Oct 082012
Thousands of people participated in the Jo' Burg Gay Pride march taking place from Zoo lake

There was not much to be proud of at this weekend’s Joburg Pride, in light of the treatment of One in Nine campaigners at the hands of pride organisers and officials.

Protesters from the national solidarity campaign were calling for one minute of silence to honour and mourn those who have been killed because of their sexual orientation and gender expression, but they were ignored by Pride participants and assaulted.

Joburg Pride is a day which the city of Johannesburg and the country should be proud of. Our constitution is one of the most liberal in the world, protecting homosexuals from any sort of discrimination.

But the disturbing reality –which most people refuse to acknowledge – is that this is merely on paper. We have people seeking to take that freedom from us all the time. Be it a member of the public or political or religious leaders requesting that the hate crime clause in the constitution excludes sexual orientation.

Despite this knowledge, the supposedly open-minded festival was turned into a battleground of discrimination and ignorance. It was disgusting.

The One in Nine protesters were called names and told to go back to the township. Some were stepped on. Some were sworn at. One person I know was told that she’s an embarrassment to gay people. The were told to f**k off for ‘ruining the march’.

As much as gay rights are supported by our constitution, it does not mean that gay people are free. The ‘pinkwashed’ participants in the Pride march on Saturday are living proof that there is a huge discrepancy between the struggles of middle to upper-class gay community and the lower class gay community – as well as the white and black communities.

In fact, the lower class does not have a gay community. It is – by and large – the community against gays.

The de-politicisation of such a festival is disturbing, because it has become a mere party for people who are out and proud, not an act of protesting against discrimination, and protest against the fact that unlike the (mostly white) liberal minority, there are (mostly black) people who suffer – sometimes with fatal consequences – at the hands of their homophobic communities.

A different sort of apartheid is alive and –literally – kicking in the gay community.

The personal choice to be outwardly gay as opposed to secretly is a political act, defying society and narrow-mindedness. The choice to ignore the plight of a fellow member of this community is a political statement, saying loud and clear that you don’t care.

Most gay people I know are university graduates whose families have accepted their sexuality, even if it was reluctantly at first.

They have support of friends, of the company they keep and the safety of a fairly good financial and social standing.

Our women in townships are far less fortunate. Some are beaten. Some are raped. Some are killed. Just for being lesbian, or even on the ‘suspicion’ of being lesbian.

Just like straight people should be fighting for gay rights, it’s also up to the Pride community to lend a hand and voice to these women who cannot speak for themselves.

The fact that they were unwilling to do so, and hostile about it, on Saturday, is disappointing, and proof that Pride is just not good enough for the upliftment of gay rights.

In a society where people are more willing to protest against a painting than the state of education, where some men see it fitting that a woman is raped if she wears a short skirt, where police ignore cases of domestic violence because they believe there is no such thing, where homosexuals are denied adoptions and sometimes healthcare, where upgrading a president’s house is considered more important than service delivery, and where government and police are not held accountable for their actions, is it not our responsibility to take care of each other?

Yes, it is.

However, this is not the case for Pride. Yes, we need the Pride march as an affirmation that gay rights are human rights. But what this year’s march showed that some people’s gay rights are considered more important than others.

It’s a case of ‘if you can’t see them, the problem isn’t there’.

Organisers and marchers refused to see the reality of the women who are far less fortunate than them, and turned a blind eye or turned hostile toward this reality presented to them. The suffering of others is ignored for a mere now quite insignificant parade, which has proven to make no difference.

They did not want their pretty pink parade marred by people presenting a harsh truth.

People forget how lucky we are in South Africa. In Uganda, you get the death penalty for being gay. Gay marriage is being contested in the US – the supposed land of the free. Not to mention other countries where being gay is not just a crime, it’s a reason for the government to hunt you down.

With the good fortune we have in South Africa in terms of gay rights, is the openly gay community so blinkered to the plight of people less fortunate than them that they have to discriminate against them?

Was a minute of silence and solidarity too much to ask?

The gay community need to look beyond the end of their own noses and smell the reality of people who are unable to show their pride.

These people need all the support they can get, and it’s up to the privileged to give it to them.

It’s utterly disgusting that Pride refused to do this, and not only ignored the call for a minute of silence, but assaulted the ones asking for action.

The apathy of Saturday’s march under the guise of proactivity stinks, almost as much as the hate crimes themselves, and the organisers and participants should be ashamed. Pride – in gayness and humanity – is seriously lacking here. Joburg Pride has nothing to be proud of.

Nikita Ramkissoon