It's telling that Victoria Police, which has the capacity to protect queer-friendly public events, is repeatedly recommending that they be cancelled instead, writes Tom Tanuki.
YET AGAIN, a queer community event has been shut down by a local council. This time it was the Rural City of Wangaratta "delaying" the Rainbow Ball, an event for LGBTQ+ youth billed as part of a pride weekend in Wangaratta.
The pattern is the same as with all queer-friendly local events cancelled recently — cancellations numbering more than ten and counting this year. The Far-Right make online threats to councils; VicPol makes a risk assessment to the councils behind the events and the councils buckle and announce a cancellation.
I’ve written about it repeatedly in this column space. I have focused on the responsibility of local governments to protect the queer community and said they should refuse to cave before anonymous online threats — particularly when the community is offering to rally popular support to protect events.
But now I want to address Victoria Police’s fundamental role in these cancellations.
When the Rainbow Ball was cancelled, VicPol issued a statement saying:
'Ahead of the planned event, Victoria Police was asked to provide information to help inform the Rural City of Wangaratta’s risk assessment. Victoria Police’s role ahead of all planned major public events is to provide information and intelligence to event organisers so they can make informed decisions.'
In other words, VicPol recommended to the Rural City of Wangaratta that it cancel the event. This is what they’ve done with most of the spate of cancelled events we’ve seen over the past year.
It's my understanding that ahead of a drag storytime event which was to be held at Eltham Library last month, VicPol’s risk assessment advice was essentially a threat that if the event went ahead, anti-fascists and neo-Nazis would be punching on outside the library. Subsequently, the event was cancelled.
The problem is that this prediction borders on outright lying — there are a few reasons for this.
For one, the neo-Nazis in question number only around 20 and they demonstrably do not do anything at these events — so far, bringing a homemade banner and filming a promotional video of themselves. But more importantly, the assessment ignores the incredible work being done by groups like the Rainbow Community Angels to coordinate positive, family-friendly community responses that guarding these events really needs.
Supporters from Rainbow Community Angels showed up anyway outside Eltham Library; the display of popular support that did appear was everything I’d hoped. It was numerous, wholesome, family-friendly and really effective. They were having fun. They drowned out a hostile counter-protesting contingent of tatty Far-Right dregs. All kinds of members of the community showed up. Families would absolutely have been able to get in safely. The Angels proved themselves.
Rainbow Community Angels are attracting the kind of broad cross-section of interest and attendance that more traditional activist Left outlets aren’t right now and that’s precisely because they are a tailored response purpose-fit to this problem. They are not veteran lefties gunning for a street fight with neo-Nazis. If this is what VicPol is telling councils in its risk assessments, then those assessments are built upon lies.
A notable stand out among this spate of dire VicPol risk assessments was Midsumma Festival. VicPol didn’t arrange for the cancellation of those events but instead posted about how they’d have LGBTQ+-friendly officers placed all around at events for community safety purposes.
These events went ahead as planned, with minimal disruption. This suggests the obvious: if VicPol’s energies were devoted to working with queer-friendly event organisers rather than focusing on fantasies of rampaging neo-Nazis to intimidate councils, perhaps the outlook for young queer people hoping to attend events that cater to them might be a little less grim.
Not to mention the assortment of powers that police already have to quell protest and dissent that doesn’t necessarily inflame a tense situation, such as threatening people with incitement or breach-of-the-peace charges or issuing move-on orders. These tactics are constantly deployed against activists holding legal protests; why can’t they be deployed against people who are threatening family-friendly events and potentially endangering children?
None of this reduces the need for bodies like councils – responsible for scheduling these events in the first place – to find ways to protect the integrity of a queer-friendly events calendar.
And they certainly don’t allay the need for us to organise as a community in defence. But we should also acknowledge that a local council is not equipped with the capacity to defend or protect spaces against what are often coordinated violent threats. VicPol, however, is; and it’s telling that the force with the capacity to protect these public community events is repeatedly recommending that they be cancelled instead.
Is VicPol capitalising on the relative naivete of organisations and bodies who don’t understand the level of actual threat they face from predominantly online Far-Right forces?
Is getting out of paying the Public Order Response Team (PORT) overtime more important to them than the ongoing right of young queer people to express themselves in public?
Actual physical resistance to queer-friendly youth events in Australia has remained minimal. A gaggle of groomer neo-Nazis with a big banner, surrounded by VicPol chaperones; a ragtag assortment of cookers too discordant to even counter-protest properly. They aren’t matching up to the tenor of their coordinated online threats.
Let’s hope VicPol stop letting them win; let’s hope they start protecting the LGBTQ+ community instead of contributing to hiding it away.
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