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Fronting Up: Pride responds to criticism, pt1

Fri 18 Dec 2015 In: Our Communities View at Wayback View at NDHA

Auckland Pride board member Shirley Allan It's no secret that the Auckland Pride Festival organsation has repeatedly come under fire for its lack of communication, accountability and responsiveness. And in its short life it has burned off some of the best events organisers the Auckland glbti communities have to offer. And criticisms continually surface regarding everything from governance to administration and several of its iconic events. One of the most comprehensive public lambastings Pride has been faced with is an open letter from its own, now ex-, volunteer coordinator Baz Bloomfield. Board member Shirley Allan has fronted up for a free and frank interview looking at Bloomfield's criticisms and the broader issues raised. Bloomfield, who has done support work for a number of gay community organisations over the years, points to Auckland Pride's loss of three key event organisers. Jonathan Smith created the Pride Parade from scratch and whose organisational template has underscored the following two parades. He left when, in an apparent effort to be a governance-only board, the Pride Board decided to sever its direct reporting link with the Parade Producer position. Instead Smith, who had an option to do the second parade, would report to the Festival organiser. Smith was deeply annoyed by the change, feeling it would complicate decision-making and completely dissociate the parade producer from the ultimate decision-makers. He declined to be involved again. In a spectacular resignation from his contract, Julian Cook, who had created the first Auckland Pride Festival from scratch and was well into preparing the third festival, resigned when Pride without due process appointed an Executive Officer to run the whole show. Cook was unilaterally advised mid-contract by that person: “You report to me now.” Like Smith, Cook found that untenable and when no amount of discussion could resolve the matter he pulled the plug. Pride chose to publicly dump the blame on Cook, claiming in a thin and glib statement that he had 'resigned to pursue other interests.' Richard Taki, who stepped in as Parade Producer after Smith's departure, announced he would not return to do the forthcoming fourth parade due to lack of communication with the Pride organisation, including on such sensitive matters as the No Pride In Prisons protest and its fall-out. In effect he lost confidence in Pride. And the Executive Officer, who was appointed under dubious circumstances and remained in the position despite a public assurance from Pride that the position would be advertised and due process followed, left just a month ago. Few people seem to be mourning her loss to Pride, but she is another prominent person gone from the organisation. There has, clearly, been an on-going loss of people in critical potitions. Pride is just churning through people “There is no doubt there has been a lot of turn-over,” agrees Allan. Some of those people who have come and gone from the project have brought incredible skills to the table and the pinch has been felt in the sense that those people are no longer there to be available for that work... that's absolutely the truth.” “With particular reference to [the Executive Officer], she has been available [since her departure] via email, she's handed over quite a lot of information and continues to answer the phone and get back to us when we need things that we are not sure about. That relationship is still strong for us and we still do lean on it.” “As far as Julian goes, I don't know him but I do know that the board and he haven't spoken since his departure. He's a very skilled man and I've been very conscious of his work in the community... his pedigree stands by itself and doesn't need any talking about and he's been a loss, absolutely.” “I'd like to think we're grinding the turn-over to a halt now and starting to look at building a longer-term core crew that will stick with us for at least a couple or three event seasons.” COMMUNICATION Lack of communication is a theme of community discontent and is mentioned in Baz Blooomfield's open letter. A constant stream of people say they have tried to communicate ideas and feedback to Pride and to get information and not heard a thing back. Departed Parade producer Richard Taki has highlighted the problem, and from our own experience Daily News regularly asks questions of Pride and rarely gets satisfactory responses - when they come at all. For years now people in the community that Pride is there to serve have been trying to communicate and getting nothing back. What's that about? “I agree, the communication has been poor, with lots of information coming out around festival season and then nothing,” says Allan. “There's been at least a couple of reasons for that and not the least is the stand-down period when everyone's been working so hard on the project that they need a bit of time out and then they go back into planning and so from that perspective there's not a lot to talk about. On the flip side there have been a lot of things that have taken place that do need to be talked about. In a perfect world there wouldn't have been a lot to talk about, however it hasn't been a perfect world. So I agree that the communication and the way it's been managed hasn't been done as well as it could at all and that's behind trying to create a better relationship with, for example, the gay media. It's the logic behind the community forums, to start to front up. There were a couple in October and November and we'll continue rolling those out in the new year, certainly post-festival.” There are a lot of allegations in Bloomfield's accusatory letter, and out in the community, regarding Pride's just-departed Executive Officer. Things about power and control. Ill-treating people. What's that about? “I think there's a lot of personal stuff in that particular area, Baz has raised things, prefaced with it being his opinion and it is that.” But his very forthright allegations also seem to reflect the opinion of a lot of other people who have spoken to over the past year or more. People who have been frustrated by, or burned off from, Pride. And in what Bloomfield is saying there seems to be a lot of commonality, about intransigence, not listening, being dismissive and other similar allegations which should not be happening if Pride is well-run and at one with its own communities. Allen says she can't comment on what others might have said, “I'm not conscious of it.” She takes a deep breath and a look of frustration clouds her face. “But certainly in the