Last night, Pride WA, the organisation responsible for organising the annual Perth Pride Parade, which is set for this Saturday, held a briefing for float organisers. Following this, many of these organisers are now voicing loud protest at the unexpected and announcement that this year, floats will have hard limits on numbers, regulated by wristbands.
In previous years, many floats have been open to all members of the community wishing to march; TransFolk of WA last year had a 120 strong contingent. This year, Pride WA has allocated the group just 20 wristbands, of which 4 must go to organisers. The community has met the revelation that just 16 people will be allowed to march with the main representative and activist body for trans people in WA with shock, outrage, and disgust.
Though official response lacked at first, across queer groups online widespread disappointment and anger at the decision quickly spread. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the police department – an extremely controversial presence at pride in any case – has been allocated 30 wristbands, and some corporate floats up to 100.
Some groups have come together to share wristbands in order to allow those who need them more additional spaces, whilst others have asked allies to respectfully withdraw unless essential as carers. This is a strong symbol of unity in our community – but it should not be necessary.
Pride parades worldwide have over recent years struggled with debate over the presence of corporations and police, with many arguing that such groups, being longtime oppressors of the queer community that “rainbow-wash” their image for the media exposure before going back to continue supporting the still entrenched and institutionalised prejudice that many of us experience, have no place at a celebration of our people.
A sentiment that may press to the fore over the coming days is that nobody arranged wristbands (or cheered on the police) at Stonewall – pride has its origins in civil disobedience. We march, not to demonstrate our compliance with the state that treats us as human only as we push and suffer for our rights as hard as we can, but to show that we are proud of who we are, and unafraid. We have a parade to celebrate our being ourselves, not to watch a series of banks and mining companies glide past as we watch from the sidelines.
My experience with pride parades in Perth has been one of community, excitement, and belonging. Marching surrounded by many others is a wonderful experience – “gay christmas,” I’ve heard it called. To consider that genuine queer community groups might become a mere tokenistic gesture at a parade that celebrates the magnanimity of the corporations and police that allow us to be present at what seems to be in danger of becoming their event is sickening.
To consider that many young, perhaps newly out, as well as more experienced members of the community will have been looking forward to this event for months, only to have it taken away from them like this at the last moment, is saddening. I know I would have been devastated if, for the first parade I marched in after coming out as trans, I suddenly found out I had to enter into a lottery with perhaps a hundred others for just a handful of places. The hurt this will do – and already has done – to our community is something many of us are taking on a personal level. Pride belongs to the people, not to our oppressors.
We reached out to the UWA Student Guild Pride Department, of which Pride Officer Saskia Mason said:
“Marching with UWA, the Pride Department is lucky enough to have been granted ample space for our LGBT students and staff to march. It’s disappointing to see that the same freedom hasn’t been granted to local LGBT community groups, who these restrictions affect most. When numbers are strictly limited and WAPol and corporate floats are granted space, it is at the direct expense of LGBT organisations and members of the community. We call upon Pride WA to rethink their priorities for the parade and what it represents in years to come”.
Pride WA released a lengthy official statement this afternoon. However, it does not indicate that any changes will be made to the plans as they stand for the parade this year. Further, even if the issues with wristband allocations is, as stated, an organisational hiccup, deeper problems and contention within the queer community have been brought to the fore here. Our feelings of betrayal and anger at police and corporate presences in the limelight will not go be brushed away with a dozen more wristbands.
Words by Elanor Leman