Police in Auckland have said they will not participate in the 2019 Pride Parade following a decision by Auckland Pride’s board to ban police from marching in uniform. New Zealand-based artist and advocate Shannon Novak explores why the issue is causing “internal hate” in the LGBTI community.


“Fuck this, I’m out,” my mate Mark muttered under his breath as he stood up and left the meeting held on November 18 in Auckland to discuss the proposed ban on police wearing uniform at the Auckland Pride Parade 2019.

More and more left, but I stayed until the end to hear both sides out.

On one side we had the Auckland Pride board defending the ban to protect a group within the rainbow community who felt unsafe with uniforms at the parade. On the other side we had those rejecting this ban.

Ultimately the decision was made to uphold the ban, leaving many attendees upset, but more importantly, the wider rainbow community on the brink of implosion.

I’m a 39-year-old gay cisgender man living in Auckland, New Zealand. I’m an activist and artist with a focus on contemporary gay issues in New Zealand and abroad.

Earlier this year I opened an exhibition in Switzerland exposing conversion therapy or the attempt to convert gay or bi people into straight people through religious or psychological means.

As part of this I interviewed men for whom the therapy had failed, for whom it had supposedly worked, and voluntarily submitted myself to religious conversion therapy to better understand the process and therefore educate the public through my artwork from a place of knowing.

For the record, it didn’t work. When creating artwork, I like to get involved. I like to get right in there up close and personal to better understand the situation. The parade has been no different. 

Before the parade meeting I researched both sides to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, the result was me yelling obscenities at the computer screen and hanging my head in sadness.

Both sides held valid positions which meant someone was going to lose out. And when someone loses out they get mad at the other side, a battle ensues, and everyone loses.

In this case it meant the clash of two groups within the rainbow community generating what I call “internal hate”. Internal hate is where individuals or groups within the rainbow community hold negative feelings towards each other over an issue, weakening the overall strength of the community.

It’s cold, counter-productive, and merciless (for example the internal hate against race, age, and size on gay dating apps). It’s unfortunate but internal hate is now an outcome of the decision to ban police uniforms. We are fighting each other, and the outside world is watching and reacting.

Reflector X shannon novak

Reflector X, Shannon Novak, digital intervention, 2018.

I called up Mark who walked out of the parade meeting to talk about it. He is a 48-year-old straight cisgender male and part of a diversity team for a large corporation in New Zealand.

He said, “You guys (the rainbow community) need to sort your shit out before we start investing any money in the parade. We can’t have our brand associated with this”. I thought, fair enough. Why would you invest money in something that is against the core values of your organisation and causing pain for itself?

This echoes a recent statement by Madison (US) Fire Chief Steve Davis in response to uniformed police being banned from the Madison Pride Parade where he said the Fire Department really wanted to be part of the parade: “But we also don’t want to be part of dividing the community”.

The internal hate we have for each other is causing the community that wants to support us to lose confidence in us and run for the hills. I expect many individuals and organisations will pull out of the Auckland Pride Parade and I don’t blame them.

So how do we fix this? What about compromise? Unfortunately, there is no real compromise here – police either wear uniforms or they don’t.

It’s about carefully managing the decision-making process and its fallout.

Sure, the board have a pivotal role to play here, but ultimately, we must all take responsibility and work towards peace and unity as a community.

This requires everyone to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards hate. Stop hate towards the board. Stop hate towards those supporting the uniform ban. Stop hate towards those against the uniform ban.

The Supremes had it wired in 1965: stop in the name of love, before you break my heart, think it over, think it over.

Here are some practical tips for those heading into a Pride parade where police uniforms are being questioned. These are written from experience and from interviews I’ve had with those who have been through it.

We are not in a unique situation, the police uniform has been banned this year in many locations including Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, London, Durham, Edmonton, and Minnesota.

  • Educate yourself. Carefully research both sides of the issue before choosing a position. Don’t be afraid to take a position of unity. Research global examples and lessons learned.
  • Think in terms of “different” positions rather than right or wrong positions. Be respectful.
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards hate regardless of your position. You are being watched by the outside world and your actions may drive a loss in confidence in the wider rainbow community.
  • Stay solution focused.
  • For the pride board, be prepared to face love, hate, and being overthrown regardless of the decision you make. Manage the decision-making process and its fallout carefully and professionally. Communication is key. Communicate often and clearly. Most importantly, conduct a retrospective of the process to determine how to improve it next time.
  • For organisations you will most likely have to take a side but remember you will have staff on both sides so be empathetic to this. Once again, don’t be afraid to take a position of unity.
  • If you withdraw from the parade (this goes for individuals and organisations), invest your time, energy, and/or money in other parts of the rainbow community in need.
New Zealand artist Shannon Novak works with sound and explores contemporary gay issues. He is currently working to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand and abroad. Follow his work on Instagram: @shannon_novak_
Shannon Novak

Shannon Novak. Image: Pati Solomona Tyrell, 2018.

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