Friday, September 23, 2005

Jo'burg Pride turns Sweet Sixteen

Tomorrow is Jo'burg's 16th annual Gay Pride event, Africa's largest.

It's come a long way since the 1989 event when the gay community staged a protest march through Hillbrow wearing paper bags over their heads. It promises to be bigger and better than previous events and its success is being viewed as essential to demonstrate that Jo'burg can host the 2010 Federation of Gay Games.

Last year's event was threatened with drag queens being arrested by police under a law which states, "No person shall at any gathering or demonstration wear a disguise or mask or any other apparel or item which obscures his facial features and prevents his identification". I kid you not - this is South Africa we're talking about, after all! Police were under pressure by a right-wing group to enforce the law but nothing came of it and the event proceeded without incident. No such threats or spoiling tactics have been made this year and the event promises to be a great success.

Non South Africans may find it surprising that Cape Town, despite being known as 'Africa's Gay Capital', waited until 2001 to hold its first pride event. It has, however, been holding its annual MCQP (Mother City Queer Party) event since 1994, an event that has become a well-known fixture on the international gay party circuit.

I've only been to 4 pride events:

  • 2001: London - a great event that proved to be a rather strange day for me culminating in my meeting the 'Barber of Pinna'. More of him another time.
  • 2004: Nottingham - the weather was good and I had fun. I think I did, it's all a blur now.
  • 2005: Cape Town - a week of activities in February this year, including a 'shebeen crawl' to try and make the event more inclusive. A lot of tourists are in Cape Town at that time of the year and the gay scene seemed more crowded than usual. I must have been out every night.
  • 2005: Nottingham - I met up with the 'Usual Suspects' and a great time was had by all. I think I disgraced myself several times but I was forgiven and didn't lose any friends. Michelle wrote about it here.

They were all a great excuse to party and have a great time. I'll definitely be going to more of them but I doubt that I'll ever show signs of becoming one of the 'gay pride groupies' you come across in the UK. All the bigger cities have gay pride events these days and there seems to be one every weekend during summer. Some people make a point of going to a lot, if not most, of them. 'Gay pride groupies', I call them.

In recent years, there have been criticisms about the hedonistic as opposed to the political aspects of such events. Also, there are many within the gay community who find the prominence of the more flamboyant members of the gay community distasteful and are dismayed by the media's concentration on them. They feel that the concentration on 'the freaks' damages the gay cause as it perpetuates gay stereotypes held by the straight community. I understand where they are coming from but they seem to forget that the Stonewall riots, the beginnings of Gay Liberation, started with the uprising of the drag queens who were being persecuted by the police. And they also seem to forget that the gay community is a very diverse one and that Gay Pride should be about celebrating all aspects of that diversity, not just those bits that they find palatable. Read Joe.My.God - he's much more articulate on the subject.

For those of you who will be there, I hope that tomorrow's event in Jo'burg will be a complete gas. Have fun!


Anonymous Douglas said...

This will not succeed in fact, that's what I suppose.
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3:42 pm  

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