Exclusive: Auckland Pride Chair Cissy Rock explains why Police can’t march in uniform at Auckland Pride Parade

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Ahead of Auckland Pride’s Hui this Sunday, Oliver Hall conducted an interview with Cissy Rock at 4pm on Friday 16 November – this is a transcript of their conversation.


The last press release, what I took from that – and from the comments I’ve seen on social media seem to have taken from that is that Auckland Pride doesn’t have any intention on going back on its decision on the marching in uniform ban. Are we correct in that assumption or is that not quite where we’re at?
Firstly, I wouldn’t call it a ‘Marching in Uniform Ban’. It was actually a way of reaching out and trying to offer something to the police that would allow all of our community – our whole community – to participate. But you are correct in saying that we are not looking at changing our decision.

What would you call it – if it is not a ‘Marching in Uniform Ban’, how would you phrase it?
A request. We wanted it to be in discussion with the police. We’re in a situation where there’s a whole LGBTI+ community out there and we certainly want to make visible our queer police officers. We know how proud they are and we know how important it is that there is queer visibility within the police force and we also had a section of the community who were saying to us: ‘Look, hold on, this is an institution and a lot of the stuff that the institution represents isn’t so great for us as a whole community and in particular for some people in the way that they’ve been treated and  – what are you going to do about it?’ And when you’re listening to this – and we weren’t just listening to it once – we had five different opportunities to hear from different members of the community, we thought to ourselves – Look, we’ve got to find a way forward that’s going to allow people to participate in Pride, and those voices that we don’t often hear that sometimes might be described as small or marginalised voices.
So, what about if we say to police, Look, we still want you to be in the march, we still really want you to be visible, but how about you march in T-shirts or something else that still shows that you’re police, still shows that you’re queer, but allows other people to be able to participate rather than cutting out one or the other of you.

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I believe I’m right in thinking that it’s three years now that the police have marched in uniform with Pride. What do you say to people who have said that this is a backward step?
I think it all depends on where you are as to whether you see something as a backward step or a forward step. All I have, at the end of the day, are my own principles. I, along with the rest of my fellow board members, have heard a lot of information and now seems to be the time to put a stake in the ground and say – we’re not anti the police, we’re not rejecting the police, what we are doing is amplifying voices that haven’t been heard by people or institutions of power for a while. So for them this a very forward step.

Without naming names, can you give us some details on the feedback that you got regarding the police at these hui?
Well, at these hui, we set them up really to be listening to each other. So, it would be fair to say that we got a lot of feedback about how important it is to have visibly queer police in our police force and we also had feedback saying we shouldn’t have a police force at all. You know, – abolish the police force. And there somewhere in between, we started to hear stories of recently people who hadn’t been treated fairly, correctly, safely by police. And we heard stories of people who were concerned of the ‘pink-washing’ that the police could experience as an institution by having gay and trans rights on display as – you know, Look at us, we’re a progressive police force when they’re not totally there yet. And by their own admission, they’re not totally there yet. So we were really looking for a middle ground. There are people who think we weren’t radical enough and obviously, there are people who think our decision isn’t the right decision – and they’ve been very vocal about that. They’ve really let us know how they are feeling.

In terms of the ‘pink-washing’ – how is that different from all of the corporates appearing in Parade in the eyes of the pride board?
It’s not any different, is it? This decision was made because the police made an application to participate in the parade and the application was brought to the board – as they have been in previous years – for approval. We were in the middle of talking to the police about this and we haven’t had applications from corporates, but you’re correct when you say that because when we were at hui with our community, they were saying to us: the Pride Parade is not fair enough, it’s too corporate, there’s no community in it, and state institutions shouldn’t be there. So these were the general themes that were coming out. People were saying that as a board we weren’t transparent enough. We hadn’t involved enough community people. This became pretty apparent at the AGM. Were you at the AGM?

I was at the AGM, indeed.
That was apparent. There was unrest. It was unsettled. At the AGM.

