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Saturday 11 April 2015


Pride protest and learning from the past

Posted in: Politics and Religion
By Diane Sparkes - 4th April 2015

Time to get real about the past and move forward, many will say we are doing that already, but do we understand our history enough to do that?

Transgender-Symbol_1.jpg
Today many articles are written telling us about how well the LGBT people are doing. Certainly there are more stories out there that promote the lives of marginalised people as getting better; in reality it should, given that as a society we are more informed than ever. Homosexuality is gradually becoming accepted every day and stories of transgender individuals are gradually losing their sensationalism.

Only problem is that information and acceptability ignores the past; becoming lost in the attitudes of the day. Especially by many young people who have never suffered the pain of being who they are; in a world far different from today. Not that I would ever suggest today is not without pain, it is, but in order to see today in true reality, to believe so much has changed; I believe there are people who have no clue of just what life for the marginalised has been, and still is for so many!

Without an understanding of the injustices our lives have endured and the suffering experienced, it becomes hard to see why certain changes become so meaningful today, and the reason many still find it hard to forgive past injustices.

In a manner likened to brain washing the media including those in our community who should know better, and who are eager to placate our lives with comments, such as “Police now proudly join the Gay Pride Parade” and also Corrections, as if to say “’hey look these guys have changed” therefore things must be better. Conveniently ignoring at the same time the fact that if it were not for their policies, discrimination and often violent methods used in the execution of protecting all of society; change would never have been necessary in the first place.

Reinforcing today’s idea that we are getting better, it really does get better or so they would have us believe, when those stalwarts of society the banks and the politicians get in on the act, even the ones who openly stood against us. The religious groups! Sadly slow to change but that’s another story.

Whoopee! Great, it is almost as if a New World has begun, releasing everyone to a new place where the past is gone forever. A time to enjoy the Festival that is today!

Honestly; if we could all enjoy and accept this new place, it would indeed be a better place, only problem; not everyone thinks that way and still do not want to know! Like many experiences, seen through rose coloured spectacles, to simply write off the past as if it never existed, fails to attend to the issues created and the pain the past once held in the process of simply arriving at today.

Homosexuality now replaced by the word gay, actually sounds quite friendly, but in the reality of the past, it meant discrimination, humiliation, prison and for some even death, not quite so friendly put in that light.

Transgender; a name coined only 50 years ago, now used as an umbrella term for people whose gender diversity is seen as anything but normal, replaced nicely with the term trans!

Still misunderstood by society they remain a reason for discrimination, violence and death simply by being who they are. Also included within that umbrella, incorrectly I believe is the transsexual, a medical term used to denote those who make every effort to change their sex in order to match the normal concept of male and female; but who are still required to accept society’s term as trans and the implications of the LGB world.

And while some in the LGBT community experience a partial acceptance in the whole of society think gay, a much marginalised group still exists, transwomen, transmen and in particular those referred to as “of colour”.

New Zealanders are quite fortunate that our society is more accepting than in many other countries, to the extent that we have achieved same sex marriage, and a partial recognition of the needs of those who are transgender.

But and it is a big but; at the same time we also live in a country known as God’s own, and that presents an issue for so many where religion counts uppermost. Reality is, if the LGBT people in this place were truly accepted there would be no reason for religious discrimination.

And yet it is a fact of life, think about the efforts made to get the Same Sex Marriage Bill off the ground, and right at a political level the discrimination showed up by politicians whose religious ideals made them fight against the Bill, right up to the very last minute. Still today, politicians cannot get their heads around giving transgender people specific inclusion against discrimination within the Human Rights Act.

It must be getting better isn’t it, heck the Police, Corrections and the Armed Forces were all in the Parade right! And let’s not forget the latest, the Rainbow Tick, on the face of it a great idea for companies to show their acceptance of LGBT workers but why a tick should be even necessary if they followed the basic rule; to love one another no matter what and respect each other’s differences!

What in reality is that tick all about? It is about getting onside with those who once marginalised, are now seen as having Value in their existence, unlike the past when they could and were, so easily ignored. Of course that also shows one positive side effect of standing up and being counted! But for many it is a hollow victory, and for others the pain still continues. Think transgender youth thrown out of their homes by parents who place a greater value on their religion, than their own children, just because they fail to conform to certain expectations from past ideals.

