LIFESTYLE NEWS - A decision by New Zealand's largest gay pride parade to ban police officers in uniform from marching at the event has seen sponsors and participants withdraw in protest.
While uniformed police have taken part in previous years, Auckland Pride organisers said they were not welcome at the next parade in February 2019 because some members of the gay community felt unsafe around them.
The decision, announced this week, has sparked heated debate, with New Zealand Defence Force members withdrawing from the march in support of their police colleagues.
Corporate sponsors have also dumped the event, with Westpac bank, Vodafone and the Bank of New Zealand among the companies distancing themselves from the anti-police stance.
"It's simply the right thing to do to stand with the police in this instance, as we would with any excluded group, and insist on inclusion for all," Vodafone New Zealand said in a statement.
The decision has also caused deep divisions within the gay community, drawing condemnation from the Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust.
"(It) appears to be driven by a small and vociferous minority in the community, and is contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of the rainbow community," the trust said in a statement announcing it was withdrawing sponsorship.
New Zealand legalised gay marriage in 2013 and last year moved to quash historical convictions against homosexuals for engaging in gay sex.
Even British actor Rupert Everett, a long-time gay rights advocate, weighed into the police debate, saying "we can't just pretend" gay police officers don't exist.
"It feels to me that not making them wear their uniforms, is in denial," he told the stuff.co.nz news website.
"There's so much violence towards us brewing up in places that we need to be friends with police as much as we can."
The Auckland Pride Board would not back down, saying it was committed "to creating a space for our rainbow communities to feel safe celebrating their gender and sexual identity".
"If members from our community are highlighting concerns around discrimination by those institutions, we expect them to work to address them," chairwoman Cissy Rock said.
"That may include making compromises regarding their participation at the Pride parade."
The Pride board will reportedly face a vote of no confidence in early December.