By Nyx McLean/@NyxMcLean
As the LGBTIAQ community, we generally treat Pride as an annual celebratory event of our identities, and while now it is synonymous with scantily clad boys and gals and queens on floats, it was begun as a political endeavour to make our community and our struggle visible to society.
The scantily clad boys and gals and queens, are still a political statement in their own right, this is undeniable. However, whether they’re the only kind of political statement our community needs to make is debatable.
In Africa a handful of countries celebrate Pride with the most well known Pride events being that of Johannesburg Pride and Cape Town Pride in South Africa. In recent years these two events have received a great deal of criticism on a number of issues including inclusivity, the nature of the event, and whether they are representative of the experience of the larger LGBTIAQ community in South Africa.
Pride has the potential to be a moment for our community to counter the shame, silence and suppression that LGBTIAQ people experience. It is an opportunity for us to challenge the status quo, strive to reclaim space and to represent ourselves in a light we can be proud of. However, we’re guilty of mimicking the global north representations of Pride and adopting an attitude of dancing over the deep-seated pain many of us carry. We cannot continue to be complicit in making invisible the violence we face – broader society does a good enough job of this already.
The marginalisation of LGBTIAQ people in Africa specifically is widespread, even where homosexuality has been decriminalised – such as in South Africa where the number of attacks on queer female bodies continues to rise. Sizakele; Salome; Eudy; Noxolo; Duduzile; Gift. To name only a few of our people who have been taken violently from the LGBTIAQ community.
Members of our community often exist in isolation because of the nature of our discrimination and marginalisation, and thus the need to actively seek out other LGBTIAQ individuals is a matter of survival. Establishing a sense of belonging and protection is needed in spaces where individuals feel that is best to present ourselves as non-threatening or ‘just like everyone else’ in order to access the same rights granted to heterosexuals.
This endeavour to pass as ‘normal’ or to assimilate into some kind of ‘homonorm’ is dangerous. We only do more harm to ourselves by prescribing a way of being because it makes it more difficult for other LGBTIAQ individuals to exist and find a space to express their identities (setting aside, very cautiously, the argument for personal safety here).
Pride began as a movement to make visible the LGBTIAQ struggle, at a time when all LGBTIAQ identities were discriminated against in a way that was to some degree the same for each identity. As some identities such as lesbian, gay and bisexual have become more acceptable, the discrimination shifts to transgender, intersex, asexual (to the degree that this identity is barely considered at all) and queer identities. What has been risked here with this shift is that Pride has become a predominantly LGB event and TIAQ features on the margins or as entertainment. As a movement, we cannot discriminate among ourselves.
Alongside the need to present as ‘safe’ identities that can assimilate, the desire for the sponsorship of events has had a damaging effect on Pride. We should not commercialise our events if it means we place the integrity of our movement at risk. We cannot hide identities in order to sexy up our community to sell to corporate interests. There is no singular ‘gay’ experience that we can sell. We shouldn’t be trying to squash all our experiences into one homogenous ‘safe’ product. A Pride event can be simultaneously a space of celebration, solidarity, agitation, mourning and rallying.
And if we cannot agree on how to represent our experiences then do we need to do so in one event? Can we not have multiple Prides? While for some it may seem that the Joburg Pride events of 2013 presented a fragmented view of the South African LGBTIAQ community, to others they may have been considered to be a truer reflection of the community: not entirely united due to different interests, lived experiences and ways of expressing the LGBTIAQ identities.
As the LGBTIAQ community we are a counter public by our very nature because we are already in direct conflict with the norms of broader society. Our gender identities, sexual orientations and practices are counter to the prescribed heterosexual and normative desire on which society is founded. Pride is a moment that we as a counter public ought to be leveraging to continue our transgressive work. This moment is a space that can serve among others two primary purposes: as a space for safety, solidarity and community building among LGBTIAQ persons; and as a space of agitation towards normative prescriptions, society and violence informed by these normative prescriptions. Pride is an opportunity to create a sense of safety (be it political or sense of community, and not necessarily physical) as well as a disruptive space in which the LGBTIAQ community is made visible.
A Pride moment or event should be reflective on the global south’s needs, an African Pride ought to be born of of the needs of the LGBTIAQ community on this continent, and much like Joburg People’s Pride of 2013 take its cue from the lived experiences of individuals. We cannot deny the realities that face our community and in bringing them into the open we begin to release their hold on us, allowing our community to heal and to move towards a strength that is necessary in our continued struggle in society.
Pride today needs to become an active project. We cannot risk allowing Pride to be too careful. What it needs is the spark of defiant energy to make space for all bodies and desires to move freely. We need to ask what kind of work do we need Pride to do? And then we need to listen to that answer and not be afraid of what it asks of us.