True.
And so we went and did our community hui and from that, we looked at the all the feedback and we thought really the hottest topic – the places that people were saying to us – broadly – people were saying it’s hard to have a relationship with Pride. We don’t feel visible. We don’t feel represented. We’re calling for change. And this was the broad feedback, under that there were certain themes and one of them really was about Police and Corrections, in particular, participating in our parade. Corrections have not made, as far as I know, an application to participate in the Pride (2019). The Police had and this was our answer to them – which isn’t: Ban the police, The police are bad. It’s – how can we make room for you – the police – and for other members of our community. Would it be okay for you to see that you not wearing your uniform would make it easier for other people who at the moment are not feeling included, to be able to be part of the parade? So it certainly has been reported – and reported in your own ‘express’ – as if we’re banning police or anti-police, or we’re militant. We actually thought we were coming up with a compromise of very middle ground. So it’s not our intention at all to dishonour the police or dismiss them. We really understand the hard work – particularly of our queer offices, having to step up and be brave and courageous and being visible within that institution. It does raise the question, doesn’t it: what is so important about uniform? What difference does that uniform mean to who? It certainly makes a big difference to the police and it makes a big difference to some members of our community and I would suggest it’s because it’s a symbol of an institution.

When people get up to tell there personal stories about their dealings with the police, where do you draw the line under what might their word versus somebody else’s?
I’m not there to judge anyone on their truth – their version of the truth – so I haven’t got a ledger where I’m saying one positive story, one negative story, I’m looking at this systemically. I’m looking at this as a system, of our LGBTI community as a whole community. There are parts of that community that are expressing to us that we are not doing our duty as Pride to allow them to participate.

What does Auckland Pride hope that this ban will achieve in both the short and long-term?
You insist on calling it a ban.

I’m so sorry, let me… Well, it is a ban on uniform.
Yes. Okay.

So what does Auckland Pride hope the…ban on uniform…No, you don’t want me to use the word ‘ban’ at all, right?
Well, no. I’m happy for you to put it in context. Because this is about a context isn’t it?

Okay.
We’re looking at Pride as a parade. We’re looking at Pride as a place where activism has a home and I think what we’re really hoping for was that the police would be able to see this as an opportunity for them to step back, to dial it down a bit and create a place where some members that haven’t been participating in Pride could participate and we would have a much more fuller representation of the community enjoying and participating in Pride.

I’m sorry, what do you mean by ‘Dial it down a bit’?
Take off the uniform and wear a specially designed T-shirt for Pride, see that they’re still visible as queer police officers. Still there celebrating who they are and enjoying their visibility but to allow others who at the moment are saying: well we can’t participate for a variety of reasons, to be able to have that option to participate too.

Can you elaborate a bit more on what that ‘variety of reasons’ might be? Like, any specific examples, because I’ve heard talk of people saying statements similar to ‘Whenever I see a police uniform it brings back the trauma I felt during my dealings with them over the years.’ Are those the sort of statements you’ve heard?
Some of them are historical statements, some of them are recent statements – and when I say recent I mean within the last twelve months. People’s experience of the police. Some of them are statements around the pink-washing of police as an institution. I know, and this has been widely said on Facebook as well, that as a Pakeha I will be treated differently than people of colour by the police. I think the police themselves have said that they have a long way to go. So there’s a variety of reasons, of expressions that have been brought to our attention along with, and I want to say this – that I really heard the young trans man that is looking at going through the recruitment process of being in the police and the role that he can play by being in the police and how hard I imagine it would be to be in the police and be out sometimes because it’s not from what I can gather the easiest place to be queer. So I hear that you know. I hear it all. I look out and I see it all and our board really discussed this and in fact opened up our board meeting to have people come in and chew the fat with us as we thought, you know – what are we going to do. I think it was pretty obvious to those that had been participating with Pride, in relationship with Pride since the AGM, that there were some decisions that needed to be made and they weren’t going to be easy. I read a comment on Facebook that said ‘Yeah, I walked away from that last hui thinking, mmm I’m glad I don’t have to make decisions.’

