The Brisbane Pride Festival has asked police not to attend this year’s rally and march in uniform.
The festival committee stated that it has decided to continue allowing police to attend, but the request that they not wear uniforms is in response to longstanding tensions with the community.
“There exists a long-term distrust of the Queensland Police Service amongst members of our community because of historical homophobia, abuse, police brutality, and unsafe behaviours against LGBTIQ+ people and communities,” said the committee in a statement.
They said that, despite efforts to increase engagement with the LGBTIQ+ community through initiatives such as liaison officers, homophobia within the police service seemed to be increasing.
“This year, we became aware of an investigation into Queensland Police Officers after sexist, racist, and homophobic social media posts,” they said.
A trans woman in north Queensland last year reported that police breached her privacy and repeatedly misgendered her, going against Queensland Police Service guidelines.
‘An important acknowledgement’
The Brisbane Pride Festival committee’s decision follows long debate locally and worldwide about the place of uniformed police at queer events.
Members of the LGBTIQ+ community have expressed mixed responses to the news, with some agreeing with the request and others calling it outdated or discriminatory.
“The exclusion of uniformed police is an important acknowledgement of the roots of Pride, and a massive step towards making Pride an accessible and inclusive space for people in our community who continue to be the targets of unfair policing, discrimination, and violence,” trans advocate River Capra told Pink Advocate.
“Pride stands in opposition to the forces that seek to kill or erase us.
“Denying [police] uniformed access to our space continues that fundamental principle.”
Another person said that they and most of their queer friends had been traumatised or were afraid of police.
“Add in institutionalised racism and I don’t think asking police to not march in uniform is an unreasonable request,” they said.
“All queer people should feel safe to march.”
Founder of Voices of the 3% Kristy-Lee said that First Nations and queer people deserve to have their safety assured by collectives holding public events.
“As a queer person and a First Nations person, I wholeheartedly support the stance that [the committee] has taken in requesting that uniformed officers not be present at this year’s Pride,” she said.
“Aboriginal and LGBTIQ persons have fought for their innate human rights in opposition to other citizens, government, and those that the government employs to maintain the status quo.
“For the Queensland Police Service to appear uniformed and not be perceived as a threat, the relationship between them and First Nations and queer people would need to change dramatically, with QPS being 100% accountable for the actions of every single one of its officers and engaging in a demonstrable overhaul regarding the praxis of interacting with our communities.”
Queensland Police Service LGBTI Liaison Officer Program coordinator Ben Bjarnesen said that he and colleagues were “saddened and hurt” by the festival committee’s decision.
Bjarnesen wrote on Facebook that as a recruit he could never have imagined being out and proud at work, and he had been elated in 2015 when then Commissioner Ian Stewart first granted permission for officers to march.
“LGBTIQ+ officers have all faced violence and discrimination in our lives and our careers, and we are proud to wear the uniform and show our colleagues and the community that we are part of the community, and that police are changing and that we are diverse,” he wrote.
“It seems incredibly unjust that the LGBTIQ+ police of today would be the ones who are punished for the actions of cisgender and heterosexual politicians, governments, and police from the past.”
Former Pride Festival Committee President Deeje Hancock said that work is needed to facilitate reconciliation with police for “the atrocities inflicted on the greater queer community in the past”.
“Many members of our community are waking up to the message from their Pride committee that says they are not good enough to march because of their uniform, or you can march but hide the fact that you are a police officer,” said Hancock.
“These members of our community have been singled out by a small select number of our community to be discriminated against, on the basis of the sins of the past.
“The very fact that a trans person is a member of the force shows how far we have come, yet sadly the fact that trans person is forbidden to wear their uniform shows how regressive the current Pride committee have become.
“As far as I am concerned, any decision by Pride that results in possible negative health issues to others in our community, regardless of how slight, is not in the best interests of the community, and they need to be held accountable.”
Notorious ‘gay cowboy’ Josh Goyne agreed that police should be allowed to march in uniform, calling the decision shameful.
“I just don’t understand how we can push for inclusion but segregate,” he said.
“I’ve had my fair share of homophobic police officers, but then I also owe my life to a police officer.
“In my opinion, it’s against the principle of gay pride.”
‘No right answer’
Community member Paul Tatton acknowledged the history of police brutality against LGBTIQ+ people but said that times have changed.
“It’s about unification, inclusiveness, and pride and acceptance,” said Tatton.
“To stop a particular group from marching in uniform only creates division and a ‘them and us’ attitude that is not warranted.
“I believe the Pride committee need to reconsider their decision and allow the police to march in uniform.”
Brett Kappler said that liaison officers and other LGBTIQ+ police had earned the right to march in uniform, but the idea that problems between police and the queer community were past was incorrect.
“Those community members who still feel marginalised and threatened by police presence must be respected,” said Kappler.
“It’s a tricky situation that there is no right answer to.
“I think the best available compromise has been reached in that they are welcome to march, just not in uniform.
“This respects the right to march and protects those for whom the uniform represents a source of trauma.”
The Brisbane Pride Festival committee said that the request for police not to march in uniform was “an invitation to the Queensland Police Service to acknowledge their harm and to correct course moving forward, in hopes of making an impactful change”.
“Brisbane Pride is an organisation that is continually open to dialogue, and our aim is to hopefully find a way for officers to once again march in uniform, but we as a community need to see progress and accountability from the Queensland Police Service,” they said.
Events this weekend
The Brisbane Pride Festival rally will be held on Saturday 30 October, beginning at the corner of Ann and Brunswick Streets in Fortitude Valley at 10 am, marching to New Farm Park for the annual Fair Day until 5 pm.
The official after-party will kick off from 8:30 pm at The Warehouse in Fortitude Valley.
Tickets to the Fair Day and after-party are available now.