Dear LGBTIAQ+ community, why are we excluding so many of our own people from safe spaces?
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By Nyx McLean
As the LGBTIAQ+ community we need to think critically about who we include in our conception of our community, the symbols we draw on, and the spaces we occupy. These are all political and very telling of our own politics and values.
The LGBTIAQ+ community is a very important community to me and to many others. It is a space where we feel safe and recognised, and have access to knowledge, support and solidarity in our personal battles.
When I critique the community, I do not do so lightly and without consideration for what it has done for me and given to me. I critique it because I believe we should be better than we currently are and that we can be better.
All of us can be better, from Joburg Pride to Cape Town Pride to restaurants to events to even the exclusive adult clubs. Why are we excluding so many of our own people from these spaces? Either we exclude them explicitly by limiting who can access a space – such as the exclusion of transgender gay men from gay men sex clubs. The message is clear there: cisgender gay men are transphobic, and in excluding transgender gay men, they are sending a very clear message about their inability to recognise them as men. That is very toxic thinking. And it is only one case of this.
We often find the LGBTIAQ+ community spoken of in a way that aims to include everyone in the LGBTIAQ+ but when we enter the spaces the G and the L dominate, with a smattering of the rest for diversity-sake or entertainment-sake, as is the case with drag queens or the extra cute ambiguously gendered non-binary person brought in to Instasell themselves.
These spaces are often very white and ableist in the way of who can access venues. They are classist too – the spaces we choose are often associated with wealth, with venues charging over R200 for a cocktail (there are places, you know who you are). And what is it for? Who are we performing this elitist classist nonsense for?
We are performing for the cisgender heteronormative gaze, to prove that if we can afford to access these spaces then we are equal to them. We cannot mistake economic gains for political gains. Our LGBTIAQ+ organising needs to be better than this, and far more nuanced and critical in its thinking.
Two recent events have me thinking about the symbols we draw on. One recently painted the rainbow flag on the pavement and it is a glorious sight to beholden. While I feel every queer particle in my being resonate and feel like it is finding home – if the rainbow flag was a national flag, consider me a citizen. But we need to be intersectional when we think of the symbols we draw on. The flag has since been updated internationally in more progressive spaces from six colours to eight colours.
The addition of a brown and a black stripe is an explicit statement that LGBTIAQ+ people of colour are included in the conceptualising of the rainbow and the LGBTIAQ+ community. While the original flag was not designed to be inclusive of race, at this point in our global history, it is short-sighted to opt to leave the two stripes out – they are a sign of solidarity, and intentional organising that says: you are welcome here.
There is an event planned for this weekend that is being called the Sea Point Promenade Pride Protest which seeks to raise awareness and visibility around issues that the LGBTIAQ+ communities face. But it is in Sea Point, which is quite gay, let us be honest.
There are a few things that stand out for me with this event. The naming of the event as a protest and drawing on the history of Pride in South Africa to ground the event in political roots. But this is in Sea Point not downtown Joburg (where the first Pride protest took place) or Khayelitsha or Macassar. But Sea Point.
The organiser explains that they intend to take over the Sea Point Promenade to “protest for better queer visibility” but among the usual crew? A far more effective space would be Nkanini, Khayelitsha where Liyabona Mabishi, a16-year-old lesbian was murdered this year, on Human Rights Day.
Or Macassar where Kirvan Fortuin, an LGBTIAQ+ activist was murdered by a 14-year-old child in June this year.
I understand that the event at the promenade is also largely a fund-raising awareness event – with flyers being distributed to encourage folks to donate for the formation of a Youth Safe-Centre. If this is a fund-raising event, then let it be a fund-raising event, target the wealthy, stroke the egos, and put them in a fancy pants room where they can speak to each other and feel good about saving the gays.
This idea of a protest sounds performative: Sea Point Promenade; ocean views; sunglasses installation (which is still one of the most out of touch pieces of art); and colour powder. This really sounds like an Instashare, Instafluence, Instaemptiness moment. It will make for beautiful photographs but what else will it achieve.
And colour powder, really?! We are in the heart of a climate disaster and we are going to pollute the skies, ground, ocean, and lungs of people for a pretty moment for social media. Protests are too often commodified and made to be pretty things for a social media display for likes and shares. This is a case in point.
Our LGBTIAQ+ organising needs to be critical, it needs to be care-filled, and it needs to be collaborative. Ask members of the LGBTIAQ+ community, not just the usual crew of Greenpoint and Sea Point, what they want, and what they need. Open a space for true community dialogue.
I acknowledge fully the efforts of those who are centring the LGBTIAQ+ community. My critique and questioning are not a means to shut down the efforts. It is rather to ask that we become truly reflective of LGBTIAQ+ people in South Africa — and the intersections of our lived experiences such as class and race and gender identity. We can do so much more if we are truly a community, an ethical community that includes everyone in its organising. We need to stop thinking about how many likes we can get and rather think about how many lives we can touch.
Otherwise if we continue to organise like this, we are excluding our own people. We are saying that there is only one way to be LGBTIAQ+ (and that’s a white gay man in Sea Point protesting on the Promenade) and that any lived experiences that don’t fit in with the Instashareable are not worthy of supporting.
If we really want to see change, we need to commit to the long game. We need to do community organising. We need to sit and to listen and to learn from each other where the hurt is. If we continue to only focus on the LGBTIAQ+ aspects of our community then we send the message that the other violences such as sexism; classism; racism; ableism; xenophobia; transphobia and so many others are not included in our conception of the LGBTIAQ+ community.
Let us not be superficial. Let us move from a space of heart and care. Let us be ethical in our organising.
* Dr Nyx McLean is a transgender non-binary queer researcher who specialises in LGBTIAQ+ identities and communities. Nyx holds a PhD in History and wrote their doctoral thesis on Joburg Pride seen through a critical anti-racist queer feminist lens. Pronouns: They/Them.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.
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