Ensuring Visibility of Queer Issues – Interview with Gary Farrow on 95bFM

The interview is streamable here, and the transcript comes with thanks to Tim Sanders

Gary Farrow: And with us to start off the show today, the discussion will be helped by Jen Kate Shields, fellow bFMer, who has written quite a lot about the parade and the events that followed.  Hello Jen. Thank you very, very much for coming up to the studio.

Jennifer Katherine Shields: Hi Gary.

GF: Good to see you again.

JKS: You too.

GF: Now, the activist who had her arm fractured by corrections officers at the parade on Saturday – how’s she doing?

JKS: She’s still in hospital. I spent most of yesterday with her and she’s in a lot of pain.  She had her upper humerus broken which, according to the orthopaedic’s nurse, is one of the worst injuries you can get.  She’s in a soft cast and was due to be discharged but kept behind because she’s in too much pain to move.

GF: Obviously, you know this woman because you’re involved in paying attention to queer issues yourself.  Do you want to tell us something about that, Jen?

JKS: Yeah, sure. I personally work a lot on this campus with trans students and the institution itself in improving conditions and Emmy, the woman who was hurt, has worked with me really closely on that, quite close, and I’ve been helping with her work around prisons and Pride.

GF: Just shortly – we’ve talked about this on The Wire yesterday – but could you explain the reasons behind the “No Pride In Prisons” protest, for anyone who hasn’t followed the events closely?

JKS: Sure.  So, for the first time this year, both police and corrections officers marched in Pride in full uniform and we took objection to that, seeing as queer people, especially Māori queers, and trans women are really highly susceptible to abuse from the justice system.  The biggest example is that trans women are still routinely put in men’s prisons, when we’re one of the people who are most highly affected by sexual violence and assault.

GF: What did the activists, exactly, do?  Did they try to stop the police float, or was it just an expression of disapproval?

JKS: They didn’t jump the fence, they sort of just pushed it out of the way, and then stood on the road with a banner, and then were dragged off by security and police.

GF: Was there much response, or support, or opposition, from the public who were attending the parade?

JKS: It was very mixed.  It was right by the GABA [Gay Auckland Business Association] GlamStand, and the response from there was quite negative.  There was a lot of yelling and jeering, especially along the lines of “This isn’t the place”, or “You’re ruining the parade”.

GF: What’s your thoughts on how GABA has handled the situation – them specifically?

JKS: I think it’s been absolutely terrible.  For people that don’t know, one of the people who was dragging the protesters is Heather Carnegie, the president of GABA, who was there managing the GlamStand.  And we also have very clear footage of her grabbing a protester’s phone and throwing it about five feet into the air, to land on concrete, which has destroyed evidence.  In response, she’s denied everything.  She’s denying any contact, or any violence, but we have photos of her pushing someone off the road and their face is quite clearly in pain.

GF: Isn’t it mind-blowing for anyone, I think, to think about that sort of thing being done to your means of communication during a situation like that?  If anything, it’s a situation which you want to be able to communicate and explain what’s happening.

JKS: Yeah, definitely.

GF: After the parade on Saturday, you posted on your blog, quote: “last night, thousands cheered in support of hundreds of drag queens.  They cheered as a trans woman was brutally abused”.  Is this sort of your main criticism of Pride – how it appears to be surprisingly exclusive?

JKS: Yeah.  I think it’s very one-sided.  The original Pride, at Stonewall, was a riot led by trans women of colour and now, there’s absolutely no way for a trans woman to protest, or express dissent, without being abused.  I marched in Pride, in an official float, in silence, for the death of a local trans woman last month, and I was met with either silence or verbal abuse.  So, even if you do it legitimately, through the way they recommend, you’re still met with abuse and violence.

GF: Can you imagine any ways which we could start to circumvent this sort of behaviour at such events?

JKS: It’s tough.  I think the big thing is community reactions and attitudes.  There’s a lot of satisfaction, especially after the gay marriage bill.  There’s the idea that a lot of things are okay now and nothing really needs to be changed.  I think what really needs to happen is we need to start listening to the people who are still the most marginalised.

GF: It almost seems they want to include everyone, like the police and even the National Party who, of course, voted against gay marriage on the part of some MPs.  And indeed, John Key voted against it, at least the first reading and possibly the second?

JKS: Yeah, from what I remember.

GF: And then he voted for the third.

JKS: Yeah.

GF: So what do you think of that sort of behaviour?  How do you feel about that?

JKS: I feel like it goes along with what Queers Against Injustice are doing.  I think it lines up quite nicely with the idea of pinkwashing; if an institution, or somebody, or a corporation supports queer people, then suddenly everything else they do is okay.  The big example, that keeps being talked about, is the state of Israel – how they have trans people in their army and provide meals for vegans, things like that – small issues, that are easily supported, to sort of wash over everything else that’s happening.
GF: Just so listeners understand the protests that have happened involving the pink paint being thrown over the ATMs and at the police station in Ponsonby: that – throwing pink paint at a building – is not pinkwashing in itself, is it?  It’s a protest against pinkwashing.

