The 12th annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade, taking place on September 29, will be no different. But is it anything more than an easy photo opportunity for drag queens?
The first march took place in 1990, attended by about 800 people. It was an act of protest against discrimation. Since then it has grown into a massive event in which thousands take part. In the meanwhile, the Constitution has changed to protect gay rights. What does the march mean these days?
”It’s a generational thing,” explains Daniel Somerville of the Pride committee. ”The young activists who started the march have grown up and matured, and now ask why we still do it. The march used to be a call for our rights and then became a celebration of our achievements. Now people should not worry about where the march is being held, but why — there are still many young people in oppressed societies who face homophobia, discrimination and violence daily. The march offers a chance to walk with pride in safety for at least one day in the year. It’s a vehicle for building self-esteem.”
The gay community also needs to be more visible. ”We have to make people and the government used to queer images and diversity,” says Martin Nel, editor of the Q Online website (www.q.co.za). ”We should have a march at the end of every month.”
Cathy Trow, director of Black Pride, agrees. ”The march is necessary. It’s all about celebrating who we are, a constant reminder of who we are. It gives people an opportunity to reflect on their identities as gay people.”
But the march route remains a matter that divides the gay community. ”You will once again have to walk through the tacky, run-down part of the city because either the organising committee was too pathetic in coming up with something new, or we are not good enough to walk through the northern suburbs,” is the criticism coming from a letter on Q Online.
Zoo Lake was planned for this year’s march, but it was already booked for another event. So the march again goes through Braamfontein, past landmarks such as the Constitutional Court, the city hall and the Department of Home Affairs, as well as the Heartland area with its gay bars and clubs. The northern suburbs are considered too inaccessible for those relying on public transport, because Pride has to cater for the whole community. The distance has been shortened to 5,5km, though, and the Hillbrow leg of the route has been cut.
Wouldn’t the march be more visible in an area such as Rosebank or Sandton? Somerville says there are viable areas, but it’s mostly office buildings and homes with high walls. There are more people on the street in downtown Jo’burg during the day.
Another problem is that the mainstream media coverage focuses on the underdressed and over-the-top elements of the march — not really a balanced view.
This, feels Somerville, is a reflection on the media, not on the gay community. ”Drag queens have always been at the forefront of the fight for gay acceptance and are an essential part of the community,” he says. Besides, he adds, the march is a celebration and a good reason to dress up for fun.
The Pride parade starts at the Civic Centre in Braamfontein from 11am on September 29. For more info on the parade and other Pride events see www.sapride.org.