That sounds like you covered what the short-term goal was and what you were hoping to achieve for this (2019) Pride. In the long term is your goal with a decision like this, that the police will improve and will be able to march in uniform again at some stage. I mean, is that a goal in the future?
The goal in the future is for us to have a good working relationship with the police. And actually, I’m already in good communication with Tracy (Phillips, Police Community Liaison), we’re texting each other all the time, wanting to let each other know what’s happening. We have a meeting set up where we’re going to be talking about what will the future look like for us. You know, Tracy’s been really upfront with me and she’s let me know her disappointment but she’s also said to me, ‘Look I don’t want people boycotting Pride. I’m going to say to people lets remain positive and there are other ways for us to be involved.’ She’s up for change. And we’re up for working with her, which is why, you know, there was a little a bit of silence there and I wondered what people thought maybe the board were up to. We’d made an agreement with the police that while we were in our talks that we wouldn’t go to the media and we upheld that, so the relationship is certainly positive as far as I’m concerned.

So this hui feedback was the only trigger, was it? I mean in term of… It’s less than nine months since the police marched in uniform at the 2018 Pride. In the eyes of the Pride board, this feedback is the only thing that’s changed. There’s no other particular incident or anything like that have changed your mind?
Are you aware of something that you think…?

Oh no. Hence why I’m asking.
You know this. I know this… that the Auckland Pride board in its existence for six years has had a very turbulent time. I don’t think any chair has been able to chair that entire board without there being a certain amount of backlash from the community in one way or another. That a lot of the board members there are fairly new to being on the board and at that AGM, the AGM that you were at, it became apparent that there was desire for change and a lot of that was a call for the board to be more open, more transparent and involve the community more. Now we did that. What that actually uncovered was a whole lot of voices who hadn’t been heard before. That’s the new thing as far as I can see. The new thing is that we created a space that was safe enough for a lot of people to speak. Then we had to act on it. You can’t un-know, what you know.

Uniforms will be on the sidelines regardless.  Obviously, the police will be patrolling and policing the parade.
That’s right.

Does that make the police uniform ban futile, in a way?
I don’t want to confuse things here. One is about people doing their paid jobs, police people doing their paid jobs. The other is about them being in a parade that’s about celebrating progression and activism and where we came from. That’s where that pink-washing term comes from, this idea, and it’s not just with the Pride Parade – it can be with banks, it can be with insurance companies, it can be with corporates. Where we use this idea of: Look at us, we’re gay and trans friendly. Where actually the policy level, the systemic stuff, the institution isn’t creating new ways for people of colour, other people in the community. So it’s two separate things and the police, whether they are doing their job of policing, or whether they are getting the accolades for marching in a Pride Parade.

So you feel confident that the people who didn’t feel safe with the police marching in uniform, will now feel safe, even with that uniform on the sidelines?
Again, I’m not thinking that what we’re doing is – that there is a guarantee now that every unsafe person will come out. It’s a principled decision where we have heard people say – if the police are marching in uniform in our parade, we don’t feel like it is our parade and we don’t want to be part of it. Now they might not want the police in there at all, but we’ve said well we want the police in there we just don’t want them in there in uniform. So, will people come out? I don’t know. I know that I’m making the decision, the board has made the decision based on the information that we have available to us at the time, and our principles around amplifying voices that haven’t been heard, around making sure that everyone in our community feels like Pride is their Pride and by being transparent and that means that we get to hear voices that maybe in the past we haven’t wanted to hear.

What other options were explored other than the removal of uniforms?
When we went into the conversations with the police I believe that there were a lot of options explored but they couldn’t come to fruition and actually, Tracey was quite clear with me that she felt that that was actually a bottom line for police, that there wasn’t a lot of room for movement, so it does end up being a bit of a stalemate, doesn’t it? When we’re looking for compromise what could it be, but the uniform wasn’t something that they wanted to compromise on. I don’t want that to be taken out of context either. Tracey has done a lot of very hard work for the rainbow community and is a superb ally and has a lot of loyalty, and the DLOs. We’re in a small community, we’re all connected. I know people in the police and I really feel for them and their pain around what this is meaning for them.

Is it possible there was an orchestration of the people that turned up to these hui to talk about their discomfort with the police? I mean, you did mention that some people attended who would like to see New Zealand no longer having a police force. That is an extreme view.
I agree. It is an extreme view. As you know, but there’s a lot of extreme views out there, aren’t there? Good to hear all of them. But when you say ‘orchestrated’, what are you inferring?

