BONGA DLULANE: Gay Pride: Out but lacking the Pride


“It’s so white,” were the first words I said to my colleague and friend when we attended the 30th Johannesburg Gay Pride on Saturday. We were making our way to the media and VIP designated area on Rivonia Street in Sandton, between Sandton City and the Mercedes-Benz building.

The Pride event is a milestone achievement for a community still fighting for queer visibility and rights. It’s bustling with colour, activity and celebration of thousands of attendees, who showed off their creative costumes in celebration of their authentically beautiful African selves.

But something seems wrong. Pride was created to be inclusionary and give everyone a safe space to express themselves. It started in the 1990s in South Africa and was intended to be a political protest against discrimination. But what Pride has become, and where it’s going, despite outcries from others, sometimes feels like it's not in line with this.

In the past, Johannesburg Pride events have been criticised for not including black people in plans and at the event itself. It has also been accused of not being racially diverse with their performers. A number of other Pride events have since taken off separately, including People's Pride, which broke away from Johannesburg Pride in 2013 after criticism for its expensive VIP area.

This year's Johannesburg Pride felt similar.

The first thing that I think needs to change is the VIP area of the event. The way it’s set up is exclusionary and feels classist as most of its occupants were white, with a few "acceptable black people” to sprinkle some colour in the space. VIP areas at events like these shouldn’t exist because they further fuel divisions in a community that is already faced with serious challenges.

There was also a lack of engagement on the politics of the LGBTQI+ movement. These events should be spaces for self-reflection as a community; to help with solutions to difficult, new problems; and for solidarity.

We appreciate those who fought the good fight to get us to where we are now. We have our rights enshrined in the Constitution, and we can get married. Things aren't perfect, but we've made great strides. But to continue the fight for fairness, the baton needs to be passed to the younger generation.

It's no longer about just being seen - many of us feel more comfortable now than ever before. Queer people today also deal with depression, black lesbians are still being raped and killed for not being "real" women. But these issues are not being tackled in Johannesburg Pride, and they weren’t on Saturday.

Gay pride has to encompass and articulate these issues and include black gay people to evolve and be reflective about the world around us. As it stands now, it’s stuck in a loop of forever staging marches and hosting exclusive parties, without addressing the issues it was created to deal with. After that, what then?

Bonga Dlulane is an Eyewitness News reporter based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter: @BongaDlulane