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PRIDE MONTH REFLECTION

Crossing dressers – queer community lays down rainbow of solidarity against discrimination

Crossing dressers – queer community lays down rainbow of solidarity against discrimination
Pride Rainbow pedestrian crossing on Somerset Road in Green Point, Cape Town. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

We spoke to some members of the LGBTQI+ community to reflect on why it is so important to celebrate and validate the queer community amid a global rise in homophobic discourse.

‘We’re fortunate to live in a country where the Constitution holds equality above all else. But there are still those here who believe queer individuals are ‘less than’ – and this discourse is still around us. Our rights as human beings hang in the balance because of who we love,” Stella Rose, a South African drag performer, told Daily Maverick.

During Pride Month, Rose made a significant statement by walking across the rainbow-painted zebra crossing – a symbol of solidarity for the LGBTQI+ community – in Green Point, Cape Town.

This zebra crossing became a point of contention after Mehmet Vefa Dag, leader of the obscure Truth and Solidarity Movement, took to Twitter to call for the removal of “LGBT colours from Cape roads”. He claimed the rainbow crossing was pushing a “disgraceful agenda” to the public.

After becoming aware of Dag’s hateful threats to deface such a public symbol of queer solidarity, Rose made the decision to walk across the crossing in full drag.

The rainbow pedestrian crossing in Green Point. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

“For the Cape Town-based LGBTQI+ community, the crossing is a major symbol of acceptance and equality,” Rose said.

She explained what walking across the rainbow meant to her: “The aim was to show an act of existence more so than defiance. I wasn’t crossing the road because I was gay. I was crossing the road because I am human.

“It saddens me that something as simple as crossing the street is seen as a statement. Unfortunately that’s exactly what it had to be. Our community was under threat, and during International Pride Month.”

It is absurd to think that the rainbow, something that occurs naturally and features in children’s books and stories, has somehow become a threat.

International Pride Month is celebrated annually every June and was established to honour the Stonewall riots in 1969, which catalysed the queer liberation movement. While Pride is typically associated with joyous celebrations and parties, Rose reminded us not to forget its roots.

“Pride is a celebration of love, yes. But we should never forget that the first Pride was a protest – it was born from riots, from defiance of bigotry and oppression. This remains our reality. There are still 64 countries that have laws criminalising homosexuality, prosecuting people for who they love.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Uganda’s anti-gay bill sparks a surge in homophobia, media censorship and mob attacks

When Rose walked, she was not alone. “I had a few friends and members of my community with me, and I truly felt that we embodied what Pride means in that moment. I felt pride because despite the threats made towards us, we were not willing to make ourselves small. As a community we stood together.”

The DA mayor of uMngeni Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, Christopher Pappas, also sought to use the rainbow to spread a message of inclusivity during Pride Month. Pappas set out to paint rainbows on various stairs in his municipality to commemorate the month.

He told Daily Maverick about how this campaign went: “The efforts went very well. The majority of people who experienced or [commented] on the steps showed gratitude and understood the need. The activity sparked a discussion that many feel uncomfortable to have. The activity also [gave] a little hope to those who feel like they must live in the shadows or feel ashamed about who they are, in whatever context that is.”

Pushback against Pride

For Pappas, this act represents the protection of human rights in this country. He explained that this campaign was mostly well received, save for “some pushback from a very small minority”.

“It is absurd to think that the rainbow, something that occurs naturally and features in children’s books and stories, has somehow become a threat. I believe that it is an inner insecurity or misunderstanding that drives people to fear the rainbow,” he added.

Concern over those pushing against Pride celebrations and overt expressions of queer solidarity, such as rainbow imagery, are on the rise amid increasing queerphobic sentiments globally. On our own continent, Uganda passed its infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill this year, in which the mere existence of queerness results in life imprisonment. Queerphobic sentiment in Kenya and Ghana is also of major concern to humanitarians.

In the US, more than 400 anti-LGBTQI+ bills have been introduced since the start of this year alone – a number that has more than doubled since 2022. Many of these bills push to ban gender-affirming care for minors and seek to censor queer content in school curriculums.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Pride and prejudice – the parallels between the LGBTQ struggle histories of the US and SA

It is a worrying trend that some are using the “protection of minors” as a guise for their queerphobia. This was an argument that arose after Woolworths launched its WPride campaign this year for international Pride Month, intended to “show a level of support for a marginalised group of people within our community”.

This was another local expression of Pride that was met with some contention on social media, with some even calling for people to boycott the brand. Notably, these calls to boycott were not successful.

Those against the Pride campaign also used the argument that the campaign targeted their children, a fact that Woolworths has disproven in a released statement, in which it clarifies that “the campaign merchandise is exclusively adult wear, and kids are not featured in any of the displays or campaign material”.

Woolworths explained that campaigns like this form part of its Inclusive Justice Initiative, through which it has also done campaigns to celebrate Women’s Month and 16 Days of Activism.

The DA mayor of uMngeni Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, Christopher Pappas, also sought to use the rainbow to spread a message of inclusivity during Pride Month. He set out to paint rainbows on various stairs in his municipality to commemorate the month. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Tish White, project coordinator of the Wits Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Programme, said the responses to the WPride campaign are particularly concerning in the same year in which Ugandan legislators passed a bill that enforces capital punishment for “aggravated homosexuality” on a continent where several other countries are passing regressive legislature, such as Kenya and Nigeria.

“…The increasing obsession with ‘protecting’ children from LGBTQA+ people has very little to do with actual care and concern for youth. It is a knee-jerk reaction and a tired excuse for dismissing people [whom] adult gatekeepers refuse to respect, empathise with or engage with in appropriate ways.”

As Pride Month came to a close, it was clear that the queer community in South Africa is remaining resilient in the face of rising tensions and threats towards the community. Rose reminded us that it is a crucial time to show solidarity with LGBTQI+ people: “Show up to Pride parades and for Pride campaigns, and recognise what it means to be an ally of a community that lies on the fringe. Teach people that it is okay to love, and be loved, without judgement.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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