Breaking the silence and celebrating our voices

From looking back in history to seeing where the LGBTIQ+ movement is today, IAM staff Hanzline Davids and Thuli Mjwara reflect on events happening in May 2020 (including the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), Mother’s Day and the cancelled Khumbulani Pride) and how they impact the wider struggles and celebrations of the LGBTIQ+ community.

Lessons from history: IDAHOBIT 2020 and breaking the silence

As an activist and queer researcher, the LGBTIQ+ community has taught me the value of voice. IDAHOBIT’s theme this year, “Breaking the Silence”, reminds me of the many  LGBTIQ+ voices at home in South Africa, on the continent and around the world that have been silenced over the years. As a community, COVID-19 might pose several challenges to our collective voice but I, like many others, draw from our queer heritage as a global community. LGBTIQ+ people, like many other key population groups, are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Historically we, as the LGBTIQ+ community, have already learned several lessons. Some of these lessons include the importance and value of friendship, and networking and fundraising across borders, to name just a few. These lessons and many others enable us to break the silence of heteropatriarchy and cissexism that structures our daily lives.

Learning from the rich legacy of community organisation

Since the outbreak of the HIV & AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, the LGBTIQ+ community, both as individuals and organisations, have been at the forefront of the fight for access to antiretroviral treatment, the creation of intersectional human rights discourse dialogues, and raising awareness around the impact of stigmatisation. These are all factors that can deter People Living with HIV (PLHIV) to access healthcare and related services and various programs that recognise the fundamental human rights of PLHIV. In various regions on our continent, organisations still work within contexts of discrimination, harassment, violence, and criminalisation of PLHIV. Within these harsh conditions various silences are continuously broken by the commitment to justice. 

Liberation comes through un-silencing: personal AND collective experiences matter 

Today COVID-19 raises endless challenges in how the LGBTIQ+ community organizes and continues the struggle for recognition of our inherent human dignity and access to our human rights. The COVID-19 pandemic can so easily be abused by governments to conceal the infringement of individual human rights under the guise of the so-called “collective interest”, and creating the means of silencing the LGBTIQ+ community. From personal and collective experience, LGBTIQ+ people and organizations have developed the ability to analyse local, national, regional, and continental socio-political developments regarding our rights. Paired with impressive organising and mobilising, this analysis and awareness have aided in the liberation of LGBTIQ+ persons and the wider society. 

One of the strengths of the LGBTIQ+ liberation movement in South Africa is that we work within the intersections of the lived realities of LGBTIQ+ people, and we wish to celebrate voices who do just this by highlighting the intersections of struggles in finding voice.

We celebrate intersectional struggles and finding voice 

This will be the first year that Khumbulani Pride cannot be hosted due to the strict safety measures of the COVID-19 pandemic. Khumbulani Pride raises awareness and promotes visibility of black queer bodies within various communities. It started as an advocacy arm of Cape Town Pride,  but some organizations broke away from the organizing structure to protest the exclusion and erasure of black queer bodies. Each year the march has grown, rotating between Khayelitsha, Strand, eMfuleni, and surrounding communities. 

This year we raise our voices to remember those who lost their lives, those who are still waiting for justice to be served and those locked at home with abusers. We cannot stop until we are all free to live, love, and be who we truly are. #BreakTheSilence

We celebrate the innovation of resilient voices

In recent weeks we have seen an increase in webinars, invitations to online parties, and social media conversations to support LGBTIQ+ people and organisations. What do we learn from this? The HIV and AIDS pandemic taught us as a community that we have resilient voices. We can organise and mobilise even in unknown socio-economic, health, spiritual, and well-being conditions. The fight against the denial of our human dignity and human rights has taught us to tell our embodied stories. Our pain and suffering can open people’s minds, hearts, and doors. 

The fight for human dignity is no plainer than when a community celebrates the gift of life.

We celebrate all mothers

The month of May is the month that we celebrate the beautiful mothers who have done amazing work in nurturing socially responsible beings  I would like to celebrate all the amazing diverse families from same-sex parents, to trans diverse parents, to bisexual parents to polydiverse families, from all the corners of the world. Being a mother is not only about having delivered a living bundle of flesh into the world but to those who have ‘mothered’ us in so many ways – supporting us through our worst and pushing us to see the beauty within ourselves. We celebrate you. Whilst doing some readings,  I was amazed about the gap in research, readings, and feminist writings on bisexual parenting and transdiverse families – we would welcome contributions by anyone willing to fill that gap or share links to readings. 

May we continue to commit to finding innovative ways to #breakthesilence