand Police . . . decided” as opposed to its own decision with a passive — “a decision had been made.”
Translation: We won’t let police march in their uniforms. As a result, New Zealand Police won’t allow its police to march at all.
Auckland Pride’s major public event, the Parade along Ponsonby Road is first and foremost a celebration of and for Tāmaki Makaurau’s rainbow communities – which includes people identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, takatāpui, whakawāhine, tangata ira tāne, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, akava’ine, māhū, vaka sa lewa lewa, rae rae, fiafifine, fakafifine, palopa, kathoey, hijra, baklâ, genderfluid, genderqueer, pansexual, asexual, queer and questioning.
Commentary: I’d love to tell you what all those new words mean, but I’m not a Māori speaker. Takatāpui refers to, basically, all queer Māori. I think we can look at this list and say, basically, they’re trying to be as inclusive as possible.
Translation: At Auckland Pride, we celebrate every possible kind of person.
Following the Board’s decision, and subsequent Police decision, both organisations have been engaged in ongoing dialogue, and have expressed a commitment to work alongside each other in order to build safer communities together.
Police staff, including Diversity Liaison Officers (DLO’s), will still be engaging with the 2019 Parade in an operational capacity. For a list of rainbow-friendly DLO contacts, please visit: www.police.govt.nz/dlos
Auckland Pride has offered to facilitate opportunities for non-uniformed Police officers to march in the 2019 Parade with local rainbow community groups and other participating organisations.
Auckland Pride will continue to work with New Zealand Police towards an equitable partnership and long-term plan in which both organisations can move forward together to explore solutions to the issues and concerns that have been raised, and to support healing and reconciliation.
The Board of Auckland Pride wishes to acknowledge New Zealand Police for their willingness to work alongside rainbow communities towards upholding the rights and dignity of all people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identities, gender expressions and sex characteristics living in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Commentary: This is a list of things that are still working. On the one hand, it’s great that there are some kind and tolerant words here, and that apparently the Police and Pride can get along on some important things, like protecting people during the Parade. On the other hand, when you have to list the stuff that’s still working, it tells us that there’s a lot that’s not. What are “engaging” and “facilitiating” — they’re very vague — and why are they repeated in this set of statements?
Translation: We’re still talking. The Police will still be helping with the Parade. Thank you to the Police for treating us as human beings.
The Board apologises to our rainbow communities for any distress that may have been caused by this decision, and our lack of communication over the past week. The Board had agreed to work on a joint statement with Police, and remained silent out of respect for this process.
Commentary: A non-apology for a non-statement with a non-reason.
Translation: We couldn’t figure out what to say together, so we didn’t say anything for a while. That worried some people.
Thank you to all those who engaged in the intervening debate in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Auckland Pride’s objective is to create safe spaces for our communities and to discuss the issues that are important to them.
The Board invites people who wish to talk about the Police decision to attend a special Auckland Pride Community Hui, facilitated by Tim Foote, at the Grey Lynn Community Centre this Sunday 18 November, commencing at 7.30pm.
Translation: Come talk about what we didn’t decide and what happened.
A personal note
I don’t know anything about incidents of police mistreatment of LGBTQ people in New Zealand. I can only assume that there must be some, because clearly people are upset. I don’t wish to be insensitive to queer people anywhere. I know they face bias, prejudice, and sometimes violence, and that is a terrible thing.
I do know that “safe spaces” are a very difficult concept, and this release makes that vividly clear. What are you allowed to do at Pride? I know, for example, that queer “nuns” are a big part of San Francisco Pride, and that I’m sure they offend some Catholics. It’s very hard to see how you could organize an event in which everyone is allowed to express themselves however they want, so long as they don’t offend anyone else. All costumes are uniforms, all uniforms are symbols, and all symbols offend people.
I think this is at the root of the dispute about Pride in New Zealand, because the police uniforms are symbols, and the people in Pride see them as symbols that make them extremely uncomfortable, most likely based on past history. And I understand that. I can certainly imagine some other uniforms whose symbolism would offend many people in Pride. But to the police who are supporters of Pride, I’m sure that the uniforms are proud symbols of their desire to keep everyone safe, including LGBTQ people. (I mean, even the Village People include a uniformed policeman.)
So this is a very hard problem for which there is no good solution, filled with fear on all sides.
Even in these hard situations, I believe in the power of language to create clarity.
In this case, I think the Pride folks needed to state, and stand behind, their perspective that police uniforms don’t belong in the Parade. And I think that the police need to be clearer about why they won’t allow officers to march on their own time, out of uniform.
I hope that as these two communities keep “engaging,” that they can find solutions that don’t require passive evasions about who they are and what they are doing. Because as long as they keep veering away from the truths they believe, they’re not going to get anywhere.