After two high-profile protests at the last two Auckland Pride Parades, objecting to the presence of Corrections and the Police in the parades, the No Pride In Prisons transgender rights and prisons abolition activist group were notable by their absence this year, though Corrections did not march this year, at the request of the Auckland Pride Festival Board.
In this explanation, provided exclusively to GayNZ.com, NPIP explains why they decided not to protest at this yearâ€™s Pride Parade
For two years in a row, No Pride in Prisons protested the Auckland Pride Parade. In 2015, we opposed the inclusion of Police and Corrections officers, who were marching in uniform for the first time. By the time the Pride Parade rolled around in 2016, our movement had grown exponentially. With three hundred people bringing the parade to a halt, more people than ever were frustrated with the Auckland Pride Board turning a blind eye to the violence of the Police and prisons, particularly against LGBTIQ people.
After each of these protests, we received a huge groundswell of support from a wide range of people both in Aotearoa and across the world. Of course, we also received substantial backlash from many in the gay establishment, who saw our protests as ruining their party. Regardless, these symbolic acts of defiance against Police and Corrections forced a conversation about the treatment of transgender people in New Zealand prisons, during a pride festival that had all but forgotten them.
Since our protest of the 2016 Pride Parade, NPIP has substantially changed the way we organise. We now run a number of social programmes to support people on the inside and advocate for them from the outside. One such example, the Prisoner Correspondence Network, is an effort started, run, and funded by NPIP. The PCN links prisoners who are mostly LGBTIQ with penpals on the outside. We have received countless letters of support from prisoners within our network, thanking us for connecting them with someone to write to.
We also have an extensive advocacy network. Our advocates travel hundreds of kilometres to visit prisoners in some of the countryâ€™s most remote prisons. Our advocates provide incarcerated people with a voice when the system has abandoned them. They do things like help transgender prisoners to get their birth certificate changed, and put pressure on Corrections when their needs are not being met. In November last year, four of our advocates were arrested for occupying a Corrections office to demand that a transgender prisoner be moved out of solitary confinement.
The vast majority of what the organisation does goes on behind the scenes. We have a team of dedicated researchers who ensure that all of our public commentary and proposals are thoroughly researched. We have a team in Wellington which prepares submissions for bills before select committee that could affect criminalised communities. This is just some of the work that the organisation does and we hope that, as we grow, we can expand the number of social programmes we provide and the number of people we can support.
As we see it, prisons are inherently violent and racist institutions. Much of the work we do is about helping people when Corrections denies them their fundamental human rights. However, this alone is not nearly enough to address the problems of imprisonment. As long as prisons exist in Aotearoa, there will always be more people to help and more cases of abuse. The best way to support prisoners is to free them from the system that ultimately causes this suffering. For this reason, it is our commitment to prison abolition that fundamentally drives us.
We know, however, that our vision cannot be achieved unless we have a mass-based organisation to make it happen. After months of deliberation, we decided late last year to open up our membership beyond just LGBTIQ people. While our support from the LGBTIQ community is huge, it is not enough to bring about the change we need. The LGBTIQ community cannot abolish prisons just by ourselves or just for ourselves. LGBTIQ people certainly experience some of the worst excesses of the violence of prisons, but this violence is also experienced by people from many other walks of life. In order to see the end of prisons in Aotearoa, we have to bring in as many people as possible â€“ especially formerly incarcerated people, the bulk of whom are not LGBTIQ.
For now, the overwhelming majority of our members and the prisoners we support are LGBTIQ and many of our frustrations with Pride remain. With the inclusion of the racist Police force, banks, and other big corporations who use Pride and their LGBTIQ workers as a PR stunt, Pride still lacks a meaningful queer politics. But while we strongly encourage others to take the fight to Pride and make it a place for politics, our priorities have changed. Pride is no longer a focus for our organisation. Although we oppose the inclusion of Police and Corrections in the march because of what it symbolises, our actions are now more concerned with improving the immediate material conditions of incarcerated people and building a movement that can end incarceration entirely. Our decision not to protest Pride this year reflects this commitment.
We certainly celebrate Auckland Prideâ€™s decision to reject Correctionsâ€™ application to march in the parade this year. We know, however, that this is not nearly enough to achieve justice for incarcerated people. Protesting Correctionsâ€™ presence at Pride was a way to plant the seeds of conversation about the violence of imprisonment. The rapid growth of our organisation is proof of the fertile soil those seeds have found. Now is the time to tend our garden. We believe that liberation for everybody, including the LGBTIQ community, cannot happen until new sprouts grow up through the rubble of the prisons. We are stronger than ever, and this has only been the beginning.- No Pride in Prisons