Many credit the Stonewall Riots, which took place from 28 June – 3 July 1969 as the beginning of the LGBTI movement’s public fight to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The first Pride Marches were held in the United States cities of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago on the first Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in June 1970. Since then, June has been known as Pride Month in many parts of the world.
On 13 October, 1990 the first gay pride in South Africa was held in Johannesburg, organized by Simon Nkoli, Bev Ditsie and Justice Edwin Cameron. In his address to the crowd, Simon Nkoli famously said “I’m fighting for the abolition of apartheid,and I fight for the right of freedom of sexual orientation. These are inextricably linked with each other. I cannot be free as a black man if I am not free as a gay man”.
More recently countries such as Uganda, Swaziland, Botswana, Kenya and Zambia have held Pride marches, or Pride activities where a march has not been a possibility.
In the last decade, however, there have been some controversies and criticism of Pride. The marches, many of them now called parades, have become less about the intersectional oppression Nkoli spoke about and have become more exclusionary and far removed from the still very real struggles of many members of the LGBTIQ community, particularly poor and Black members of the community.
There can’t be Pride if there isn’t community
When you see yourself represented and your existence and experiences validated in movies, in books, in mothers and fathers day cards, in theories of human development and in sex education (the small amount we received if at all), the importance of a solid community may not seem such a matter of life and death. When your experiences are touted as the universal experience perhaps community feels like it’s everywhere and it’s not something to struggle for necessarily.
Life as a Black queer person is a complex one to navigate, to feel, to have to breathe through. It’s not uncommon for activism to be born from a place of struggle and anger but also from a place of wanting to better understand the human experience, to open yourself up to it. Anger may get you through the [activist] door, but love, compassion and community help you stay the course. And to truly embody love and connection, one has to embrace vulnerability.
“The emotional cost of being conscious and in constant and active defiance of structural powers is enormous”
– Tshegofatso Senne
Activism very often means planting roots in the world as it exists and planting roots in an imagined future. We need roots in the world as it exists to be able to see oppression in its many forms, to be able to understand it, to fiercely challenge and fight it and to advocate for change. We need roots planted in an imagined future to be able to dream freedom – we have to dream it because we don’t really know what it looks like to exist in a place, as people who are not afraid, who have access to resources and health care, who are happy, who can celebrate all aspects of their identity and heritage. The toll on the individual is huge because violence doesn’t knock off at 5pm and cultivating futures of freedom doesn’t happen in one afternoon, not even in 50. People who benefit from the oppression of others are not going to give up without a war either. Community, having people to fight with, rest with and dream with, becomes a necessity.
“When I was a child, it was clear to me that life was not worth living if we did not know love. I wish I could testify that I came to this awareness because of the love I felt in my life. But it was love’s absence that let me know how much love mattered”
– bell hooks
The criticism of Pride as anti-black, anti-poor, apolitical, transphobic and sexist is devastating – both to LGBTI individuals who are experiencing othering at best and violence at worst at the hands of the community and to the credibility and strength of Pride as a movement, as a political vehicle for change.
Black and brown feminists, scholars, writers and activists have, for years, linked the work of dismantling systems and institutions of oppression to a politics of radical love.They have described radical love as some of the following:
- A commitment to making visible the work, analyses and experiences of your chosen community
- Trust. In patriarchal, sexist and white-supermacist societies minority groups are seen as vessels of deviance, not to be trusted. When members of our communities voice oppression and violence they have suffered, radical love necessitates that we believe them
- A commitment to the disruption and dismantling of systems of oppression as they manifest in society and in our interpersonal relationships.
- Solidarity cannot be based on like-ability.
Radical love means we operate from a space where we are willing and able to really see one another, and thus enable us to be in community with one another – A community that holds us in our entirety, that makes us visible, and also holds us accountable. Activism is our place to form analyses, to take to the streets, to engage with States and state policies, to negotiate, to create, to envision, but none of these can truly be revolutionary, transformative or even possible without acknowledgement, without fully seeing the people who make up these movements, the people who drive these movements, the people that these movements fight for. Our activism is not a place where we can afford to perpetuate the exclusionary tactics of the oppression we are fighting against. We are living, breathing, complex and multi-faceted beings, we must see each other as such, deliberately, in love and in the spirit of building and sustaining a community.
To read more on some of the concepts and ideas we have spoke about here, explore the following links:
The use of anger: women responding to racism
Talking back: An interview with Jessica Horn
All About Love: New Visions
Love – A question for the feminist in the 21st century
Love as the practice of freedom
The Combahee River Collective Statement
Find us on Instagram
We have joined the Instagram wave. Find us @calcoalition where we will be show casing more of the amazing ‘radical African lesbian feminist’ imagery, shown in this month’s newsletter, designed by Naadira Patel, @studiostudioworkwork.
Thank you to everyone who submitted for issue 3 of the African Feminist Standpoint. Issue 3 is going to be amazing!
Catch up on previous issue at www.ralf.cal.org.za