Pink glitz as Knysna gears up for gay bash
By Jo-Ann Bekker
Many restaurants in Knysna have garlanded their premises in swaths of rosy fabric, fairy lights and balloons to celebrate the opening of the third Pink Loerie Carnival on Thursday.
The event, billed as Africa's only gay Mardi Gras, is expected to bring at least 3 000 winter visitors and a turnover of about R5,4-million to this Garden Route town over the weekend, according to the carnival's public relations director, who goes by his first name only, Juan.
A full programme will keep carnival-goers busy from breakfast to the small hours.
Events include a drag queen competition, cabarets, parties, live bands, contemporary art and lifestyle exhibitions and a "Gay Bay" cruise on the lagoon.
The climax is the Saturday afternoon street parade and an all-night Pink Party.
The celebrations end on Sunday afternoon with a "mellow forest" festival of women's art, music and song.
The carnival aims to showcase the diversity of gay culture, says Juan, celebrate the South African constitution - which guarantees freedom from discrimination - and attract visitors to Knysna at a quiet time of year.
The first Pink Loerie Carnival in 2001 drew vociferous opposition from a fundamentalist Christian group.
Since then there has been no organised resistance, although Juan says: "There are still people in this town who would rather not have a gay person in Knysna, nor have the Pink Loerie Carnival."
In Main Street, some restaurants - including a popular family restaurant and a fast-food outlet - have elected not to display posters or associate themselves with the carnival.
The owner of the fast-food franchise says this is because of the chain's insistence on neutrality.
"Everybody is welcome," the owner, Ronelle Pretorius, insists.
A spokesperson for the Italian family restaurant said it valued the support it enjoyed year-round from the gay community. It did not, however, wish to alienate customers who were opposed to the carnival.
A popular Main Street club is not on the official Carnival programme this year.
The reason, owner Nick Ife said, was that he had lost money during last year's Pink Loerie festivities because of incorrect information in the programme and the last-minute withdrawal of a consultant approved by the organising committee.
"I am open-minded and support any festival, as tourists are good for business," Ife said. "We will have a live band playing and be open for business as on any other weekend."
Bistro owner Sandy Ralph has revamped her restaurant extensively for the event, but says many businesses are not making an effort and are just "waiting on the sidelines for the spin-offs from the pink rand".
There will be one notable absence from the carnival. Last year's winner of the Queen of Clubs drag queen competition, John Kleingbiel - alias Miz Angelica Pearl - died in August.
Although very ill during the 2002 carnival, Kleingbiel worked tirelessly to promote the festivities and raise funds for the Knysna Aids Council.
"He was brave enough to stand up on stage and say: 'I am HIV-positive'," said Ralph.
"John was the drag queen of all drag queens. He was quite a lady, always very elegant, very tasteful."
Another aim of the carnival is to "stimulate awareness and understanding of gay issues as well as the HIV/Aids pandemic".
However, only the Beyond Eden women's festival is an official Aids fundraiser for local programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission and train peer counsellors at schools.
For sheer visual excitement, the Pink Loerie Carnival beats Knysna's other festivals hands down. Already, gorgeous men in high heels and wigs exuding carnival spirit are teetering down the Main Street.
All but the most narrow-minded have to smile.