LGBTIQ counselling service Switchboard Victoria has joined calls to ban Victoria Police officers marching in uniform at next year’s Midsumma Pride March.
Midsumma is the state’s largest LGBTIQ arts and culture festival, returning January 23 to February 13. The annual Pride March attracts thousands to St Kilda in Melbourne.
A contingent of Victoria Police officers march in a grouping alongside emergency, fire and ambulance services and surf lifesavers.
Switchboard Victoria provides “trauma-informed support for some of our most marginalised LGBTIQA+ people during their most difficult times.”
And it’s that work, they’ve explained, that has informed their position on the issue of unformed police marching in 2022.
“Switchboard believes all members of our LGBTIQA+ communities have the inarguable right to march in an environment that feels welcoming and safe for them,” Switchboard wrote in a statement.
As a result, Switchboard wants Victoria Police to “not march at Midsumma Pride March in uniform nor with weapons.”
“To be clear, we are not calling for Police members to be banned from attending Pride,” they added.
“We ask that Police and Midsumma heed the calls from many parts of our community.
“Consider the impact of Police marching in uniforms on the ability of marginalised community members to attend and feel safe at Pride.”
‘Deeply entrenched trauma’
Switchboard said at the heart of “the growing and highly contested discussions” around police representation at Pride lies “deeply entrenched trauma.”
“We recognise the ongoing work by First Nations and LGBTIQA+ leaders, in partnership with police and government, to rectify a long history of police brutality, mistreatment and discrimination against marginalised communities,” they said.
“However, at Switchboard, in our everyday work, we hear firsthand, ongoing experiences of mistreatment, discrimination and trauma.
“There is still a long journey of work and community healing ahead before we can consider a time where police participating in uniform might feel safe for all.”
They invited Victoria Police and Midsumma to consider, “Who is the Pride March for and who needs it the most?”
“Some members of our community may feel a sense of safety or support from police marching at Pride,” Switchboard said.
“[But] we invite you to centre the voices and experiences of people most isolated and marginalised within our communities, as you consider this issue.”
LGBTIQA+ communities “need and deserve” more work in justice reform, police accountability and equity, Switchboard said.
“Confidential spaces for survivor-centred truth-telling processes are the first step in healing trauma and sparking positive change,” they said.
Switchboard released the statement ahead of a panel discussion hosted by Victoria Police and LGBTIQ radio station JOY FM on Tuesday.
Survey finds low levels of trust in police
Last month, Victorian Pride Lobby released research finding very low levels of trust between police and the LGBTIQ community.
Four out of five LGBTIQ+ Victorians don’t trust Victoria Police to use their powers reasonably.
Half of respondents don’t trust officers with personal information, the survey also found.
Two out of three also felt they were treated unfairly in interactions with police.
About 80 per cent of respondents said they didn’t feel safe to see a large police presence at LGBTIQ+ events.
In response, Victoria Police said the force has more than 420 LGBTIQ+ liaison officers across the state.
They “work tirelessly” to strengthen trust and respect between communities and police, Deputy Commissioner Neil Paterson said.
“Victoria Police remains steadfast in its commitment to rectifying wrongdoings of the past,” he said.
“We are motivated to do more to earn the trust and confidence of the LGBTIQ+ community.
“We will continue to work… to better understand how we can work collaboratively to build strong relationships.”
‘Exploiting our community for good PR’
Before this year’s Midsumma March, hundreds signed an open letter from activist group Pride in Protest on the issue.
The letter called on Midsumma to ban police officers and correctional officers from marching.
The group slammed police participation in the march as “more to do with exploiting our community for good PR than any change to the systemic racism, queerphobia and transphobia embedded in the criminal legal system.”
“To expect people who have survived police violence to march with their oppressors, denies their right to justice and safety at Pride,” they said.
“Inviting police to march actively excludes the most vulnerable in the LGBTQIA+ community.”
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