This is a guest post by Eileen Joy, a doctoral student at the University of Auckland.
Two years ago I wrote this piece about why Social Work Needs Pride . A lot has happened since then. Last year, and rightfully so, a significant portion of the rainbow community challenged the idea that the NZ Police should be able to march in the Auckland Pride Parade in uniform ( Sarah Murphy,The Spinoff, 2018 ). I won’t go into the history of that time here, suffice to say that the police were allowed to march, just not in uniform. They didn’t like this, said that they had to march in uniform. A moot point given events not much later that showed them wearing ‘civvies’ to other important events.
It is however important to note exactly why the Pride Parade – the very one I and my children loved – was problematic. We need to remember that the Rainbow community was hunted and persecuted by the police for many, many years. We also need to note that this concern about police being at Pride parades is definitely not a New Zealand only phenomenon . And whilst we don’t have specific statistics on rainbow incarceration rates (because the NZ Police don’t collect this data – something that is problematic) we can be pretty certain that given the rates of incarceration of tangata whenua (some of whom will also be rainbow whānau), those of the rainbow community would not lag too far behind.
This is where it’s important to remember that, as Audre Lorde said, “there is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not lead single issue lives” (p. 138) – a point reiterated by Emilie Rākete in discussing the Auckland Pride Parade. Let’s also not forget that the NZ Police stopped diversity training for rainbow issues years ago, explaining that instead they are focusing on police values and all people in all communities. This sounds a little like saying ‘all lives matter’ – which of course they do, but that’s not the point when your house is burning down and the neighbours is not, but the firefighters insist on pouring water on the neighbour’s house because ‘all houses matter’ .
This is not something that anything like a ‘rainbow tick’ can erase. This persecution especially impacts those whose identities don’t so easily fit into little single category boxes. For our trans whānau, our takātapui, tāhine and tangata ira tāne people, their rainbow journey is complex . Our trans whānau are still waiting for our seemingly progressive government to take action on basic human rights. Something Kendra Cox and I highlighted last year. For those in our community who are tangata whenua it is not so easy (nigh on impossible) for them to lay aside almost two hundred years of colonisation on top of persecution specific to their sexual/gender identities to cater to the police. And nor should they have to. In moments like this, it’s important to reflect on who has power and who does not and ask yourself where social work should stand in that.
I was thinking about all of this as I stood with my family waiting for Our March to kick off the other day. I thought about the horrific statistics for trans and non-binary people in New Zealand from the Counting Ourselves report that came out late last year . I thought about the aforementioned lack of action on basic human rights for trans people in New Zealand. I was thinking, as I often do, about how many social workers are ignorant of all of these things, yet they work with our community whether they know it or not. I thought of the commitment social work educators need to make to throw some rainbow glitter throughout their courses. I thought of how I often fear for the life of my children, both of them fierce and glowing with rainbow pride.
But mostly, mostly I reflected on the joyous beautiful rainbows that were there in front of me. Life, bursting at the seams, wanting to be free, to be celebrated, to colour outside the lines, inside the lines, with no lines. This new march, borne out of the sacrifices of so many people in our community making their stand and not giving an inch, is something to be truly celebrated. Gone are the corporate floats, the businesses parading around seeking cookies saying, look at us we are so diverse, and by the way, we would love to have your ‘pink dollar’. In this march, rather than standing on the sidelines I got to march. I didn’t have to pin my flag to a particular cause or business to participate, I could just be me. My kids could be who they are, and WE, the community, were the centre of attention – not capitalism.
With special thanks to Kendra Cox for helping with some of the information I needed for this piece.
Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches by Audre Lorde. New York, United States: Crossing Press.