JKS: Yeah.  It’s to symbolise what’s happening.

GF: I think some people are misunderstanding that, in the case of this protest, so I think it’s important that our listeners are able to understand that and it’s cool that they can now, after listening to our interview.  What’s your take on the discussions that have followed this year’s Pride?  Do you think it will have any positive effects, what happened?

JKS: We hope so.  We’re still talking with a lot of media and trying to get our side of it out there but, overwhelmingly, it’s been quite against us, especially from big community leaders – like GABA and people like Levi Joule and Paul Stevens – and I feel like that’s quite representative of the community and can also influence it as well.  So I think we’re fighting really hard to have our voices heard.  Hopefully, if we can do that, maybe we’ll have a better impact.

GF: What do you think these protests might achieve?

JKS:  Well, thinking big, we’re looking at a whole heap of stuff.  In terms of tangible changes, the corrections system – which went to review last year – that only barely fixed things.  We’re looking for more changes in terms of that.  We’re looking for more awareness of issues that are still happening within the community.  We’re looking for support, basically – support to People of Colour and trans people who are sitting out there in the cold.

GF: What’s your thoughts on the specific activism – is there a risk of alienating people from the cause because doing these sorts of things isn’t how they would behave?

JKS: I think so but also, at the same time, it’s kind of the only course of action.  This isn’t the first thing we’ve done as a group.  This is a long series, and it’s the only one that’s gotten any significant attention.  When you’re silenced over and over and over, sometimes you have to speak out in bigger ways.

GF: Are you from the specific activist group that did this?

JKS: Yeah, I’m involved with them, but also just in general.

GF: There was also the note on the bank this morning that had some points, including Israel using a pro-LGBTQIA stance to distract attention from the military occupation of Palestine.  I think some people are becoming sort of confused about that, thinking that this case is somewhat about Palestine as well.  Is that just a reference to the situation over there, likening it to the rhetoric we have being spouted here, to cover over policy?

JKS: Yeah.  I’m not with the group that threw the paint at things but, from what I see, it’s an example of the same concept of pinkwashing – using queer issues to wash over other, potentially more harmful, things.

GF: Have you got a lot more discourse going on in the last few days, now that this has been happening?

JKS: I think so.  I feel like a lot of it has just been around the physical object of the protest, and the response has been around whether or not it’s okay to throw paint at an ATM, rather than discussions of the concepts and why it was done.  It was interesting watching as Queers Against Injustice came out and said it was them because there was a huge shift from “This is a homophobic attack” to “This is a bigger thing”.

GF: I was interested, watching the news the other night, because obviously a lot of news sources – including bFM news – framed it in the beginning as an issue of homophobia but, since it has emerged that it’s an activity of queer activism, we are presenting it in a different way.  I was watching the news last night or the night before and the trans woman having her arm broken by security was almost a footnote in the story.

JKS: We saw that as well.

GF: I imagine that sort of thing would be quite disheartening.

JKS: Yeah, definitely.  There was one news station that covered it and showed the footage that we had of her on the ground being rolled over and screaming, and it’s a really visceral sound, and they censored it, which was an interesting coincidence.

GF: Sometimes when stuff like that is done on the news, it’s because it’s actually really disturbing to the viewers but-

JKS: It kind of deadens the effect of it, how harsh it was to her.

GF: Yeah.  Sometimes that effect is needed and it’s almost like, with a lot of the media now, our vision of reality is being blurred.  In other senses, we’re being more conscious of it, though.  The way we heard about the latest protests this morning was from one of our news team members, Ben Bartley Catt, who was heading through Mt. Eden Village and just told us about it, just casually, and then we linked it in and then saw it on twitter and everything.  That’s starting to become more the way of communication.  I certainly imagine that you, and the people you work with, as well, are hoping that that becomes more of the case.

JKS: Yeah, totally.  Twitter in particular has been of huge benefit to us.  I wasn’t in touch during the parade and afterwards – I got home to check twitter and saw that someone had been hurt – so I had no idea what was going on, and I sort of checked back and people had been live-tweeting it so there was up-to-date, detailed information.  And that’s been going on since, with every single update.  There’s a huge amount of support we’re getting on there as well, which is really beneficial.

GF: That’s invaluable, really.  Jen Kate Shields, thank you so much for coming up here.  I really, really appreciate it.  It’s great to get your perspective on these events.  It would be good to make contact with you in the coming days, or weeks, as well, to follow how things are going because I’m sure that a lot of the people in our local communities feel very strongly about this – a lot of us, in support of you, as well.  Thank you so much, Jen.

JKS: Thank you too, Gary.

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