instance of Baz's korero I would offer this scenario... in September we were interviewing for the role of our Parade Producer, going through three hours of interviewing. I' was sitting there with another board member and together we were interviewing. [The then-executive officer] was there at the time, she was part of the process still and we were moving through it. And my colleague looks at her cellphone and says “Oh, for goodness sake!” And I said what is it and he said “It's Baz again,” I said “What do you mean 'again'?” “Six o'clock in the morning his first text had come, this is like a Saturday morning, it's now like 11am and there were something like 58 texts had come in from him in that short period. Who has time to respond to 58 texts like that? No one does, especially on a busy Saturday morning. I didn't see the content, just saw the sheer number of them. But it seems to me that there's an unrealistic expectation there from some individuals if they expect that constant, consistent level of responses from a volunteer crew. If that's what they are expecting then I think that is unrealistic.” Allan feels “a lot of the stuff mentioned in Baz's piece is slightly out of context. I don't know Baz but he was one of the very first people when I joined the board to jump on Facebook and request my friendship and welcome me to the family as it were and the one time where I have actually met him he has been lovely. He strikes me as a man that has committed enormous amounts to the community. And he feels very very hurt and abandoned and that is very clear in this korero.” In his open letter Bloomfoeld says of the Executive Officer: “Her view was that she was not accountable to anyone except [Auckland Council's events funding arm ATEED] who were the main funders of the parade.” “I don't think that is a fair statement. Being present for four or five months while she was in that role, sitting in board meetings and going to other individual hui with her she was not just focused on ATEED. She had a large appreciation of all the players, and was trying to, in her own way, do her best to meet their expectations. I don't quite understand how Baz might have gotten that context, it's a surprise to me, it doesn't make sense.” Who does Pride feel it is primarily accountable to? “The community. It has to be. Without the community there is no Pride. It's that straight-forward." THE COMPLAINT TO POLICE In a section of his open letter strong on indignation but thin on core details Bloomfield says he had been indecently assaulted by a woman and that he was unhappy at how the police had handled the matter. He wrote that when he mentioned the matter to Pride's Executive officer she warned him his role with Pride would be be in jeopardy as "Pride would have to distance itself from me because the NZ Police were an integral part of their Pride Parades." He has since clarified to that the alleged assault occurred in a setting unconnected with Pride. Allan says she doesn't know about this matter. “Before this interview I had a quick ring-around and no-one was able to shed much light on it. So I'm not sure if this was a conversation that was just between him and the Executive Officer or whether others knew about it. I haven't been able to speak with all of the board. But it concerns me. Certainly it would be my expectation that if one of our crew felt that they were unsafe or were assaulted in this instance that we would sit down and take that allegation very seriously.” “My reaction when reading his korero was, all the rest of it aside, this is actually a big deal. What's happened here? I'm not sure.” Would she welcome Bloomfield coming to her and discuss this situation directly? “I'm happy to sit down with Baz, I have no problems with that. He's put so much work in and he knows everybody, it's important that even if he doesn't want to come back onto the team and I'd respect that, at the very least we can alleviate some of these feelings of being treated poorly. It might sound trite but it's really fucking uncool... I don't want him to walk away feeling like that.” PARTICIPATION The involvement of the Department of Corrections and the Police in the Pride Parade remains a thorny issue. “Yes, we've certainly come up against it in recent months.” Whose job is it to decide who is appropriate to be in the parade or the festival and what are the criteria behind that decision? “At the last forum we spoke of the need for a policy which would set clear criteria around what would be acceptable for an entry and what wouldn't. Within a week we sat down and came up with what is quite a robust document that has drawn on other international festivals, right down to international best practice. And now just what other festivals are doing but what other large organisations are doing in terms of human rights and United Nations kind of stuff. We got right into the nitty-gritty, unpacking policy and then a small matrix was created. The idea was that registrations of interest would come in and at that point and once that had closed we'd send out a full application pack setting out the full criteria. Once that is filled in it is sent to the parade producer.” “Where it's clear whether they're in or not, that decision's easily made. But where there is conflict, and I suspect that Corrections and Police will be two of those groups it is our expectation that the parade producer will come back to us to say “Of 'x' amount of parade entries 90% meet the criteria and I don't think there are no problems with them coming in. But I've got this small pool of those that don't and we need to talk about them. These are my recommendations as a producer based on the criteria that you as a board have set, so let's talk about them.” “It is the board's responsibility to define clear policy for our contractors and our staff to roll out. And when they run into problems with that process or that policy that they turn to us and say “Hey, there's a gap here.” So that's the steps that we are taking at the present. Is there is a policy in place now? “There is. It's been sent out to all of those who have registered interest in being in the parade.” Is it being made available to the community at large? For those people who might not actually want to go into the parade but want to understand where Pride's mindset is at? “I think it would be beneficial for that document to become more clearly understood. It is my expectation that it will be put up on the parade page of the website. I'll have a chat with the board and see if I can't get you a copy of it.” The policy and matrix duly arrived and can be viewed here. But it seems relevant to note that it's now mid-December and Parade registrations have closed and yet Pride