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Saturday 11 April 2015

Dr Jared Mackley-Crump: Conversations we need to have

Posted in: Our Communities
By Dr Jared Mackley-Crump - 26th February 2015

As a member of the queer communities, I am increasingly concerned about the fallout from the Pride protests and the possible impacts this may have not only on our communities but on the festival and its future direction.

There has been much focus on the methods chosen by Queers Against Injustice and No Pride in Prisons to carry out their protests. This is not my concern; I will neither condone nor outright dismiss the methods they chose. I am more concerned that the overwhelmingly toxic reaction has completely overshadowed the fact that, just maybe, the issues raised are issues worthy of our attention, but which are at risk from being silenced. This would be a great shame.


One of the key concerns of Queers Against Injustice is the commercialisation of Pride through sponsorship, or so-called ‘pink-washing’. As an event management lecturer I know only too well, and obviously teach about, the reality that events like Pride can simply not exist without huge amounts of corporate and institutional support. This is our reality. However this does not preclude us from asking relevant questions. Perhaps this is the right time for the Pride board and its stakeholders to consider what kind of sponsorship arrangements best secure both the viability of this event, but also represent a community win. If we are supposedly such an attractive consumer segment, then perhaps we should demand that sponsors prove that they deserve to be associated with our brand.

By way of easy demonstration: AUT, as well as fellow Parade marchers Coca-Cola and ANZ, have put considerable resources – financial and otherwise – into gaining the ‘Rainbow Tick’ accreditation, reaffirming a commitment to make our organisations safe, diverse and welcoming spaces for all queer people. This could be seen as putting out mouths where our money is, to borrow and adapt the popular phrase. It is an unfortunate irony that ANZ has been the target of Queers Against Injustice. But perhaps the festival board are in the position to be a little more considered in their approach to sponsorship, or at least do more to communicate how sponsors ‘fit’ with the Pride brand (and not in a way that we simply read as ‘we have heaps of gay friends’ lip-service; that’s not true progress).


This raises the related issue – largely overlooked so far – of two MPs, Melissa Lee and Alfred Ngaro, who voted against extending rights to our communities, marching in the Parade. This is unfathomable, and it is right to call out their hypocrisy. Again I go back to the organising committee taking responsibility for saying, ‘you need to prove that you deserve to be a part of our event’. If their presence was the result of a change of position, then this is wonderful and should be endorsed. But both have been silent, and this speaks volumes. Simply stating ‘I have heaps of gay friends but my Korean community told me not to support it’ is not good enough, and woefully misrepresents Lee’s role as an MP. It is offensive when politicians, institutions, and the media alike try to present a community as having a singular position, something that destructively oversimplifies the true diversity of opinions that exist (such as we are witnessing right now).

In Professor John D’Emilio’s fascinating account of the creation of gay politics and community in America, freely available online, he shows how queer people came together in major urban centres, set up support networks and, post-the Stonewall Riots, started to ‘come out’ en masse, demanding social change and their human rights. The result: Pride. He notes: “the tightening web of oppression…helped to create the minority it was meant to isolate”. The same is true of our local context. We should never forget this history. We should not be concerned about protesters; we should welcome dialogue in a space that was borne out of protest, representing a community whose very existence was arguably created around direct action.


The Pride Festival’s vision is to “develop the mana and standing of the Rainbow Community”. While much has changed, and we have much to celebrate – and we should celebrate – until this vision has been realised, and realised for all, then I would think that protest does and should very much have a role to play, and should be allowed, if not encouraged. Nothing communicated around the Festival, the Parade, or by the organisers provides clarity on the issue of protest, sanctioned as part of the Parade or not. Perhaps this is something that needs urgent consideration, in collaboration with community stakeholders, in order to find a suitable resolution. Again, as a lecturer in this field, I completely understand the need to incorporate professional risk and safety management processes and policies into event planning, and of the delicate balance required in meeting both community and sponsor expectations (which are usually wildly different). However, I also support those who desire that the Parade be a vehicle in which protest for social change is welcome. Surely this balance is not impossible?

And this raises the final issue of trans* rights. I don’t need to bombard you with statistics, but it clear that the fight for equality for transgender, transsexual, and other multiple genderqueer-identifying community members remains elusive. I have delighted in seeing the growing visibility of trans* issues in recent years, not just in terms of activism, but in terms of the arts (the breath-taking recent Girl on a Corner), the place of fa’afafine in various Polyfests I have attended, the underground popularity of the Fafswag Ball, and so on, largely driven by a small number of people/groups who are no longer willing to play a silent role. While this is great, more is still needed to ensure that the true diversity of our communities is represented not just in art-circles, the cultural margins, or as token entertainers, but in the mainstream mediation of queer communities and bodies.


The disturbingly narrow backlash that has been expressed so far has almost completely silenced and overwhelmed any real attempt to discuss the issues rationally and attempt an understanding of motive. We know that there is an inner core of ugly racism, sexism, and trans/genderphobia in our communities, and I question whether the reaction represents an ahistorical ignorance, maybe arrogance; a narrowly-conceived gay culture that thinks it has a monopoly on glitter throwing on Ponsonby Road. We have much to celebrate, and we should. But, as our local MP Nikki Kaye correctly pointed out at the Parade, the fight for true equality is not over, and for marginalised members in our broad communities, the contemporary struggle is all too real.

I am not trying to silence anyone from expressing their opinion on this matter, far from it. I merely think we could all benefit from putting aside our feelings about protest method, taking a step back, and trying to understand and expand our worldview. To consider that, while we can now get married and have a really great festival, for some this social progress might as well not exist for how out of reach and unrepresentative of their queer realities it is. I fully support the Festival and the Parade, but would like to see some of these conversations had, in the public domain. We should be trying to uplift us all, and especially those who face more downward pressure than those of us in privileged positions.

- Dr Jared Mackley-Crump is a Lecturer in Event Management at AUT’s School of Hospitality and Tourism, and a proud gay man.

Dr Jared Mackley-Crump - 26th February 2015

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