Well, I guess my question is; is there the potential that anti-police groups, perhaps similar to ‘No Pride in Prison’ who protested the parade in previous years, attended these huis with an agenda of getting the police removed from the parade?
Well, if you are thinking that their agenda was that alone, then no, I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone came with an agenda. I was there, I facilitated these hui and I do think anyone who was at them, well the majority of people who were at them, it was really an exchange of views and ideas and a deepening of our understanding of each other. So I don’t feel like – if you’re saying it was orchestrated, were we highjacked, was there a hidden agenda. No, I don’t think so. I think we just heard some views that hadn’t had much exposure or take up in our community come up and be counted amongst other views.

So for those who say, ‘this doesn’t go far enough and that Police should have been banned altogether from marching in the parade’ to them you say…?
To them, I say: Hey, we’re a whole community, and we’ve got to make sure that all queer people can be visible as much as possible. So we’re looking for ways forward that allow our police to be police people and allow other members of our community to be able to participate in Pride. So I’m saying the same thing wherever you are in the community, whether you’re in the middle if you’re feeling upset by this decision if you’re feeling supported by our decision. I’m saying the same thing to all of you. I want to create a place where everyone feels like they can participate, and that probably means some people are going to have compromised more than others, but it’s the balance – where is the balance that we can all move forward.

As mentioned previously, I was at the AGM with you, and it felt like there was a lot of feedback regarding the number of corporate floats in the parade, the number of people marching in corporate T-shirts and so on. What measures is Pride taking to address those concerns?
We’ve updated our registration, so we’re quite clear – asking questions about the rainbow representation in the floats. We’ve added for corporates an additional charge, where they are sponsoring a community organization so that they can have a float.

That sounds like a great move.
We’ve limited the number of people that can be walking from three hundred to one hundred and fifty. So there’s one hundred and fifty people per walking float. We’ve also offered to work with people who are putting in their floats, so that – you know, – a bit of inspiration around, how can we do a low cost, but sensational float? What could it look like? Where’s the theatre? How can we entertain people? So we’ve got that as an option now, but we’ll come and work alongside… More intentionally, we’ve been more overt about the fact that we have to work with people, signalling to them… and Sean (Woodcock)’s a fantastic parade director… how can we really queer this up?

When you say ‘we’, are we talking members of the Pride board? Obviously, Sean I realise is not a member. He’s the parade director.
That’s right

So are you talking…
Well, we work very closely with our directors- the festival director and the Pride director. So a lot of these discussions about how we can incorporate the feedback around the parade and the festival being ‘more queer, less corporate’ have been done in conjunction with our directors. Also, we have been opening up our meetings too, so those members who wanted to can come and participate in our community update sessions.

If a community float asks for feedback or asks how they can make it better, people who will come and help them will be the parade director and members of the board?
I don’t know whether members of the board will be operational.

Sure.
You’re right I’m using the royal ‘we’.

So we can still expect to see the corporate floats in this parade, the banks, the Insurance companies, and the like?
Yes, we are open for applications now. If you would like to have a float in the Pride parade please put in your application.

So, the police application came in particularly early, did it?
I think it was with the first lot of applications that were coming in. I think it was in the first twenty that came in.

Since the announcement, there’s been a lot of comments about this online. express did a poll, which has just finished and stands at 12% of the community in support of the Pride boards decision and obviously 88% against. We’ve seen a change.org petition put up, there have been people calling for a boycott of the entire festival, let alone the parade, and community groups involved have also expressed their concerns. Was the board surprised by the level of backlash?
I think by the volume of expression of disappointment and by the way that people expressed their disappointment. It’s been a bit of trial by Facebook, hasn’t it?

 

Indeed.
I think anybody who has been through a trial by social media has empathy for anyone who’s on the other end of it. That’s really what’s heartened me, has been the people who may not agree with our decision but have sent me messages letting me know that they know how tough it is to be on the end of that. I’ve had a lot of emails, and some of them were really respectful emails who were making their point that they wanted to stay in a relationship with us. Others were just basically abusive and name-calling. I didn’t think – in our community – that we had a whole lot of people that were going to react like that. Particularly people who have known me and worked with me, and then wanted to get going with personally attacking and shaming me. That bit was a real shock.

