Members of Victoria’s LGBTQIA+ communities have signed an open letter calling on Victoria Police to step down from participating in next month’s Midsumma Pride March in St Kilda.
Victoria Police confirmed in December it would attend the St Kilda event on February 6th despite a damning report by the Victorian Pride Lobby which found three in five queer people don’t trust the police (*pretends to be shocked*).
The open letter, penned by queer writer and academic Joshua Badge and Gay Wailwan and Wiradjuri man Frank Gafa, was published on Tuesday. It was signed by more than 100 LGBTQIA+ activists, academics, performers and writers.
The group argued that Victoria Police should not be at Pride events because the presence of officers makes members in the LGBTQIA+ communities feel unsafe. People who identified as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, African Australia, a person of colour, a migrant, trans or gender diverse, lived with HIV or a disability, without a home, were a sex worker, financially disadvantaged or drug dependent said they were particularly uncomfortable.
In a statement to PEDESTRIAN.TV, Badge said their goal is “a Pride where all LGBTQIA+ people feel safe and are able to attend and participate”.
“Victoria Police have ignored concerns on this issue and we hope this open letter encourages them to listen to community,” they said.
“Victoria Police have yet to recognise that their presence excludes the most vulnerable among us. This applies to Pride and also to the police-led town hall where they announced that they would be participating in spite of high levels of distrust in our communities.”
Gafa added that the letter is “further proof of community consensus which Victoria Police have ignored”.
“Ultimately, Victoria Police is an organisation in need of some good press. Participating at Pride is a way of making the organisation seem progressive and LGBTQ-friendly when it isn’t in practice.”
The state’s police force held a public town hall event for LGBTQIA+ people to voice their concerns about Victoria Police in December. It was notoriously tricky to attend.
At the time of the town hall, Gafa explained to PEDESTRIAN.TV that the way it was set up actually discouraged community members from attending. The event was run by police — the very group the criticisms were aimed at — began at 3pm on a weekday, didn’t specify who was attending the panel and had no live feed for people to join in the conversation who weren’t physically there. Members of the press were reportedly turned away but the town hall was hosted by Melbourne queer radio station JOY FM presenter, David McCarthy.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Neil Paterson said in a statement to PEDESTRIAN.TV that the state’s police force hoped to “engage directly with Victoria’s LGBTIQ community, listen to their issues and concerns, and ensure we are delivering a policing service that meets their needs into the future” with the event.
A spokeswoman for Victoria Police’s LGBTQIA+ portfolio also encouraged people to share it with groups LGBTQIA+ people felt “should be part of the conversation who haven’t had a chance to in the past”.
But it’s hard to think Victorian Police actually listened to the communities’ concerns at the meeting when members of those same communities were still calling on the police force to hear why they don’t want police at Pride with Tuesday’s open letter.