When pride turns to shame
Claims of police brutality at this year’s Mardi Gras have, quite rightly, galvanised the LGBTIQ community but the actions of a few has left many reeling with embarrassment. Here, Nicky Bryson opens up about her feelings of shame.
I’ve never been ashamed of my community before but the events that have unfolded since Mardi Gras have shaken my faith. I always thought I was part of a mature community, one that worked by education and relationship-building. But nothing could have prepared me for the dismay I felt when a two-minute YouTube video showing only half a story so easily reduced our community to a kangaroo court baying for blood.
Thirty five years ago a shocking display of police brutality cut short a gay pride march in Sydney and brought a community together instead of smashing it apart. But that’s not where the story ends. Twenty three years ago the NSW Police began training the first Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers in their aim to actively build a better relationship with the queer community. That’s a relationship we have all built together and fostered. It’s something we have proudly touted when we publicise the parade: in 1978 the police were the enemy and now they are marching with us.
Over the last two decades we have broken down so much of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that characterised our relationship with the police. The benefit of this has been more than just having police march at Mardi Gras. It has increased the reporting of homophobic and transphobic violence, it’s meant victims of same-sex domestic violence have felt safe enough to seek help and it’s even led to programs that address homophobic bullying in schools. It’s also created a safer space for gay police within the force; making it easier to ‘come out’ and encouraging more openly gay people to consider policing as a career path – further breaking down notion of us and them.
One of those people is my wife. She joined the police force twelve years ago as an out lesbian with a clear sense of wanting to represent the gay community. She is a Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer and she is someone that lots of people (but especially people from our community) turn to when they need help.
When my partner puts on her uniform and heads off to work, she does so knowing that for every person she helps, another one may spit at her, take a swing at her, or try to kick her in the face. Yet she loves her job and she does it with passion and pride. Many people I know in our community have turned to her for advice or called on her in a time of trouble – from dealing with a D.U.I. charge, to needing protection from a violent ex or building the courage to report themselves as a victim of crime.
Right now I am trying reconcile that community with the people who are willing to instantly condemn an entire force on the basis of a YouTube video. The people who, even when more detailed footage emerged showing a different side of the arrest, were still willing to attend a snap rally despite warnings that it would be hijacked by professional protestors and march with a sign proclaiming all cops to be bastards.
The carriers of that sign have been dismissed as a fringe element but I saw people I know carrying signs reading ‘Local Cops Are Now Targeting You, Faggot’. I saw someone I love carrying a sign showing the rainbow crossing running with blood. And I’m not sure why this bothers me so much but at a rally that was supposed to be an emotional response to police brutality, every one of my Facebook friends who attended posted pictures of themselves smiling and laughing like they were at a carnival.
I’m ashamed of that protest. I think it did more harm for the relationship between the police and our community than most people realise. I also don’t think it did great things for the perception of the gay community out in the wider world.
However, I do hold greater hope for the policing forum scheduled for March 19. Community members will be able to speak directly with senior police and LGBTQI community leaders and open up a constructive dialogue about policing practices. To me this seems like a much better response to the community’s concerns than just dashing decades of work on the rocks and rolling the clock all the way back to 1978.
[Image] The banner at a rally against police brutality earlier this month which has angered many in the LGBTI community.
The Sydney Mardi Gras Policing Community Forum will be held on Tuesday, March 19, 7pm at the Teachers Federation Hall, 23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills. To register, go to www.policecommunityforum.eventbrite.com.