The nasty response to a protest by black lesbians at the Jo'burg Gay Pride shows the event has lost its political thrust, writes Gillian Schutte.
When the One in Nine campaign disrupted the Jo'burg Gay Pride parade to call for one minute of silence on behalf of the many black lesbians and transsexual individuals murdered over the past few years, 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 Jo'burg Pride organiser Tanya Harford told Mamba Online that the "incident" at the parade on October 6 could have been avoided if the lesbian feminist group One in Nine had just asked for permission, you can be sure she missed the point completely.
Although Jo'burg Pride had adopted the slogan "protecting our rights", One in Nine engaged in this act of civil disobedience because it felt the Pride organisation did not have the rights of the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community in mind. Asking for permission to intercept an event that has become more of a sponsor-driven party than a movement with a social justice or LGBTI-rights political agenda would defeat the point. If the One in Nine campaign had asked for permission, it would have been slipped into the programme as an afterthought and given political legitimacy to a movement that does not deserve it: it did not even consider, of its own volition, a minute of silence for those murdered black lesbians.
It was entirely necessary that One in Nine ambushed the depoliticised 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 parade encountered a group of about 20 black lesbians and gender nonconforming feminists who had blocked the road with banners and bodies. The banner that One in Nine (a group founded in 2006 around the time of the Jacob Zuma rape trial) carried said "No cause to celebrate". The activists handed out pamphlets to explain why they were there. They laid their bodies on the ground to prevent the parade from continuing. Mostly, they called out clearly for one minute of silence.
A social-media video recorded the protest. What unfolded, though horrifying, was perhaps not that surprising, given that this is South Africa. When the parade's leaders, mainly white individuals, reached the blockade of black lesbians, who stood their ground, One in Nine was threatened with all manner of abuse.
Go back to the location
Pride organiser Jenny Green told them that the route was hers. She was in her vehicle and revved her motor in a manner that was construed as her threatening to drive over the protesters – and many in the body of the parade encouraged her to do just this. Harford brawled with the protesters. She is caught on camera violently pushing a One in Nine protester to the ground, then hoisting her into those sitting on the road.
This after a white gay man had 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.
"Go back to the location!" shouts one voice, as a white girl pulls two fingers at the camera operator. "Drive over them!" and "Get out of here!" are audible in the footage. Eventually the police removed the One in Nine protesters.
It was a fight divided along racial lines and it was nasty.
The nastiness came from the Pride organisers and participants. Those who attacked One in Nine 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. Is it because it is mainly black women and transsexuals who are the victims of this particular crime?
The violence and hatred shown to the One in Nine protesters was an example of white entitlement. The abusers did not show a jot of embarrassment. These whites were willing to do grievous bodily harm to black female bodies. The implications are too horrible to consider – and yet we must. We must confront this racism head on and stamp it out.
The fact that Pride failed to address adequately the issue of hate crimes against black lesbians in a year in which at least eight black LGBTI people were slaughtered is telling. What began as a representative human rights movement has become a commercial event. That is not to say that celebration, when coupled with a political agenda, is not an effective way of destabilising draconian laws and social intolerance.
Most infuriating, for me, is that Harford does not even offer an apology to the One in Nine protesters when explaining her side of the story. She remains righteously indignant and puts the blame on them. On Mamba Online she insists the protest was "absolutely inappropriate and illegal ... They had none of the necessary permissions. They also embarrassed the entire LGBTI community."
Did this give her the right to physically assault the black lesbian protesters? It seems similar to the logic applied in Marikana. Harford should make a public apology and resign – it is she who has embarrassed the global LGBTI movement.
One in Nine has issued a call for corporations to boycott depoliticised Pride events and "pink-washing". They have called on all LGBTI movements in South Africa and friends around the world to boycott Jo'burg Gay Pride.
I do not see that we have any other choice. We need more civil disobedience from organisations and movements if we are to confront and hold accountable these racist norms that exist in our society. The history of Gay Pride has its roots firmly in a political agenda. – South African Civil Society Information Service (sacsis.org.za)
Gillian Schutte is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and social justice activist. She is a founding member of Media for Justice and co-producer at Handheld Films.
The video can be seen at sacsis.org.za/site/article/1449