At this time of the year, a week or so before Joburg Pride, the question is often asked in Gauteng and surrounds: “Are you going to Pride?”
I purposefully ask it of others every time I have the opportunity – directly or on chat forums on the Internet or via e-mail – just to see what the reaction will be.
Most of my friends simply say “Yes”, but there are also the inevitable negative replies; followed by a reason. And if one is not offered, I prod until I get one. Here are some of the common explanations I’ve heard for not attending, and my responses to them.
“We have all the rights we need, why march?”
This response shows, with respect, a degree of ignorance, which is in some cases understandable, but still very alarming. We DO NOT have all the rights we need; the Civil Union Bill being a case in point. The Marriage Act is still only reserved for heterosexuals, still unchanged on the law books, and thus not equal.
But much more serious is the current political climate which does not favour gay rights. We all know that Jacob Zuma is the presumptive President of South Africa after the 2009 elections, and we all also know that he has made remarks about gays that, if not hate speech, border on it. Although he later offered an apology, that was before he was elected president of the ANC or charges against him were dropped.
Jon Qwelane, one of the most vocal supporters of Zuma in the media, pleaded in his controversial article in the Sunday Sun in July that people in the ruling party “should use their heads” and scrap gay rights. The Constitution can be amended with few difficulties; we are already at the 14th amendment since the Constitution came into effect in 1996. That’s, on average, more than one amendment a year.
We live on a continent where, out of 61 countries and territories, we are the only one to protect gay rights. In most of the others, gays are oppressed and in some actively prosecuted, tortured and even killed. These countries frequently make known their displeasure about South Africa protecting its gay citizens and especially for legalising same-sex marriages.
And, even with our constitution, gays and lesbians are still being discriminated against, raped and killed. Pity you could not ask the question above to the many dead lesbians in our townships… Thus Pride’s theme this year: “Love, not hate”.
So, are you going to wait until we are yet again persecuted by the state; as many in our country would want (as seen during the public hearings about the Civil Union Bill) or are you going to be pro-active and pre-emptive and take a stand by attending Pride?
“Ons is nie almal so nie” – “All of us are not like that”
This is a phrase taken from Antjie Krog, the poet, and used by a well-known gay Afrikaans TV presenter to distance himself from “the scene”, and by implication, Pride. It is normally said by people ignorant of Pride altogether. All they have seen are the media images of flamboyant drag queens and strange outfits, or near-naked men parading around.
They have usually not attended a Pride in their lives, and if they have, did not participate fully or stood on the sidelines – and then still see fit to criticise Pride.
They never mention or actually understand that the ‘over the top’ costumes are donned by a very small, if not miniscule, percentage of participants, who are mostly on floats that are competing for a prize as the most colourful or parading representing an organisation or place of leisure. The thousands of the so-called “normal” gay people in the parade with “normal” attire do not make it to the papers and on TV screens.
Talking of which, SABC did not even mention Pride last year, nor the year before as I remember, and ETV only in passing. None of the Afrikaans newspapers mentioned a word, and very few in the English press. So the chances of someone seeing you, with someone like “them”, in the media are virtually nil.
A further case in point: Pride is our day, so what is wrong with dressing up? What do people do in the very straight St. Patrick Parades all over the world, or the Rio Carnival or the Berlin Love Parade? I have visited the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras many times – and tickets to the After Party are sold out weeks in advance.
The rule there? You are not even allowed in if you are not dressed according to the theme. The attendance figure? 25 000. So stop being a sourpuss, it really is a day of celebration. Show it.
“We are not part of the scene”
This reason is given by many who are in relationships and not frequenting gay clubs or socials anymore, or those who have grown tired of the so-called “scene”, or never have been part of it; whatever “the scene” may be.
What these people do not consider is that Pride is a fair day, not a big drunken and/or chemically enhanced free-for-all. It is definitely not “the scene”. The fair day at Zoo Lake starts at 10 am, and the floats leave at 11 am. After their return at about 1pm, people do frequent the beer and wine gardens, but there are many other stalls plus the entertainment on stage.
The crowd during the last few Prides was well-behaved and, especially last year, the many families attending with straight parents and/or kids were very evident. Pride does not present an official after-party, but instead leaves it up to the clubs to stage their own after-parties. Nobody compels you to attend any of them. I have to say that I saw far less people “out of it”, for whatever reason, at Pride last year than at other ‘straight’ festivals I frequently attend; Splashy Fen and Oppikoppi being cases in point.
I’ve heard other justifications for not attending Pride in addition to these more common explanations, but, whatever reasons they may be, they all seem to miss the point of Pride.
Pride is something that one can only experience when you do attend: it’s the sense of community, the sense of “I belong”, the sense of total acceptance. It’s a feeling that can not be recreated anywhere else; and those denying it are themselves, more often than not, in denial.
See you at Pride!
Joburg Pride 2008 takes place this Saturday, 4th October. Gates open at Zoo Lake Sports Club from 9am. Entrance is free. The parade begins at 11am and is expected to return to the start at around 12.30pm. Soft-drink and water points will be provided for marchers and pets. The post-parade celebrations continue until 6pm.
Coenie is editor of Gayspeak