Following another public meeting on the weekend that saw continued disagreement on numerous issues, the future of Joburg Pride remains unclear.
Two camps have emerged in the city’s LGBT community on the matter. The first is considering holding pride on more or less a similar basis as previous events; based on an elected volunteer board or committee and using sponsorship to fund a popular mass public event.
The second camp, backed by feminist and socialist-driven group One in Nine and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), hopes to re-invent Joburg Pride as a more racially and economically diverse and accessible event that takes place outside of middle-class, traditionally white, areas and focuses on the political challenges facing the LGBT community.
In reaction to the dissolution of the company that organised Joburg Pride for the past seven years, both groups have now had separate public meetings on the future of the event.
While representatives from both camps have attended each other’s meetings and dialogue has taken place between them directly, frustration is growing.
The first group wants to take urgent action to organise a pride event this year. The second group, however, is intent on holding discussions on the ethos and organisational nature of pride and reaching consensus before moving forward, even if this means that there may not be sufficient time to hold Joburg Pride this year.
On Saturday’s public meeting, hosted by the first group, Kaye, one of the individuals who has volunteered to help organise the event, offered the around 50 participants a possible way forward.
She proposed forming an interim working committee to start planning this year’s pride as well as forming a nominating committee that will, in the meantime, address the contentious issues and concerns for 2014 and beyond.
Her presentation led to further debate, with little agreement. Representatives from the second group handed out a document outlining the deliberations of their own previous meeting on 13 April.
According to the document, the group calls for a pride event that is accessible to all people, that is safe, has no fences and that is “collectively owned by us, the people”.
It should include, the group says, “a political march, that has a clear political objective” and is also a “beautiful cultural expression of the various ways in which we are queer”.
The document suggests that the march rotates its location in and around the city each year and that the event be organised by a “broad-based network of people who are committed to freedom for all… with clear reporting lines and accountability checks and balances”.
Significantly it insists that the event is “not sponsored by corporations” that showcase their “liberal stance and/or policies on LGBT issues with the overt or subliminal intention of deflecting attention from or downplaying its non-liberal or oppressive policies/practices on other issues”.
The document further calls for the event to be “all-inclusive of progressive left forces, including trade unions, women’s movements, sex workers’ rights movements” and that it has “clear feminist, socialist and anti-racist politics”.
The group also suggests that the weeks or days preceding the march include “film screenings, book discussions, educational spaces and radically fun parties which are inclusive and non-expensive”.
At Saturday’s meeting, the participants were asked by a show of hands if they wanted Joburg Pride to take place, as proposed by Kaye, this year. While most voted to go ahead, 10 or so participants from the second group did not raise their hands.
Kaye told Mambaonline that she was frustrated that a small group of people were trying to “hold the event back”.
“I’ve come to a stage that I believe that they have any opinion but are not willing to listen to anyone else’s opinion. They are refusing 20,000 people’s voices [who took part in pride last year] to be heard because just 10% of people want to change the essence of pride,” she said.
Kaye also argued that the demands in the document are unrealistic and unreasonable, questioning how a 20,000 people strong event can be held for free without corporate sponsorship.
“And how can we have a safe space without fences?” she asked.
Another participant at the meeting, who asked not be named, told Mambaonline that the second group is “saying all the right things but behind that they have wrong intensions. Pride is being hijacked by a feminist organisation”, he insisted.
Carrie Shelver from One in Nine said she was surprised by these comments, and felt that Saturday’s meeting was in fact very positive and was part of a long overdue process of reassessing and reclaiming Joburg Pride.
“It was a fantastic opportunity for people to debate and express themselves openly and honestly,” she said. She noted that the document distributed at the meeting was a work in progress and she called for other people to add their voices to it.
She also insisted that the group that had put together the document was not One in Nine but a collection of individuals from diverse backgrounds. She said that she was wary of creating an ‘us and them’ scenario.
Shelver noted that there is a great deal of common ground between the two groups and that “we’re all in this together. We need to find ways of how we can work out the things we don’t agree on”.
“It can be a painful and difficult process but I’m very positive that we can make it work. Trust the process,” she said, adding that she remained committed to working with the first group and all interested individuals.
Kaye told Mambaonline that she would be posting a poll on Facebook to gauge the community’s feelings towards some of the issues brought up at the meeting. (The poll can be found here.)
Meanwhile, the second group will be holding a follow-up meeting on Saturday 4 May at 11am at Constitution Hill.
Shelver said that she hopes that the meeting will look at ways to implement the ideas expressed by the group in its working document. She called on all members of the LGBT community to attend and take part.