I’m sorry to hear that.
Well, yeah. Not that great, eh?

No. So despite the backlash, there is no going back? Certainly in terms of the 2019 parade. Is that correct?
No going back is… What is your motivation for asking that?

Looking at numbers of the express poll, which I feel is accurate, suggests that there’s 88% of the community that were not in favour of this decision. Did you expect that that might be the figure?
I haven’t really thought about it terms of ‘for’ and ‘against’ in figures. When you say to me 88%, I guess the first thing that pops into my head is 88% of people who do express polls have said that.

Absolutely.
And I’m not going to deny that fact that it does seem to be the majority, doesn’t it? The majority of the community saying: ‘we want to overturn the voices of the minority in our community and we are happy for majority rules, and we’re not so interested in the smaller voices in our community,’ which does surprise me. I’d always thought that in the LGBTI community that we were activists at heart, that we understood about our liberation kind of being bound with other people’s liberation, that we’ve marched alongside each other and worked with groups that had had smaller voices because we ourselves have had voices that have been hushed by other powers before. So that’s the bit that kind of takes me aback. However, I do want to be available and I do want to have a face to face conversation with these people. I want to be able to maintain a relationship with people who have been respectful and Sunday, our hui is really about that. It’s a ‘listening’ hui. We’re not there to convince anyone of anything. We’re there to hear and to stay in relationship with our community.

 

So, it is possible that should you hear convincing enough arguments at this hui that the decision could be overturned?
I feel like you want me to be able to make some sort of statement that then you can use against me. I suspect that for me, I have made a decision based on my principles – and I can’t see my principles changing.

Right.
But I understand. You know someone wrote on Facebook, ‘Cissy, I’ve known you for x number of years and this is the first time I’m deeply disappointed in you’ and my response is: ‘Well, you’re allowed to be deeply disappointed.’ It’s none of my business how you feel about me. My business is my own principles. And I think anyone that’s known me over the last ten or twelve years – where I have been heavily involved, particularly in the lesbian community but in the LGBTI community as well, that I’m a very principled person with a lot of integrity. It just happens to be at the moment my principles are aligned with a smaller number of people in our community than a larger number of people. That could change in six months time.

Do you expect this decision to have any effect on Pride’s relationship with the council or any of their current sponsors?
I would be naïve to think that this decision might impact on all of our relationships. Some of them will be negative impacts, some of them will positive impacts I imagine.

Thus far have any sponsors pulled out or have there been any changes in funding or anything like that?
Not that I’m aware of. We have only signed a couple of sponsorship or funding agreements so far, so the proof’s in the pudding, isn’t it?

Yes. Thanks. Is there anything else you’d like to say? Anything you’d like to leave express readers with from your point of view?
I guess, the main point that I want to make is that we were wanting to talk to the police about a compromise and our idea of a compromise was that they didn’t wear their uniforms. It was about us really trying to take quite a moderate way forward and it hasn’t worked out that way, but it was our intention.

Do you feel the police went to the media too quickly?
For me its more important that I stay in a relationship with the police right now. I’m looking forward with them, not backwards and I’ve been really impressed with the way that me and Tracy have stayed in contact with each other and have let each other know what’s happening and that’s what I want my relationship with her to go forward.

Brilliant. Well, I will see you on Sunday. Best of luck with everything for that.
Will you be putting that in the transcript?

Will I be putting what I just said in the transcript?
Yes. Best of luck?

Well, look, of course. You guys are standing by your principles. But absolutely, may the best outcome for our community come out, and it sounds like you guys are trying to execute a noble – certainly what you believe is a noble decision – and trying to stand up for people who you don’t… My understanding is, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but you guys feel you’re standing up for people who don’t have a voice.
Yes. I look back over history and I imagine the first people that spoke out about some things. I was thinking about the Springbok Tour. I bet they weren’t so popular then, but they’re heroes now.

Do you see yourself as becoming a hero over this?
No. I’m not interested in being a hero. I’m interested in staying in relationship with myself.

 

The Auckland Pride 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.

 

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