It is often said that those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. When it comes to Pride, repeating history seems to be something that Joburg’s gay community is intent on doing year after year.
Joburg Pride, which usually takes place towards the end of September, is the largest LGBT event in Africa – a reminder to our country and the continent that we are here – and yes – we are still very much queer. It is a beacon of freedom to other lesbian and gay Africans, and a clear statement to oppressive governments on the continent that homosexuality is not some foreign European construct, but just as African as the very soil and veldt.
Yet we treat Pride – with a 17 year history – as some afterthought and with much contempt. Every year it is mired in controversy and the consequences of last minute planning. The results are consistently simply not up to scratch and not worthy of the city and its people.
Sadly it seems as if Pride 2006 is set to be another victim of this embarrassing malaise. As of the time of publishing this, there were no firm plans for Pride and no organisation or individual prepared to commit to take on its planning.
Paul Tilly, last year’s organiser, undertook the challenge of managing Pride after the Equality Project – who had in turn taken it over from the much maligned previous organiser Gary Bath – shut down. Although planning only began two months prior, the event was generally deemed a success and an improvement on the 2004 event. There was some controversy over the safety of the route through central Johannesburg, but there’s been little agreement on any route in the past.
Unfortunately it appears as if last year’s more solid foundation is set to be swept away. Tilly has announced that he will not run Pride this year, leaving the event once again lost in the wilderness. Tilly explains that he simply has no time to manage Pride. “It’s largely a financial consideration – and I have commitments elsewhere which are my bread and butter” he says. He also admits that the animosity and vitriol directed at the event by the gay community was a consideration. He says that “the problem of past Pride events haunted and impeded the organisation of last year’s Pride – this included city officials and potential sponsors who were wary of being associated with Pride”.
Now that Tilly is no longer in the picture, a number of other players are considering making a play for Pride. It seems that the management of Pride has degenerated into a game of “whoever gets there first takes the prize”.
Step in Gary Bath. Bath was the event coordinator in 2004 and in a number of previous years. He came under criticism because he ran the event in his private capacity. He, like Tilly, is quick to clarify that he never made any money from it anyway.
However, under Bath’s leadership, Pride racked up substantial debts, leaving suppliers and supporters angry and short-changed. Most embarrassing was the much publicised failure to pay the 2004 event’s charity – Nkosi’s Haven – the R10 000 which was promised to it. (This after a very public handing-over of a cheque to the organisation.)
Bath is seriously considering taking over the reigns once again. “People still associate me with Pride. They come up to me and ask when it’s happening.” When asked about the outstanding debts he insists that he will only embark on managing Pride if a major financial backer is found, and only if that backer ensures that all outstanding debts are paid.
Whether he can raise the support and finance necessary to put on Pride after the controversy – if not even outrage – about his past leadership remains to be seen. If he takes on the task, he says that he would like to see the Pride Parade return to Rosebank and Zoo Lake.
Another potential Pride 2006 organiser is Bruce Walker – until recently the marketing manager of the Heartlands entertainment complex. He is negotiating with possible backers and believes that Pride has become stagnant and needs to become more mainstream and spectacular to attract sponsors. He’s in favour of dropping the word “gay” from the event’s name to make it more inclusive and would consider moving the whole thing to Sandton.
The move is sure to lead to anger among some community organisations that fear that the location could exclude mostly black participants who will have limitations in reaching Sandton. Walker responds that “We can’t please everyone. Maybe if those organisations got more involved instead of complaining things might be different,” he adds.
“It is clear that there is something deeply problematic about current strategies around the management of Pride…”
Walker initiated meetings about Pride with various parties – including a number of clubs – earlier this year. Apparently the management of the popular Ramp Divas nightclub was eager to see the event take place in Boksburg. It was also suggested that the event be renamed Gauteng Pride. Apart from announcing the 30th of September as the date on which Pride is set to take place, little seems to have come from these short-lived talks. Neither Walker nor Bath has consulted with community organisations to lobby for support, but Walker says, “I’ll work with anyone that wants to make Pride a success – we all have the same ultimate goal”.
While the Equality Project is currently in the process of reforming under a new to-be-constituted board, its rebirth will probably come too late to play a role in this year’s Pride. After Equality folded last year, a group of NGO’s came forward to continue some of Equality’s functions. Under the name of the Joint Working Group (JWG), the entity consists of community organisations such as Pretoria’s OUT, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) in Joburg, and The Triangle Project in Cape Town, among others.
The JWG been accused of being overly laid back when it comes to responding to crises that affect the community (a notable example being its slow reaction to dealing with January’s “Blood Wars” media controversy). The JWG however supported Tilly’s management of Pride last year, paying him a small stipend to sustain him through the process. So, perhaps the Joint Working Group could play a role in organising this year’s event?
Dawie Nel, from the JWG, responds that, “We haven’t really paid any attention to it. I don’t see necessarily that we will. Pride is very important but we have very limited capacity and have a programme for the next year which does not include Pride”.
The JWG states that it was formed as “a coalition with the aim to strengthen the organised LGBTI sector in order to maximise their response to LGBTI needs” and says that ”it is involved in a number of joint projects, including research, public education, publications and communications”. Surely Pride falls within these realms?
When asked it the JWG should not have thought about Pride when planning its year ahead, Nel responds that, “You could argue that. But our focus has changed to an internal focus of building structures and organisations”.
He adds that, “I don’t see that it is community organisations’ role or duty to lead on Pride. We should only play a reactive role. But perhaps we need to sit down and see what role we play. We would be open to discuss any initiative.”
It is extremely disturbing that the JWG has not already raised alarm bells about Pride’s uncertain status this year and that its does appear to appreciate the value and power of the event on awareness – from within and from without – of the gay community
It is clear that there is something deeply problematic about current strategies around the management of Pride. It seems a sensible idea that Pr