As the local government election campaign ends, we also conclude what has been dubbed South Africa’s Pride Month, October. Pride Month in South Africa has in recent years generated much-needed visibility for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer plus community. Despite the homonationalism spectacle and the commercialisation of the concept of Pride as we know it, it has both become central in advancing contemporary queer struggles and building on the legacy of what Pride really meant.
Pride month has successfully created key allies for the LGBTIQ+ community in various private and public forums. The private sector has seen corporations such as Uber, Vodacom, Mercedes and Levi Strauss, among others, running Pride-focused campaigns with the public sector through various government departments, councils and legislatures also leading Pride discourse.
Case studies worth noting include that the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development, through its LGBTIQ+ champion MEC Tasneem Motara, has developed an LGBTIQ+ office to mainstream queer and Pride issues under government’s programmes. In the Free State, the MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Mathabo Leeto, has been a great ally for the community since her appointment. Her headquarters became the first government institution in the Free State to hoist the Pride flag.
Pride has highlighted and placed a spotlight on issues of inclusive and diverse workplaces. There have also been Pride activities through some labour unions, with the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union leading the pack regarding this visibility and representation with its queer membership. Pride has also heightened the visibility of the plight of the community in mainstream spaces, notably through the media, advertising and bold statements by some political parties and religious fraternities.
Historically. Pride Month marks the celebration of what became the first Pride March ever to take place in the African continent, in 1990. It is worth noting that this Pride became an affirmation of the queer community thus it drove visibility efforts by activists of the time, but more importantly it was a protest to seek to exist in a society that historically erased the community’s right to exist in pre-democracy South Africa.
On this 32nd anniversary of Pride we ought to reflect on some of the great advances and legislative victories achieved since the dawn of democracy. The recognition and protection of sexual orientation in the Constitution of South Africa remains an important ask from the founding Pride manifesto.
This constitutional recognition and protection has over the years yielded various other pro-queer laws and government policies, including the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, 2003 (Act No 49 of 2003), allowing individuals to change, under certain conditions, their sex recorded in the population registry; and the Civil Union Act, which came into effect on 30 November 2006, recognising same-sex marriages, extending the common law definition of marriage to include same-sex spouses, and allowing same-sex spouses to enjoy joint and stepchild adoption since 2002.
We should also reflect on the huge numbers of Pride events that have erupted over the last 10 years. This has become an important franchise of the commemoration of the inaugural Pride as led by Struggle icon and father of the South African gay rights movement, Simon Tseko “Abuti” Nkoli, alongside other activists including Dr Beverly Ditsie and retired Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron.
Although Pride Month has been central in placing queer issues in the public discourse, it has also subjected members of the community to further discrimination, secondary victimisation and hate crimes. Since February of this year alone, 20 members of the community have been murdered in hate crimes across the country. However, this has not demoralised the community in its efforts to seek justice while advocating for visibility and representation using tools such as the media and through civil society, interest and advocacy groups.
Pride has in the last couple of years found itself in mainstream media content, and local productions are incorporating queer storylines that are now more accurate in representing the realities of trans and intersex persons in particular, but the LGBTIQ+ community in general. The idea of Pride is characterised by many dynamics, but representation remains critical. We all need to see ourselves or aspects of our reality portrayed accurately in the content we consume. Through representation we have seen tolerance and acceptance levels increase in many of our societies.
Political representation has been at the forefront of the contemporary queer struggle, this as an important vehicle to mainstreaming queer issues in the agenda of government and Parliament. Although the African National Congress has historically supported the community, it is only recently that the party has been seen to hoist the Pride flag, support Pride activities and speak out about this support through its president. This vocal stance has seen the likes of Minister Ronald Lamola recently attending and addressing Soweto Pride.
In 2020, during the ANC’s 109th birthday celebration in Kimberley, the Women’s League launched its LGBTIQ+ desk, which was followed by provincial desks this year. Subsequent to this launch and the resulting #Queer4ANC movement, other alliance components such as the South African Student Congress and Youth League have driven the Pride and queer narrative, including the election and appointment of openly queer National Executive Committee members and National Task Team members.
The recently appointed ANC Youth League National Task Team has also been intentional in creating a seat on the table for queer youth, with the appointment of provincial and regional task team members including a number of queer-identifying youth league members. The 2021 ANC’s local government election campaign is arguably the queerest since 1994, with Pride colours embellishing the campaign trail and images of queer-identifying councillor candidates hanging on poles.
The Democratic Alliance has also positioned itself as a pro-queer political party, becoming the first party to develop a desk dedicated to LGBTIQ+ programmes. The DA Rainbow Network has been central in fostering queer representation through deployment of LGBTIQ+ persons to serve in various legislatures, including Parliament. Zakhele Mbhele is among the handful of DA Members of Parliament who openly identify as queer. This is important for driving political representation at the level of policy making.
This way, the community will advance its struggle through policy protection. The lack of queer representation in the space of policy development affects this protection – perhaps this is why the Hate Crimes Bill is still in limbo or why the South African delegation to the United Nations shockingly abstained in a key vote of the UN Human Rights Council to appoint an independent watchdog on sexual orientation in 2016.
Today Pride is the Queer community’s political statement and voice. The movement of Pride has enabled the community to build one of the strongest lobby and activist movements in the country. Part of this activism project is seen today as efforts to strengthen intersectionality politics, visibility and representation as well as inclusive societies. DM