The Northern Territory Police on Friday arrested a queer activist during the FABalice Rainbow flag raising ceremony outside Alice Springs police station.
Local LGBTQI+ activists had gathered outside the police station for a “peaceful demonstration” against the police raising a rainbow flag, calling it a “pink-washing PR” exercise that glosses over the treatment of queer as well as Indigenous communities.
The rainbow flag raising ceremony outside the police station was the official start of the three-day FABalice Festival that concluded on Sunday. The festival was started in 2018 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the filming of the iconic Australian film Priscilla Queen of The Desert.
Peaceful Protest Against Police Raising Rainbow Flag
As the rainbow flag was being raised around 10 am, police allegedly grabbed one of the protestors, queer activist Meret MacDonald, who was handcuffed, arrested and taken in a paddywagon to the Alice Springs watch house. The activist was released around 1.20 pm, fined $472 and given a 72 hour loitering notice.
“I was standing peacefully with a sign but as soon as the cameras turned to the flag raising, I was surrounded by uniformed police officers in the front and under-cover police behind me. I was dragged out and hand-cuffed.” Meret told Star Observer in an email interview on Saturday. “The police arrested me without any notice.”
The irony of a queer activist being arrested at a pride event, was not lost on the local community.
“They arrested a Queer person at the rainbow flag raising ceremony. Shame Job,” Carmen Robinson, one of the organisers of Pride Carnivale festivals that were held previously in Alice Springs, said in a statement.
“Why do the Police think they are entitled to claim space as “Allies” and centre themselves in our Queer Community Pride, when they actively perpetrate violence against us?””
According to McDonald, the raising of the rainbow flag at the police station was “deeply inappropriate”. Activists said that the police took down the Indigenous flag to raise the rainbow flag.
Police Issue Infringement For Disorderly Conduct
In a statement to Star Observer, Northern Territory police confirmed the arrest.
“It is with great pride that we, the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services were able to represent our agency and our community in the raising of the rainbow flag as part of fabALICE festival events,” said Northern Territory Police, Assistant Commissioner Dr Narelle Beer.
“We raised the flag as an agency which supports and encourages those who identify as LGBTQIA+ within the community and our agency. There was a group of people who attended to protest the flag raising, and a 30 year old person was arrested and later issued an infringement for Disorderly Behaviour,” added Beer.
For some in the local community have claimed the festival has allied with people who have not always supported the queer community. This was the first time that a Pride flag was being raised outside the police station. In the festival calendar and on Facebook, the event is listed as the “official start of the festival”.
“I have seen friends irrevocably traumatised by their treatment at the hands of the state here in Alice Springs – ridiculed and tortured for being queer. It is a disgusting act to raise our flag, a spit in the face for all of us that work hard here in Alice Springs to support each other through dedicated community-mindedness, visibility and health advocacy,” said Meret.
“Alice Springs has a strong tradition of LGBTIQA+ community-led organising. Groups such as Sisters & Brothers NT and Pride Carnivale work tirelessly to create inclusive spaces for all members of our community. Creating inclusive spaces means making safe spaces by not siding with perpetrators of violence. Fab Alice and NT Police have courted each other since day dot, in stark contrast to the work being done in the community to connect and heal through solidarity and celebration.”
Police Presence In Pride Events
Police participation at Pride events have continued to divide the community not just in Alice Springs, but also across Australia and the world.
Recently, at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on March 6, political satire group Department of Homo Affairs (DoHA), staged a protest in front of the police float at the Mardi Gras parade at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
“Police participation at Pride events, and centering their involvement alienates those marginalised and criminalised by the state. Police treat queer and Indigenous people with brutal violence and segregation. Having police at pride events excludes large amounts of our LGBTIQA+ community, it erases the real trauma of our lived experiences at the hands of the police,” Meret added.
We reached out to FABalice for a statement about the arrest of a queer activist at an official event of the festival and will update the story as and when we receive it.