had not itself proactively put out to the glbti communities its developed policy relating to something as hugely contentious as parade participation. But, lets get back to how the participation policy will be followed through on, using Corrections as an example of a grey area. As an organisation they maybe want to do the right thing but they certainly aren't very good at getting it done. They no doubt have some extremely good and glbti-issue aware staff. They certainly have some excellent gay staff who are proud of their work and want to march with pride and give their presence in the organisation visibility. How will Auckland Pride turn that gray, complicated, area into a black and white decision. Yes or no. For instance, will it be black or white? In or out? “Absolutely. I think it will come down to how they measure up. You're always going to get gradations along a scale. You're going to get those who are at the “Hell, no” end and those who are “Well, you're not flash but we can see that there's an effort being made.” However, having a policy is not necessarily an indication of what's actually happening. A policy may not be good, or viable, or it may not be being carried out. “Essentially its: do they have policy in place that supports not just their own staff but also people who their organisation comes in contact with? Do they have policy that supports our communities? Then, if they do have such policy, how is that policy enforced? Is it just a box ticking exercise? For us that's quite a big one. Because any organisation can say, 'yes, yes we have those things' and tick the box and off they go.” “It's about identifying those areas that are grey, us talking amongst ourselves individually to see who can follow up on this. If we think they do have strong policy on this but we're still not convinced then that would be a conversation that we would begin to talk with those applicants about to see if they can allay our fears.” “The Board members are all on the same page, that it's vital that anyone that participates in the festival at the parade level or anywhere that's visible is on our team. And if they are not they can go and find another parade. “Similarly, we think that this matrix that we've created as part of the criteria will also assist with a lot of the concerns that have come from a lot of the community about corporate presence. That's been a big korero as well. Not only must they have these policies and actions in place but their float must represent us and not just be a moving billboard. That was certainly something that came out quite strongly from the forum and that we've been made aware of from previous years. Yes, they pay good money but that doesn't mean they can just do what they please. They have to celebrate our community with us. If they just want to be in the parade promoting themselves and handing out pamphlets that that's not going to cut it. Then we can have a conversation about 'Hey, we want you guys in the parade, we think you're choice but what's with the whole moving billboard position, or the have policy but don't enforce it position.' And depending on how convinced we are by their answers we will create the ultimate outcome and, yes, the decision will be black and white. At the end of the day we have to make a choice. The board is responsible, the buck stops with us.” DECISION-MAKING There is a claim in Baz Bloomfield's open letter that the decision rests with the parade producer. “Where there's no contention it's entirely his decision. We've created the policy, if it works use it. But if he runs into questions then he comes to us and we will take that weight. Ultimately he will be the man that delivers that information, that's what he's paid to do, but it will be with the full backing of the board and our mandate behind him.” But Bloomfield says: “The co-chair met with me and said that Pride were not the judge and jury on matters like this and as far as he and the board were concerned the NZ Police and Corrections would be able to enter and participate in the 2016 Pride Parade.” "I know both co-chairs quite well," says Allan. "I can't imagine either of them making that statement. We've made a real effore to be considered in the way that we talk about this particular issue. This one has been big. It's important to us that we get it right. Maybe he's got it muddled with speaking to another player on the team. I wasn't there and I'm not one of the co-chairs, but my experience with the co-chairs is that is not something that they would say. I'm not saying Baz is a liar, but I am saying it seems incredibly out of character for either of them to talk out of school like that.” The biggest 'situation' Pride is likely to have regarding this coming parade is the contra-positioning of the Dept of Corrections and the transgender rights group No Pride In Prisons. How can it resolve that? “Let's not put the cart before the horse. We don't even know if Corrections will be in yet. That's still to be considered. We've opened a dialogue with the No Pride In Prisons group. I've got a lot of respect for Emmy Rakete who seems to be the leader of the group... girl's got a lot of korero to have and I really appreciate that about her, I love her staunch maori stance on things as well, the way it flavours a lot of the work that she does. And the thing I was interested in was that when they came to the forum they got it straight away. They respected the space, they weren't there to cause a problem, they were there to have their say and they were heard quite clearly. So we've got a dialogue going and I'm quite comfortable to meet with Emmy once we have made that decision, that is important to us.” When will the parade participants list be finalised? “I'd say very early in the new year we'll have a very clear idea who's going to be in the parade.” Will Pride be putting that list out when its decided so our glbti communities can know in advance who will be in the Auckland Pride Parade representing and reflecting them.? “I'll need to check. I think that it would be useful to do it, I haven't worked on a parade before... I've produced a bazillion events but never a parade, so I'm just trying to think 'do you announce parade participants?' From a professional perspective, not a governance perspective, I don't know if that's done. But from a board perspective it would certainly be useful.” In part two of this interview we will cover the changes to the Auckland Pride Parade, the Treaty issue, the Dawn Ceremony and financial accountability to the glbti communities. Jay Bennie - 18th December 2015    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Friday, 18th December 2015 - 8:50am

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