Little to be proud of

2012-10-10 00:00

LAST weekend at the Joburg Gay Pride parade, the One in Nine Campaign disrupted the parade to make a call for one minute of silence on behalf of the many black lesbians and transsexual individuals who have been murdered over the past few years, because of their sexual orientation and gender expression. It was an act of defiance and civil disobedience.

The thing about civil disobedience is that it confronts and holds accountable the norms that exist in society today. So when Joburg Pride organiser and chairperson Tanya Harford told Mamba Online that the “incident” at the Joburg Gay Pride parade on Saturday, October 6, could have been avoided if the lesbian feminist group One in Nine Campaign had just asked them for permission to attend the march, you can be sure she missed the point completely.

Although Joburg Pride adopted the slogan “protecting our rights”, the One in Nine Campaign engaged in this act of civil disobedience because the gay rights organisation clearly did not have the rights of the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in mind. Asking permission to intercept an event that has become more of a sponsor-driven party than a movement with a social justice or gay rights political agenda would defeat the point.

It was entirely necessary that the One in Nine Campaign ambushed the depoliticised Joburg Gay Pride Parade and forced a point. What transpired also served to reveal the deep malady of racism in South Africa.

Let me describe what happened when the Joburg Pride Parade encountered a group of about 20 black lesbians and gender non-conforming feminists who had blocked the road with banners and bodies. The banner carried by One in Nine said: “No cause to celebrate”. They handed out pamphlets to explain why they were there. They laid their bodies on the ground to prevent the parade from continuing. And, mostly, they called out clearly for one minute of silence.

A social media video recorded the entire protest, so those who were not there got to witness the scene. What unfolded, though horrifying, was perhaps not that surprising, given that this is South Africa.

When the pride movement, comprised mainly of white individuals, reached the blockade of black lesbians, who stood their ground, they (One in Nine) were threatened with all manner of abuses. They were told by Joburg Pride organiser Jenny Green that the route was hers. She was sitting in her vehicle and revved her motor in a manner that was construed as her threatening to drive over the protesters — and many encouraged her to do just this.

Harford physically brawled with the protesters and she is caught on camera violently pushing a One in Nine protester to the ground before throwing her body onto those sitting on the road, arms flaying. This, after a white gay man had physically pushed around a few of the protesters and shoved his pink umbrella aggressively and repeatedly at a black woman, while another black woman tried to stop him.

This was a fight divided along racial lines and it was nasty. The nastiness came from the Pride organisers and participants. Those who attacked the One in Nine protesters clearly did not care that they were physically abusing a group of women. It seems clear to me that this was based on the fact that they were black — and they were getting in the way.

It did not seem to matter that what they were asking for was one minute of silence for an issue that has serious implications for the gay community. Except that this is not a white issue, because it is mainly black women and black transsexuals who are victims of this particular crime statistic.

And looking at the board of Joburg Pride — they are all white. Therefore, it is the white agenda that matters more to the current Gay Pride in Johannesburg, whatever this is.

The violence and hatred shown to the One in Nine protesters was another example of white entitlement. Not a jot of embarrassment was shown by the abusers. This was just another form of black-bashing, another manner in which to show just how little most white people empathise with black issues, black bodies and black emotionality.

The fact that Joburg Pride failed to address adequately the issue of hate crimes against black lesbians in a year when at least eight black LGBT people were slaughtered in the wave of homophobia that recently swept South Africa, is telling. More telling is the fact that it failed to address adequately any pertinent issue for the LGBT community at all because, it seems, what began as a representative human rights movement for LGBT rights in 1990 has descended into a commercialised event that is more about float building and parading than highlighting political issues.

It has become way too acceptable for the South African public to witness the assault on black bodies and somehow normalise it. Harford should make a public apology and resign immediately.

As the narrator says in the social media video: “Pride has stopped being a movement that charters new futures and has, with a few exceptions, been stripped of all political content.”

One in Nine has issued a call for the boycott of depoliticised prides and pink-washing by corporations. I don’t see that we have any other choice.

Gillian Schutte is an award-winning independent film-maker, writer and social justice activist. This first appeared on the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service (www.sac sis.org.za).

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