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Centrist attends tense protest at Wellington UNSILENCED Conference

Centrist’s Tameem Barakat photographs protesters outside the UNSILENCED conference in Wellington.

In brief 

  • I attended the Unsilenced Conference in Wellington on behalf of Centrist.
  • Protesters gathered with various flags and signs. Many eager to have their signs photographed.
  • But I was harassed by activists, labelled as transphobic without any reasons or evidence and asked to leave.
  • The confrontation ended with me going inside after a trans activist shouted that I  should go back to my country. 

The scene outside Te Papa

Upon arriving at the Takina conference centre in downtown Wellington, across from Te Papa, the stench of faeces lingered in the air. 

I had just missed a trans activist protester hurling what was reportedly excrement, apparently aimed at Brian Tamaki of Destiny’s Church. 

Protesters had gathered in front of Te Papa. The crowd seemed to be about two to three hundred strong.

At around 11:45 AM, I began photographing the flags, signs, and overall scene. 

Prominent among the signs were the Trans Liberation flag (from last year’s Posie Parker protest) in Auckland and banners from the Queer Endurance in Defiance League. 

I approached a few protesters waving trans flags and asked if I could take their picture; they agreed.

I noticed that many people straightened their signs when they saw me, appearing eager to have them photographed. 

Accused of being transphobic for no reason

However, my presence soon drew the attention of someone in a high vis vest.

“May I ask what you are doing here?” the person queried.

“Who are you?” I replied.

“I’m with the event,” they said, offering no further identification.

I made it clear that I chose not to engage further, yet I was asked to leave for allegedly making attendants “feel uncomfortable.” I was accused of being “transphobic” and of photographing people without their consent. 

Lots of people were photographing the event. What consent is required in a public place to photograph anyone? What transphobic statements had I made? Who felt uncomfortable? 

Despite my questions, none were answered. I found myself surrounded by activists blocking my camera and calling security. 

Two security guards claimed I was invading people’s personal space.

Security and protestors kept inching closer, placing their hands in front of my camera, and preventing me from moving freely.

To defuse the situation, I backed up, creating more than an arm’s length of space between myself and the protesters. Still, they persisted in edging closer. 

An older woman identified herself as a Māori Warden and informed me that I had to leave. I asked if she had the authority to arrest me or prevent me from staying in the area. She admitted she did not, so I respectfully declined her request.

The activists became increasingly agitated.

“What’s your politics?” one shouted.

“What’s your publication?” another yelled from the crowd.

“,” I replied.

“Thank you for telling us!” another voice piped up.

Round 2 and xenophobia rears its ugly head

Centrist attends tense protest at Wellington UNSILENCED Conference - Centrist
This is a Soviet Era poster promoting Communism. It reads “Smite the Lazy Worker”.
Centrist attends tense protest at Wellington UNSILENCED Conference - Centrist
Queer Endurance Defiance used this artwork to promote their protest against Inflection Point NZ’s Unsilenced conference. Image: Facebook

After some back and forth with the protesters and security, I agreed to stand off from that scrum. Later I  made my way back into a different part of the crowd to take a few more photos.

Once again, I was surrounded by a group of activists, this time more agitated. Most wore N95 masks, keffiyehs, and sunglasses. A nearly seven-foot-tall transgender person with purple hair stared down at me intimidatingly, blocking me from photographing a sign that read “Butches not Bullshit.”

“Why are you here?” someone asked.

“It’s my right,” I responded.

“You’re making us feel uncomfortable,” said another.

“What am I doing? I’m just standing here,” I replied.

“Don’t talk to him,” advised another activist.

On and on…

Finally, one frustrated activist approached me and shouted, “I wish you’d go back to the country you came from!”

I bid my adieu and headed across the street to the conference.

Image: RNZ / Rachel Helyer-Donaldson

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