By: Siwe Memela
All month long, you’ve been preparing for this one day and you’re so excited you’re practically bleeding rainbows out of your eyeballs. Your tie-dyed perfectly lesbian t-shirt and colourful design face paint finally has you saying: I am ready for the Pride parade! Like most people, I too have associated Pride month with the parade – the party. Honestly I have never been one of those people that attended Pride but this year I have promised myself I would. My non-attendance has never been because I have some closeted self-hate about being gay. I’ve just never had the inclination to go, I’m a homebody, I don’t like large crowds and I’m not politically active about anything in my life to tell you the truth.
Born in the large township of Umlazi, I have always known that I am lesbian. Yet seven years later, after finally gaining my sexuality confidence, I still have never been to Pride. For those wondering what sexuality confidence is, it’s that thing that makes people’s gaydar go off about you. It’s nothing in particular that you do, but when you’ve accepted your sexuality and no longer walk into a room with heteronormative behaviours apparently you give off this aura of “queer”.
Sexuality confidence aside, I have never been to Pride for reasons stated above and more importantly it’s on a Saturday morning and I’m expected to walk! Excuse me what!? Secondly, I just never saw the point to it. To me Pride has been an in-your-face unapologetic ‘out-and-proud’ mantra – a celebration of sexuality, difference and love. The parade is filled with rainbow coloured flags and boys in speedos and wide capes, drag queens and kings and groups of families and friends out in support of the LGBTQ community. It is a celebratory parade that puts the LGBTQ community on full display for those ignorant, cishet, bigots for a whole month. I can respect those that have joined in the parade but my ignorance had me asking myself: and then after the parade what have we achieved?
Now, because I hate to be ignorant, this year I actually decided to look up the history of gay Pride and was pleasantly enlightened. The history of the Pride parade gave me a well-deserved slap in the face and a get off your butt and march honey. Particularly amidst the backdrop of the recent reports on lesbian killings in South Africa.
You see, most people have forgotten that Pride didn’t start out as a parade, but was an actual activist march: banner chanting and all. Yes, the now rainbow coloured, glitter throwing, fun fest that we all see today has its history in political activism. The first gay pride event that was held in 1970 was actually called Christopher Street Liberation Day (CSLD) March. The march was an outright “we’ve had enough!” from the community after the 1969 riot at a downtown Manhattan gay club, the Stonewall Inn. You see, back when being gay was a dirty secret police had a tendency to raid the Stonewall club, but on June 28, 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn decided to fight back and this started a week long clash between police and community members.
While Pride is recognised as a celebratory parade today, its roots are cemented in a dark and political place. The CSLD march was a call to stand proud of your orientation and not live in fear of society. When you read first-person accounts of the CSLD march you quickly realise that the floats, glitter and cute sailor boys in briefs was not how the event started. Instead, people took to the streets with boards and banners chanting, like it was an EFF rally: “Gay is good, gay is proud.”
So why the parade?
Sparked by the emotional rallying cry of the Stonewall Inn community, the sister-event to CSLD march was held in Los Angeles – the first of its kind that was sanctioned by the city. Here it became a parade – a celebration of gayness. Since then, major cities have organised the monumental parade in differing scales across the globe. Now, although we admittedly enjoy more freedoms today, there are underlying tensions that call for us to reflect on the roots of gay Pride, because once more there seems to be a relentless war on the LGBTQ community. The list of atrocities committed against us is long and dark. Need I mention Pulse in Florida where Omar Mateen gunned down 49 people at an Orlando gay bar? Or what about Chechnya’s systematic persecution of gay men – they are literally being sent to concentration camps. We can even look closer to home at Uganda and Cameroon where homosexuality is criminalised. Shockingly, these stories sound like haunting tales of discrimination pre-1970 and not in the liberal and postmodern 21st Century – crazy, right!
Back here at home in 2016, 22 year old, Noluvo Swelindawo, was dragged from her home by up to 11 men, to be shot and killed. Perhaps to some, this was not the most horrific of hate crimes but for me it’s the one that is so significantly burned into my memory and triggered a violent response within me that I shed a tear when I first heard of the incident. It is a sobering moment when you wake up to hashtags and news about a hate crime against another LGBTQ person. Your blood runs cold and that involuntary shiver that echoes down your back whispers a reminder: this could be me. But the truth is it is you.
For every lesbian murder, every gay man, every intersex, queer, transexual, anything-else-you-want-to-call-us person that gets targeted, murdered and abused for their sexuality that person becomes you. Maybe it is time we took pride back to its roots and took to the streets in banners and flags, chanting: stop killing us! Perhaps then the world will listen. Perhaps then people will stop electing bigoted leaders in office that make anti-LGBT campaigns their mission. I don’t know about you, but this year at Pride I am not going out to ‘parade’ instead I’m going out to march against the injustices of our reality.