A not insignificant factor in getting to this better place is the effect religion still holds, a factor created by the consequences of people standing up to be counted and the organisations who in the past would never have given us the time of day. Realising their old held views are no longer working, some acceptance is now taking place as a result. Not just accepting the workers’ rights but also because their financial status cannot be ignored, it all seems a little two faced, but I guess we have to start somewhere!

As for the protest at the Pride Parade and those that thought it should not have happened; after all it really did upset a lot of people who only attended the Parade to have a good time, be entertained and celebrate. Not only did it show the protesters up for being inconsiderate; it spoiled it for those LGBT people taking part.

As a result a message failed to get heard, in reality the message was for the people including many in the gay community; to realise the injustices made by the system against those who do not conform to the public’s view of the norm. Rightly, society demands justice against individuals who have committed crimes, and are criminalised, however must they be sent to an institution that totally ignores their gender identity “by order of policy”!

Prison was never meant to be pleasant, but we go too far when we penalise further, an individual by placing them in harm’s way because of the gender they were born with and not the gender they identify as. In reality! An internal policy made by Corrections, not a requirement by law. This sadly has become a fact of penal life for many transgender people unfortunate enough to fall foul of the Justice system.

It actually gets worse; when a transgender person is held as only a suspect still legally innocent. Police either due to a lack of a suitable gender alternative facility or just because they choose to do so, may inappropriately hold in custody an individual because of the gender shown on their birth certificate rather than the gender they identify as putting them at risk of assault. Very wrong if you are transgender and identify as the opposite sex!

Cases of rape during custody have in the past resulted while supposedly a person is innocent until found guilty. And who is in charge of all this; the NZ Justice Department and their enforcers police and Corrections.

Not too hard to see the protesters reasoning based on past experience! An issue actually still unresolved today due to policy and not as a requirement of law.

It is important when looking at lessons from the past, not to ignore those responsible for maintaining society’s rules, the police. Actions taken by police in their attempt to enforce the Law, has not always been as it should have for many reasons, not the least because they are also individuals and individuals have personal views and ideals that make it at times, difficult to separate the personal from the job!

This comment is not about the whole police force, just the actions taken by a few who for reasons only they understand, be they personal beliefs, feelings of disgust towards an individual, or simply a lack of understanding of the issues, yet whose actions nevertheless impact on the police organisation in an all too negative light.

For example, in the 1950s, homosexuality was a crime and the police thought it their duty to actively seek out these people to arrest, humiliate, and far too often, violate them; usually before a court appearance but also after, so they received a kind of bush justice, what followed was humiliation in court and name publication in the local newspapers or in the major ones depending on who you were, and then it was off to prison or a fine and a record, just for being nothing else but themselves.

Homosexuality became a crime in the 1880s people like Oscar Wild spent two years in jail in 1895, Alan Turing (Enigma Code breaker) prosecuted 1952 and committed suicide two years later, all great fodder for the media mincing machine. Prostitution was also a target for the police since the 1800s where arrest and violation by police was not uncommon, still is today in some countries.

At that time 1950-1960being transgender, actually the word did not exist back then, the public did not understand, neither did the police; the media did however, but only because it gave them a great way of selling newspapers, see Christine Jorgensen 1952, April Ashley 1961 both had the so called sex change and were hounded constantly by the media.

In their defence our police force, by taking part in the Pride parade for example, can only be good, however it should be recognised that it is one thing to tell the people we are ourselves more diverse, while still within those ranks, are those who maintain strong ideals and religious beliefs at a personal level.

Our gay community and the people still have much to learn about the transgender issue, and to this the Media has a part to play, continued publication of our stories, not in a sensationalist way but an educational one, the Media has the power that we simply do not have, like the few protesters in the parade.

Education and an understanding of the past will always enlighten the people to make change happen.

Truth is, if you are different or diverse in any way you may still face discrimination, violence and humiliation. But this is 2015, much of the world is changing, tolerance is becoming more prolific, yet still many people particularly those whose religious ideals won’t allow them to let go and still hang on to the past. Today we implore them to really look hard at their values; and ask, are they consistent with God’s word?

The day we have religious groups joining our Pride Parade we will really have made it, until then, my message is very basic; how much longer, how much more pain do you want to inflict; on those of us who are not different, but who’s only wish is to be as God created us; ourselves!

It is over to you, and thank you!

- Diane Sparkes is a transgender woman, and rights advocate. 
Diane Sparkes - 4th April 2015

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