An estimated fifteen thousand gays and lesbians – and their friends and families – descended on Zoo Lake Sports Club in Johannesburg on Saturday morning to celebrate the 20th annual Joburg Gay Pride Parade, presented by 94.7 Highveld Stereo.

Kicking off at 11am from Zoo Lake, the festive parade wound its way through the streets of Rosebank. Stretching out over three and half kilometres, the procession – featuring marchers, floats and open top buses – brought traffic to a standstill as people lined the streets to watch the celebration.

“This was a record turnout since the not-for-profit Joburg Gay Pride Festival company was formed three years ago to organise the event – the largest and the original Gay Pride event in Africa,” said Co-Chair Tanya Harford.

The event was held under the theme of “You Need Pride”, to emphasise the history and value of Pride to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community in South Africa and the continent.

“Joburg showed en masse that Pride remains relevant and necessary to its citizens in 2009,” added Co Chair Zak Mbhele, “especially in light of continued violence against our community as well as threats against our constitutional rights by certain newly-formed religious lobby groups.”

Following the parade’s return to Zoo Lake Sports Club, the celebrations continued until 6pm with live entertainment, featuring various bands, deejays (including 94.7 Highveld Stereo personalities such as Jeremy Mansfield) and drag shows.

Participants also had the opportunity to engage with an interactive exhibition – in partnership with Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) – to raise awareness and promote political consciousness among the LGBTI community, especially the youth.

Bus transport was provided to and from a number of townships, including Soweto, Kwa-Thema and Vosloorus, to ensure access to Pride by under-resourced LGBTI people and to promote broad representation and participation by the full spectrum of the community.

Harford thanked the thousands that took part, as well as the event’s sponsors and supporters: “We would like to thank 94.7 Highveld Stereo, Amalgamated Beverages Industries, SA Breweries, the Multi-Agency Grants Initiative, MJ Event Gear and Zoo Lake Sports Club. We’re also very grateful for the assistance of the Joburg Metro Police, the South African Police Service and Think Bike who marshalled the event.”

The 2009 Joburg Pride celebrations concluded with numerous after-parties hosted by bars and clubs that took place around the city well into the early hours of Sunday morning.

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