Cape Town Pride is an annual festival for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual and queer (LGBTIAQ) community. This week, I read that the theme for Cape Town Pride 2016 would be “Gay. Proud. Colour-blind.” I was shocked. I had just taken the survey a few days prior and had some hope for the organising committee, despite some concerns about the lens through which the survey had been developed.
With this theme, Cape Town Pride has made its politics visible and public. Gay. Proud. Colour-blind. A few things need to be said on this theme.
It is not an all-encompassing term. It leaves out lesbian, bisexual and trans (a term for those who fall under the gender identity umbrella, such as transpeople, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming identities), as well as intersex, asexual and queer identities.
Cape Town Pride’s organising committee did make an attempt to reach out to LGBTIAQ individuals by circulating a survey asking for input and feedback. But even this had its problems.
The identities listed in the survey to select from were limited. There were three moments that were troubling and were linked to the first question: “Which category do you fall into?”
Transgender and intersex identities were lumped with sexual orientation identities such as lesbian and bisexual. Sexual orientation and preference are not the same as gender identity. Trans and intersex people do also have sexual orientations and preferences.
The form allowed for only one option to be selected, for instance one could not be queer and transgender. This showed a limitation in the organising committee’s thinking and that they are in need of sensitisation.
Last, “queer” and “questioning” were grouped together. This again speaks to a lack of engagement and an ignorance as to what a queer identity is and what the category of “questioning” is. Queer may be both a gender identity and a sexual orientation, or whatever the individual identifying as queer wishes it to be. Usually those who identify as queer are not questioning their identity.
As a nonbinary, queer individual, which button was I expected to select? “Other”? It was certainly the most appropriate choice be-cause that first question was an othering experience.
For some, yes, the event is a moment of pride. It is a space to claim the streets and to be visible to the public. But do we not need to be visible elsewhere, such as in places where our identities are not often seen? Green Point is not uncomfortable with us. Green Point makes a profit from our display, and if the majority of Pride attendants are white, middle-class gay men, then are they not simply looking at themselves?
Pride needs to move to the spaces where LGBTIAQ people face violence and daily discrimination; we need to be seen as a strong, proud and significant number of people, not simply one person in a community, alone and vulnerable. In ignoring identities that are not gay white men, are we not saying to the rest of our community that we are ashamed of them? Where is the pride in neglecting to include all our people?
I understand quite clearly what is being attempted by employing this term. It is well meaning in that post-apartheid, “best white” (a term first heard used by Rebecca Davis; see her book Best White and Other Anxious Delusions) kind of way. What it does instead is say that people of colour, their experiences, their identities and the effect everyday racism has on their minds, their bodies and their spirits is rendered invisible. It isn’t seen. It doesn’t matter.
The world the gay white man in South Africa occupies is not the world occupied by people of colour. It is a world of privilege and we need to start holding a mirror up to those who think that race is something that we should “get over” and that the consequences of apartheid are no longer felt.
For those who are excluded, it is difficult to be proud of Pride: it is a shame and a blatant dismissal of their identities. Difficult conversations need to take place and it is time we stop shying away from listening to each other.
It is time we accept that, to become a true and proud LGBTIAQ community, we need to challenge each other and share the pain we experience. It is time for others with privilege to acknowledge the pain we are causing or have caused by dismissing the identities and experiences of those in our community.
We need to develop a Pride that speaks to the Global South and to our continent, and that is truly representative and inclusive. We need to bring the politics back to Pride and remember that we belong to each other.
Nyx McLean is writing a PhD on Pride in South Africa, and is a board member of transgender organisation Gender DynamiX.