It may come as no surprise to most that this year’s upcoming Joburg Pride celebrations are again the subject of some controversy among members of the city’s gay community. What could be at stake is the very future of Pride; who will manage it and who it belongs to.
A few months ago this website called for a meeting of concerned citizens and activists to discuss the future of Africa’s largest LGBTI event following years of alleged mismanagement and incompetence.
The result was a decision to form a publicly transparent section 21 non-profit company – consisting of people representing various sectors of the community – which would oversee the event. It was also agreed that it was too late to attempt to run the 2006 Pride celebration. The Pride company was not prepared to rush in and produce a disastrous event simply for the sake of having a Pride at any cost.
Gary Bath, the controversial former organiser of previous Prides was at the meeting. While he was nominated as a board member, it was overwhelmingly agreed that there were too many financial and other unresolved issues associated with his previous management of Pride to include him on the board. It was felt that an organisation of the kind that is envisaged could simply not afford the controversy surrounding Bath.
At the meeting, Bath asked the board for an endorsement of a possible 2006 event, should he decide to organise one. The board, however, unanimously agreed that it would endorse no event this year, but would also not take any action to block any individual organiser either. Individual members were free to offer support, or not, to Bath, should they wish to. The board’s focus this year would be to build the organisation’s structures and support, only turning to actually organising Pride in 2007.
Cape Town Pride has thrown its weight behind the new board, according to Ian McMahon, Chairman of Cape Town Pride Festival, who says that, “The fact that Joburg Pride has taken this step is exciting and the new board has our full support. We will be working closely together to ensure that the two Prides uplift the larger gay communities of South Africa in a way that will make all of us proud”.
Following the meeting, Bath subsequently decided to go ahead with organising a 2006 event. While many doubted that he would have the time to pull it all together, or garner sufficient support from suppliers, it appears as if Bath’s event will indeed take place on 30 September at Zoo Lake in Johannesburg.
When asked how he can justify putting on another Pride when money is still owed to previous years’ suppliers of his events, Bath – who preferred to respond to our questions via e-mail – replied that, “If I do not do it who will? I am paying two previous suppliers off in my personal capacity at R1000 each per month.” He adds that he is hoping to pay creditors from anticipated profits from this year’s event: “The first people to be paid from any profits would be the two suppliers that I owe money to from the 2003 event, which amounts to R9 000 each, then Nkosi’s Haven will receive their R10 000 from the 2004 event.”
Some have claimed that Bath’s involvement in this year’s Pride is a desperate attempt to pay off the creditors to whom he owes money from previous Pride events; pointing out that while in 2004 he also said that he would pay creditors from that year’s profits, he instead simply added more to the list.
Bath insists that he has been unfairly maligned, stating that “…many folk out there do not care who does Pride as long as the event happens. And I must be honest, I am very close to ‘throwing in the towel’ on this year’s event which would make it that much more difficult for the Pride 2007 Board to revive Joburg Pride into the future.”
While the potential dispute may seem like trivial politicking to some, it has real importance; few would want to see this become a serious fracas, between Bath and the community…
On the same day as Bath’s Zoo Lake parade and fair day, Bruce Walker, one of the new Pride board’s members and organiser of the “QC” club nights, will be putting on a large party at Taboo in Sandton. Bath is furious about this, claiming that the event will split the gay community and has asked that the board take a stand on the matter. He says that Walker “is trying to hijack the event”. He’s also questioned why a member of the board is organising his own Pride event.
Tracey Sandilands, chairperson of the new Pride company explains that the board has consistently said that any member that wished to be involved in a Pride related event is free to do so this year; although any such undertaking would not receive any backing from the Pride company. “The two events currently in planning are being offered privately by different entities for different markets, and indeed in different venues and at mostly different times. Neither event has the involvement nor the endorsement of the Pride Board. We suggest that any plans to work together (or not) should be resolved between Gary Bath and Bruce Walker, and are not a matter for the Board.”
Bruce Walker is flummoxed by all the fuss. He insists that he is simply throwing a Pride party, as anyone is entitled to do – and as other clubs are doing this year – and is not claiming to be organising “the Pride event” itself. “We are not in competition to Pride. There is a market for the party we are putting on. People should be able to call it whatever they want – after all no-one owns the word Pride.” Bath however still believes that the board should endorse his event to “avoid confusion”.
Some have rubbished Bath’s claim of his deep concern that the QC party will “split the community”, questioning if it does not have more to do with the fact that many people might welcome any alternative to any event organised by Bath.
Bath remains deeply upset about the matter, describing the QC party, as “the other event happening at R150 per person for only on average nine hours of ‘prissy’ white males in designer outfits [sic].”
Perhaps the most contentious issue surrounding Joburg Pride is the claim by Bath that he owns the trademark to “Pride”. He says that he has “applied to register the trademarks ‘South Africa Pride Foundation’, and ‘Johannesburg Pride Foundation’, which, he says, means that he owns the rights to the word “Pride” This has alarmed a number of people within the community.
Bath justifies his actions by saying that, “this year, everyone is trying to jump on the Pride band wagon and thus the sustainability of the event is disappearing. This action of registering the name(s) was an action planned by the 2001 Pride Committee and it was never carried out, I am just being proactive and have done something about it.”
A legal expert says however that simply because the two phrases are being trademarked by Bath does not mean that he has the trademark rights to the individual words – such as “Pride” – which are used in the phrases. It is also believed that there is a good case to argue against the authorities allowing “Pride” to be trademarked as this would be akin to trademarking the words “Christmas” or “Easter”.
But legal arguments aside, for the new Pride company, the issue is primarily one of principle. Among the reasons for creating the company, according to a statement from the board, “was the belief in the principle that Pride should not be “owned” or managed by one person.”
While the potential dispute may seem like trivial politicking to some, it has real importance; few would want to see this become a serious fracas, between Bath and the community, about who “owns” Joburg Pride. The debate may however force us to question what exactly Pride is. Is it a singl