A religious group’s attempt to disrupt the recent Auckland Pride March with loud preaching and pamphlets urging marchers to “repent” was repelled by an activist’s fierce takedown.
The confrontation between the group from Heart of Christ Ministries and prominent Queer activist Shaneel Lal has been shared widely on social media, with many praising the staunch response to the street preachers.
The march, in its third year, saw thousands gather on Saturday to march from Albert Park to Aotea Square to promote inclusivity and protest on behalf of marginalised communities.
Lal, who uses they/them pronouns, told the Herald the group followed the marchers along the entire route.
Pamphlets were handed out to marchers, telling them to “repent”.
Lal said the preachers were shouting at the marchers, labelling them “sinners”.
They claim that the group were also shouting at children and it was this that prompted them to react.
“Grown-as adults were going up to little children, antagonising them and telling them that God hates them,” Lal said.
Confronting a young woman who Lal said was handing out pamphlets, they asked: “Do you realise that there are young people here that will be harmed by you, that will consider suicide and will be pushed to depression because of what you do?”
“What am I doing,” the protester responds.
“Exactly, question yourself. What are you doing?” “You’re embarrassing yourself,” Lal fired back.
Lal told the woman that the Queer community were “sick and tired” and told her there was a “fine line between religious freedom and religious bigotry”.
“You know what religious people have been able to do? They’ve been able to take our relationship with faith and God and weaponise it against our community.
“God doesn’t care if we’re gay or trans. Being a decent human being will suffice.
“As for religious people like you, you have pushed queer people into lives of misery and hate and death and God will never forgive you for that.”
The preacher does not offer much response in the one-sided argument, other than to state that “God hates sin” and label Lal as “triggered”.
Lal said there were more people in the group than shown in the video and said the clash quickly became an “unsafe situation”.
They said that although police were nearby and had been asked by marchers to intervene, officers allowed the protesters to continue shouting at marchers.
“They did absolutely nothing,” Lal claimed.
They said they were not surprised by police inaction, claiming: “The police do not care for trans people of colour.”
“When I asked them to intervene, they said ‘we are busy’,” Lal claimed.
In a statement to the Herald, police said that they understood the frustration from the Queer community but said that no laws were broken.
“Police are aware there was a group preaching religious beliefs near the Pride Party at Aotea Square on Saturday night,” the spokesperson said.
“Our role was to monitor the overall event in the public space, to ensure the safety of all and responding to any issues that may arise.
“In general, under law police need to be mindful around the rights of all parties around freedom of expression in a public place. On this occasion police were present and were monitoring the situation. There was no unlawful activity identified.
“However, we acknowledge in the setting it would have been frustrating for members of our Rainbow communities that were present on Saturday.”
Lal, who is of iTaukei (Melanesian) and Girmit (South Asian) descent, said “the most unfortunate thing” about the group that protested was that “these people are our people”.
“They’re some of the most colonised and brainwashed and they’re carrying on the work of the coloniser,” they said.
“It’s difficult to imagine the amount of brainwashing it would have taken for these Polynesians to come out to a pride event and yell at us that God hates sin.”
Lal said that since they posted the video, they had received messages from Queer Christians telling them how harmful the protesters’ behaviour was.
Lal said “religious extremists” turned up to Pride events every year and the behaviour “cannot continue”.
“Religious rights are not absolute,” they said.
“Out of all the issues that Pacific people are facing, the Heart of Christ Ministries chose people living as their true self to go after.”
The Heart of Christ member seen in the video told the Herald that the group were a small outreach ministry that goes out weekly in the CBD to distribute food, water, clothes and blankets to those in need.
“We just go out and love,” she told the Herald, saying that they had attended other large gatherings in the past to preach and denying that they had shouted at children or harassed marchers, adding that some of the protesters at the march were not members of the ministry.
She said that the group had some positive encounters with marchers, although they had faced hostility, and said the experience wouldn’t deter them from attending future events to preach their “platform of love”.
But Lal said their actions caused considerable harm.
“I think that we need to acknowledge is that Pride may be a party for the most privileged and it may be a celebration for some but for the most marginalised, Pride still remains a protest that is about fighting for our basic human rights.”
Lal said that those most marginalised in the community, who still struggle with their identity, are often the most impacted by homophobic abuse.
“When these people show up to Pride events the most privileged are not impacted, they are comfortable in their sexuality and in their gender”
“We have gained a progressive image internationally but we have so much work left to do and to pretend that there isn’t work left to do is a great injustice to the community.”
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