Lance Weyer (left) at the Human Rights Watch offices

This June I was fortunate enough to attend my second New York Pride, and once again it didn’t disappoint.

It’s a colourful mix of history, advocacy, sexuality, and commercialism; a chance for many to re-educate themselves on the roots of our movement, some to come out loudly for the first time, and others to cheer the spectacle from the sidelines.

Before beginning the Pride festivities I was asked to speak at Human Rights Watch, the international non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, about LGBTI issues and politics in South Africa.

In particular we spoke about traditional leaders and how their views negatively impact LGBTI people in South Africa. It was interesting to see the different perceptions outsiders have of our country and LGBTI rights. It left me thinking how much we still have to do in both South Africa and America, but also remembering that we have come very far already so continued progress is inevitable if we work at it.

I always like to take in a bit of culture when I’m in NYC, and this time I went to see the musical Rent, off Broadway. It was a great performance and left me humming “five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes” for hours.

Afterwards I thought I’d get in some good SA cuisine at a local South African restaurant (NYC has two) which ended up being a terrible idea. The food was not authentic, the service was beyond pathetic and the prices high – even by NY standards.

The parade itself still passes by the site of the Stonewall Inn, location of the 1969 police raid that launched the modern gay rights movement. The New York Pride Parade, the second-ever Pride march in the world, took place on Sunday, June 28, 1970 as a result of those same riots (the first was in Chicago a day earlier).

This really reminded me that 42 years later we still need to celebrate Pride, particularly in Africa. The word ‘pride’ is used as an antonym for shame. This is important as shame has been used to control and oppress LGBTI people throughout history. Pride in this sense is an affirmation of one’s self and the community as a whole.

I had the privilege of walking in the parade with the wonderful team from Mr Gay USA. We certainly had a great time along the way and met many people. This year’s event was a special one as it marked a year since the state of New York legalised same-sex marriage.

It was great to see that all of New York’s leading elected officials were out again, from the Governor to the Mayor and many others; an important political statement for LGBTI citizen of New York and the United States, where the majority of states do not recognise same-sex marriage.

Police work in South Africa is normally seen as something “macho” and not particularly gay-friendly, but New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly marched with the Gay Officers Action League and said he was “proud of the diversity of the department”.

Despite all the serious political messages, the ambiance was one of festivity, with extravagant costumes, dancers and multicoloured wigs dotting the parade route – many, many thousands of them! The scale of the event is astonishing.

What would a modern Pride be without the parties? New York certainly doesn’t disappoint on this front.

I managed to attend few, including a VIP rooftop party where the Freemasons played, as well as the enormous WORK party.

I can honestly say that I have never seen so many Men’s Health cover models running around with their shirts off in once place!

As much as Pride is fun, it is always important to remember why we are there and remember those that gave up so much so that we have the right to march freely through the streets. I’m proud. Are you?

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