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Making the hard decision against Corrections

Wed 27 Jan 2016 In: Events View at Wayback View at NDHA

Auckland Pride Festival board member Kirsten Sibbit The organisers of the Auckland Pride Festival seem to have been a little blind-sided by the Department of Corrections confirming to Daily News this morning that the Department is being excluded from the forthcoming Auckland Pride Parade, though its staff can if they wish march out of uniform and without formally representing their employer. Pride's decision was the culmination of a difficult and contentious debate triggered when trans rights activists No Pride In Prisons gatecrashed the last parade to object to Corrections presence against a, to put it mildly, shabby record of treatment of trans prisoners in the country's jails. Board member Kirsten Sibbit says the decision regarding Corrections and the parade was a particularly difficult one “because it has implications for the staff who work for Corrections and who are part of our community.” They had not themselves released their decision “out of respect for both the staff and Corrections itself... we wanted to have a conversation with them to talk through the reasoning behind the decision before we made everything public.” Asked if Pride thinks Corrections jumped the gun by telling of Pride's decision this morning, Sibbit says she “wouldn't want to comment on that.” On the matter of this being a difficult situation, Sibbit says Auckland Pride is “in one sense an event organiser and in another sense we represent a community of people who are passionate and vocal but also who have various issues that need to be dealt with sometimes. So we have to try to uphold the values of our community and we need to somehow talk about those things, to have conversations with the people who are affected.” When Daily News asked, in our initial questions about Corrections possibly being turned down, if anyone had been banned from the parade Pride responded that “no individuals” had been banned. We immediately queried that wording because it seemed, to be charitable, rather an obtuse reply. “It genuinely wasn't our intention to mislead,” Sibbit says. “I think we wanted to be really clear that we're not telling anybody that they can't take part. I guess when you asked that question we were wanting to give [Corrections] the chance to give us their views before we spoke publicly.” The process Auckland Pride has recently adopted for screening participants sees each application to participate being compared against a set of criteria broadly assessing their relevance and commitment to glbti people and issues. That comparison and decision is generally made by the parade organiser but any difficult or unclear decisions are bumped up to board level. The Corrections decision, Sibbit says, was "a board decision, based on a review of their policies, material that we researched ourselves and the experience of people that work with transgender individuals in prisons. But I don't want to go into much more detail at the moment, we are about to have a discussion with Corrections and I'd rather go into that detail with them first in terms of the concerns we have around their policy and treatment of some transgender individuals. We want to give Corrections the opportunity to present their perspective on it. What is the situation regarding the police, whose presence in last year's parade, was also anathema to No Pride In Prisons? “There is no situation regarding the police.” So the Police will be appearing in the parade? “Yes.” There will be nothing different to last year? “No.” And yet the No Pride In Prisons group have been concerned that the police are, to paraphrase them, just as bad as Corrections. So where does Pride see a difference whereby the Police can march as is but Corrections must do so under restrictions? “We have had no reason to believe that the police policies are discriminatory in the way that we have seen specific examples, not just of behaviour and action but also of policy, within the Department of Corrections which do not support the human rights of our community. We don't have the same view of the police.” No Pride In Prisons seems to have been under the impression that they would be consulted regarding any decisions made regarding Corrections and the Police in particular. They say they are pleased that the Corrections decision has gone the way they had hoped. And they seem to hope they will still have an opportunity to discuss the Police appearance with Pride. Is such a discussion likely to happen? “To be honest, we wanted to make our decision independently of other groups, based on the research that we had done. No Pride in Prisons and others took the opportunity at our community forums to let us know what their view was, we felt that had presented themselves very well and we didn't feel the need to go back to them. We may meet with them if they would like to... we're going to talk with Corrections and we're happy to talk with No Pride In prisons.” From the moment of the initial protest action it's been pretty clear that Pride would be in an awkward situation, that this would be, and has become, quite a divisive issue. That some glbti people would be staunchly behind Pride and others critical of it, and others would be all for No Pride In Prisons and some vehemently against them. Does that concern Sibbit, especially when she and the rest of the Pride board are trying to present an event which is designed to bring our communities together? “We're all individuals [on the board], we all have views and emotions about these things and we don't want to be doing anything that will upset anyone in the community. And yet we sometimes have to make decisions that some people disagree with, and any choice we made here there would people who disagree with it. So it's difficult and I'd much prefer that we were able to make decisions that kept everybody happy all of the time but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the reality.” “The difficulty of this situation is that we know that there are some really amazing and supportive staff who work within the Department of Corrections, who are part of our community or are supportive of the Rainbow Community... and we want to be open to, and welcome, those people. The challenge is that the organisation that they work for doesn't respect the rights of other parts of our community.” Has this situation effected quite a change in the way that Pride perceives its objective and role. Initially it seemed to be more about creating a celebration of glbti people lives, now there's a more textured, even political aspect coming through? “I don't think Pride can be purely a celebration until everyone within our community has the same opportunity to celebrate their lives as everyone else,” Sibbit says emphatically. “We know that's not true at the moment. We take our responsibility very seriously. I personally see Pride as a conduit for discussion and debate, for people to air and share their views. "I don't think Pride initially intended to be at the centre of that but if Pride is something that causes debate, that enables people to have a voice and have a view then that's not a bad thing. Sometimes it's hard when views contradict each other... we can't do everything to support all of those views all the time, but we're trying to support our communities in the best way that we can." Jay Bennie - 27th January 2016    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Wednesday, 27th January 2016 - 10:38pm

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