Something To Be Proud Of: Inclusion is not without its downside. Once inside the fold, there is a strong temptation to silence dissenting voices. Calling out instances of ongoing discrimination and oppression smacks too much of biting the hand that no longer strikes you. Far better to welcome in all the institutions and businesses so eager, now, to be associated with the rainbow banner. The Pride Parade needs sponsors - not dissidents.
SHOULD WE BE SURPRISED that the rainbow community turned out to be so conservative? That the effort of the Pride Parade board to address the fear so easily triggered by police uniforms has provoked such a swift and devastating backlash? That so many gay and lesbian people appear to have forgotten what it feels like to be labelled, singled-out, trashed and excluded? That so many New Zealanders seem unaware that it is precisely those who dwell furthest away from the blessings of societal acceptance that have the strongest claim to our care and protection?
Something has shifted. In the years separating the Hero Parade from the Pride Parade the straight world’s perception of the rainbow community and the rainbow community’s perception of itself have undergone profound changes. What was once considered wild and transgressive has been made safe. The civic leaders who railed against the Hero Parade’s raunchiness have gone. Until this past fortnight, civic and corporate institutions have been lining up to tell the world how proud they are of Pride.
It raises an important question. Was the “gay lifestyle”, as mainstream New Zealand insisted on calling the non-normative expression of human sexuality; or “queer culture”, as it often described itself; the product of the dominant culture’s repression? Did the amelioration of that repression lead to the well-behaved heterosexuality of the straight world becoming the model for a rainbow community no longer obliged to make virtues out of the vices it had for centuries been accused of embodying?
And was the straight world’s growing acceptance of the rainbow community accelerated by the latter’s demand to be admitted to all of society’s core institutions? Gays and lesbians insisted that they had as much to offer the armed forces and the police as heterosexual citizens. Indeed, there was no occupational grouping, no profession, which would not benefit from opening its doors to the non-straight population. Likewise, the right to marry, raise children, form families and bequeath property should be extended to all citizens regardless of their sexual preferences. What was there to fear or dislike about a community so determined to sign-up to all the world’s conventions?
The watchword, for straights and non-straights alike, was “inclusion”. The revolutionary rhetoric of the years immediately following the Stonewall Riot in New York’s Greenwich Village had been vindicated. The years of watching friends and lovers die of AIDS while the straight world looked on and did nothing had, in the end, brought people of good will to the understanding that pain and grief is universal. That, ultimately, our common humanity trumps our diverse sexuality. It was something to celebrate. Something to be proud of.
Hence the Pride Parade. Hence the sense of elation when institutions like the Police and the Armed Forces signalled their willingness to mouth the watchword. Now, at last, the horrors of the bad old days could be forgotten. The hazing, the beatings, the murders. All the ritual humiliations, perfected over centuries to punish those who failed the tests of church and state. Why dwell upon the history when uniformed members of the rainbow community were willing to march in step with the people their predecessors had persecuted?
Inclusion is not without its downside, however. Once inside the fold, there is a strong temptation to silence dissenting voices. Calling out instances of ongoing discrimination and oppression smacks too much of biting the hand that no longer strikes you. Far better to welcome in all the institutions and businesses so eager, now, to be associated with the rainbow banner – especially when you’re expected to cough-up $150,000 for the privilege of walking down Ponsonby Road. The Pride Parade needs sponsors – not dissidents.
But does that need for the corporate dollar mean that the issues raised by the trans community should simply be ignored? Should the fate of young people locked up in police cells and prisons with, at best, only a grudging acceptance of their gender identification or, at worst, uncaring disregard, be set to one side? Is the treatment meted out to them while the responsibility of Police and Corrections personnel unworthy of consideration? Do their stories, laced as they are with all the trauma of marginalisation and despair, not count?
The Pride Parade board decided that they did count and voted narrowly to give the word “inclusion” a radical inflection. It was a brave decision – and they are paying a very high price for it. Those who have attempted to defend the board’s decision have been abused and spat upon by angry supporters of the status quo. In terms of sheer numbers, it would appear that the majority of the rainbow community favour a more conservative definition of inclusion.
How quickly people forget.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 23 November 2018.