Pride celebrations: Today, tomorrow, maybe never?

by Greyson V. Thela, IAM Intersectional Process Coordinator

The beginnings of today’s Pride movement stem back over forty years to the Stonewall riots in New York City. On 28 June 1969, some 200 patrons resisted arrest and rioted at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village where many LGBTIQ members staged a calculated resistance against the discrimination, homophobia and segregation the community experienced at the time.

What we today call Pride has changed gradually over the years. Depending on who you speak with, it is arguable whether these changes have been for the good or the bad.

Most Pride celebrations, including those held here in Cape Town, reinforce the dominance of male privilege and white privilege in the movement. Trans bodies are largely invisible in the celebration, as are queer rural bodies. Pride events have become part of the status quo, and are inherently capitalistic.

Gender expression has for centuries been socially constructed by heterosexuals. The “correct” norms, expectations of behaviours and attractions have been defined by others, and the LGBTIQ community has been expected to defend and define ourselves by these constructs.

Coming out is not only one’s way of self-affirmation – it is also an overwhelmingly political statement. Our participation (or not) in events like Pride is likewise a political statement. Choosing not to participate sends a message that I am not ready yet to celebrate victory for the LGBTIQ community in South Africa.

Our fight for justice is not over, not even close. We have at least a few more decades to go for the true emancipation of ALL queer bodies, regardless of one’s socioeconomic status or geographical area. Pride celebrations have become a contentious space, as the variety of voices in our very own LGBTIQ community struggle to be heard. There are open secrets about who makes decisions, who speaks and on behalf of whom.

It is critical to hear the full variety of voices to understand the full lived experiences of our community. Being a white gay man does not allow one to speak to the struggles of a black gay man. Being a white lesbian woman doesn’t allow you to speak on behalf of black lesbians from Gugulethu experiencing unspeakable violence and hatred from their communities. Being a white transgender man does not allow you to speak on behalf of a black trans man who is denied access to gender affirming health services. There need to be open spaces for those without privilege within our community to share their experiences.

Pride should be about consciousness because without it one can never rebel. Until we understand and embrace the issues that affect the wider LGBTIQ community in South Africa, the Pride movement fails to be a space for all. Access to health services is an issue, specifically access to gender affirming healthcare, which is largely dependent on socioeconomic status. The Civil Union Bill is not inclusive of trans or intersex people. Prisons are not inclusive nor affirming to ones’ gender. Legal recognition of our gender and sexuality poses a problem regarding the freedom of movement, and access to information and sexual and reproductive health services for those in rural areas remain major issues.

In this season of Pride, while I am indeed proud of my own body and story, I choose not to take part in formal Pride celebrations. Why should I participate when there is no space for me and my lived realities? I hope that eventually there will be a truly inclusive celebration, but there is a long way to go to reach that day.