At a meeting on 12 April convened by Ikasi Pride, members of a divided gay and lesbian community discussed the future of gay pride in the city, its steady depoliticisation, its lack of community outreach and its image problem.
Ikasi Pride’s stated aim was “to discuss amongst ourselves as the [gay and lesbian] community, ways in which we can create a Pride event that represents the diversity within Cape Town, and collectively address the issues faced by all [gay and lesbian] people.”
Ikasi, together with many in the community, feel that Pride should be far more inclusive, promote HIV/Aids awareness, safe sex awareness, reach out to the rest of Africa (where gay people were being persecuted and some had come to the Mother City for refuge), and also be an event to promote gay and lesbian film, art and literature.
Although the 35 people who gathered at 6 Spin Street on a hot Saturday afternoon had sharply divergent views on what the annual gay pride celebration should be about, discussions were conducted with a great deal of restraint.
Sivu Onesipho Siwisa, who facilitated the meeting, opened by clarifying that Ikasi didn’t organise Pride events and marches, but sought through its influence and mediation to restore the essence of pride in rural and township areas specifically.
In his opening comments Matthew van As of Cape Town Pride spoke about the event as “a celebratory festival”. He complained about apathy in the community and a lack of volunteerism. He also said that every year he felt he was being “crucified” by the criticism levelled at the event.
As people spoke from the floor, it became quickly clear that Van As held a minority view. With the best of intentions he appeared to be clueless about the broader dimensions and significance of the event. The members of the community who had gathered were by no means a lynch mob, but they were there to express their displeasure with the current image of the event. But here was amiable Van As welcoming them for coming and telling them he was going to hold every one of them accountable to work voluntarily for the next event.
He also told the community that the constitution for Pride was being rewritten by “lawyers at UCT”.
The point was quickly made from the floor that transparency and accountability to the community were missing from Pride, and that volunteer apathy was because people didn’t feel that had a stake in, never mind ownership, of the event, and that the event had an exclusionary white, male image.
Pride was never a mere celebration, it has always been political; it has always been about visibility and claiming space.
One response, articulated by religious practitioner Laurie Gaum, was that, “If black lesbians are being killed and raped then I as a gay person am suffering and I must get involved”.
If the Pride event doesn’t have a collective vision and mission, if it is about nothing more than a Mardi Gras style celebratory parade, then it might as well be handed over to an events organisation.
Funeke Soldaat of Free Gender said her organisation wanted Cape Town Pride to be about advocacy in the communities. Pride events should be held elsewhere, in the townships and on the Cape Flats, and these events should be part of the ten days of Pride, organised by the same committee as the City parade and not relegated to the side-lines.
Currently, Khumbulani Pride which happens in Mitchell’s Plain on 18 May is a small tab on the Pride website with no date and no practical information. Van As said R10,000 had been given to the event by Pride.
There was also dissatisfaction with the Pride march itself, a “mere 15 minutes of walking” in the Green Point / Waterkant “gay village” and not in the centre of the City.
In Pride’s defence, Van As said, “The City of Cape Town itself has been our biggest obstacle this year”. According to him, the City changed the route at the last minute “due to another function”.
Other members of the organising committee from previous years also said they had found the City to be obstructionist and uncommunicative, and the issuing of permits bungled.
What emerged from the discussion was that the problems facing Pride, especially that of a community that is not united, were a microcosm of problems facing South Africa generally. A vision was needed behind which individuals and organisations could rally.
More than one speaker felt that NGOs that worked with the community should be represented on the board entrusted with Pride.
The meeting ended with the resolve to have a broadly inclusive, transparent, public meeting to rewrite the constitution for Pride and revise the event. This will happen on 10 May at 6 Spin Street.