The problem with Township Pride

Last year while doing my hair in preparation for the Mdantsane Pride, my hairdresser made a homophobic remark, she said “You are going to that circus?” I met her last week again and she made a similar statement about the queer community. This made me sit down and try and dissect how she and others refer to us and our community. It also had me wondering if people understand what Pride means for us.

Pride is so much more than the word for us, it is about visibility, acceptance and being. And that is the message that we thought was going to be sent across to the townships with the introduction of taking it to the streets of Soweto and Mdantsane. But alas, it was not received like that. Instead all we got were insults and demeaning looks from our neighbours. All we got were stares of how we seemed like a circus and herein lies the problem.

How does one take a march to the people without first educating the people? We can never deny the fact that our plight as LGBTI for acceptance takes a back seat to racism. We fight as one with cisgender black people against racism but as soon as we look to them for allies most of them turn a blind eye. And as much as we should be able to rely on them we should be able to rely more on the togetherness that we share (or should share) as marginalised communities. What struck me the most was the fact that my hairdresser and many people like her were not even aware of the many different personalities that reside in the Queer community. Everyone seems to be more familiar with the LG in the alpahabet soup, and ‘those men who dress like women’.

Is it really our job to educate people? It really isn’t but as someone who is tired of merely being tolerated and not accepted, educating seems more like a calling than a job.

The problem with township pride is that it aims to speak to people who are deaf to our plight. Our families and friend are just okay with having a queer sibling, but our queerness should be something we do not flaunt for people to see. Most of our families in the township have a certain reputation to uphold in the community and a queer child threatens that standing so we are told how to act for the benefit of the community so as to not embarrass the family. We comply and oblige with this and then are surprised when one day when we take the pride to the dusty streets of Mdantsane and they are confused and don’t approve.

Do you know how it feels when so many eyes look at you not only in judgement, but in disappointment? To be looked at like you are not part of them, like your humanity has been removed by society. Like you are a circus act? I know most of us know, but to be made to feel like that by people of your own community? By your neighbour who always brags about changing your diaper? By your sibling who vowed always to be there for you? By your parents who vowed to always love and accept you. Yes, township pride is a lot like our daily lives and is thus a trigger for many of us.

So what is the way forward? What can we, as a community do? Awareness and education seem to be the only hope we have but how do we implement this? PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is a great concept but one that is yet to infiltrate the black support system. Most of our families and friends are not comfortable with being vocal allies and we also fail at most times to articulate in what way we need them as allies. Awareness and education lacks in the black community and the wrath of it all is felt mostly by us, the black queer bodies.

Township pride is a great platform, one which makes us visible and reminds our communities that we are queer and we are here. On the other hand it divides and alienates us from our people. I do not have all the answers but we need to find them together as a community before this misunderstanding filters down to the innocent and young generation.

The problem with township pride is not that we should not be proud in the townships. The problem with township pride is that we do not seem to be allowed to be proud in the townships and that is where we should be focusing some of our energies.

Sivuyile Mtshemla