Johannesburg - After months of uncertainty about whether Joburg will host a gay pride parade after organisers quit, the city will now have two.
This highlighted ingrained divisions within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community that were unlikely to dissipate in the foreseeable future, activists said.
Last year, members of the feminist anti-rape 1 in 9 Campaign lay down in the middle of the Joburg Pride route in protest at the annual parade’s move away from political advocacy towards performance.
In April, the Joburg Pride Board disbanded over internal differences, throwing parade plans into limbo.
Last month, Pride resumed with the release of official march details, only this year the parade is split into two factions and it’s not entirely clear what the driving differences are.
When asked how Joburg’s LGBT people could combat corrective rapes and murders of gay people, Miss Gay Jozi contestant Candice Nkosi answered to resounding applause that the gay community would remain politically incapacitated as long as it was divided into sub-groups.
The problem is evident, members of the LGBT community admit, but the solution isn’t. Intolerance is perpetuated among the ranks of gay youth, and as long as institutions and society at large remain racially and economically divisive, there’s little hope for collaboration between gays and lesbians, between gay men and transgender women, between lesbians and bisexual women.
Motlatsi Motseoile, 23, is working for Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (Gala) to develop a reference database of resources for victims of LGBT hate crimes.
The project, Asiphephe, will be launched at the end of the month and aims to educate gay people on how to access a criminal justice system that often marginalises them.
Although LGBT people across the board suffered discrimination, Motseoile said, demographic differences could alienate one gay man from another regardless.
“The one misconception that people have is that all gay people must like each other, and that’s not true,” he said.
“An LGBT child who grew up in the township is going to have a different experience of discrimination from someone from a more privileged background. They could both be victims of violence, but they will not relate to each other in the same way because the kind of society where we live now insists on separation between class bars.”
Even in universities where young people from many walks of life intersect - such as Wits University, where Motseoile studied - divisions within the LGBT community and homophobia without are strong.
According to Gala project co-ordinator Gabriel Khan, institutionally-backed discrimination against gay people is key to the continuation of society-wide homophobia.
When teachers fail to address the bullying of gay pupils, the police refuse to respond to threats of rape and magistrates decline to associate hate with gender-based crime, it sends a message to young people that their LGBT peers are “unAfrican” second-class citizens.
“We need to educate young people and help them advocate for their own rights at the first level, and then we need to education the leaders of institutions to help youth come out and come to terms with their gender or sexual orientation,” Khan said.
“Organisations and people like myself have a lot to offer, but we need to find a way to negotiate (demographic differences).
“That being said, when we go into a group we do see certain social and racial constructions. We can’t necessarily change the context, but we can equip people with the skills necessary to deal with that.”
Khan, a university-educated community activist with a middle-class background, said he occasionally struggled to provide comprehensive aid to LGBT youth with a different set of life experiences from his own.
To foster greater understanding among traditionally disparate subgroups within the LGBT community, Gala recently initiated Hear Us Out, a citizen journalism project training gay young people to document the challenges they face. Whereas mainstream media coverage tended to focus on pride parades or sensational hate crimes, LGBT kids must try to influence the news by creating it, said founder John Marnell.
“There’s this extreme of nude people on the back of a truck or lesbians being murdered and nothing in-between,” Marnell said.
“It’s a very important part of the healing process for people to share those stories. Some of the women have experienced violence and discrimination in quite shocking forms. And then they talk about being made to wear skirts in school when they want to be wearing pants. You often see them start to talk about personal stories that then relate to broader issues of discrimination faced in the school context.”
For Motseoile, the politics of Pride are entrenched in larger social inequalities that aren’t likely to correct themselves with time.
“If you go to Soweto Pride talking about the rape of lesbians and then you have people from the north avoiding Soweto because they think it’s not safe, then you can’t have a unified voice,” he said.
“People who have a more privileged platform and a bigger voice need to bring themselves to a place where they can relate to the issues of those who are underprivileged.”