Loss of sponsorship could refocus Pride's appeal, says board chair Cissy Rock

A member of the Auckland Pride Parade's board has confidence in the organisation's direction, despite several sponsors pulling out of next year's event. 

"If the corporate [world] care about us and want to be aligned with us, there's lots of ways they can do that, and we're open for conversation," Auckland Pride Festival Chair Cissy Rock told Newshub on Wednesday.

Her comments come as BNZ Bank and Vodafone New Zealand pulled support on Wednesday for next year's Auckland Pride Parade in February in light of the board's decision to ban police from participating in the parade wearing their uniforms.

"It's simply the right thing to do to stand with the Police in this instance, as we would with any excluded group, and insist on inclusion for all," Vodafone New Zealand said in a statement on Wednesday.

A BNZ spokesperson said the bank has decided not to participate in the 2019 parade, and will instead be "participating in the Pride Festival in other ways". The bank emphasised that it encourages "events that celebrate New Zealand's diversity". 

"We are looking forward to continuing with our plans to celebrate at the Wellington Pride Parade being held in March."

It follows Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust's decision on Tuesday to pull its support for the parade over concerns of the police uniform ban. Gresham Bradley, Chair of the Trust and founder of the Auckland Pride Parade, told The AM Show the board needs to go.

The New Zealand Defence Force also pulled out of the parade next year, uniting in solidarity with the police. A spokesperson said the organisation does not feel comfortable joining in an event that excludes other uniformed services.  

Even the Police Minister Stuart Nash has weighed in on the debacle. He told Newstalk ZB the Auckland Pride Board has made a terrible decision by not allowing cops to wear uniforms in next year's parade.

But Ms Rock doesn't seem concerned about losing support for the event. She told Newshub the "community as a whole, for a while now, has been saying it's time to get back to having Pride with more of a community focus and wanting to see it more queer and edgy".

"This might be the opportunity that allows some more community involvement to really shine through... I want people to participate in our Pride Parade. It's really important. But they have to be people that want to support the kaupapa of the whole community."

The board's decision to introduce the uniform ban two weeks ago has been contentious from the start. It led to a community hui on Sunday described as "incredibly tense" where attendees were invited along to share their views on police uniform ban. It ended in a physical altercation. 

New Zealand Police Senior District Liaison Officer, Tracy Phillips, said police officers were extremely disappointed by the board's decision, telling Newshub at the time if police are not welcome in uniform, then "we're not going to force ourselves on anybody".

The board told police officers they must wear T-shirts instead of their uniforms, which is when Ms Phillips says she made the call that the New Zealand Police will no longer attend the parade.  Mr Bradley says the request was "offensive".

Ms Rock says there have been "multiple voices" raise concerns about police marching in uniform at the Pride Parade, saying many have "let us know that having the police as an institution participating in their uniforms sends messages around how cared for people feel".

Emilie Rākete, press spokesperson for People Against Prisons Aotearoa, has raised concerns about racism within New Zealand Police and harm against trans-people. She was involved in the altercation at Sunday's community hui, after reading out police brutality statistics.

She claims Māori are disproportionately affected by police violence - concerns Ms Rock says the Auckland Pride Parade board has tried to give a voice to.

"Some of those voices come from those feeling marginalised and unsafe and some of them are about supporting institutions that are considered racist and trans-phobic, homophobic and misogynistic," Ms Rock told Newshub. 

"There are people who feel so proud of the police and are very impressed with the work that the police have done. They have come so far and we really want queer officers to be visible, but not at the expense of other voices in the community.

"Until all of us feel safe, none of us feel safe."