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25/10/2017 14:49 SAST | Updated 26/10/2017 06:51 SAST

Queer Communities Boycott 'Pink-Washed' Johannesburg Pride

The event supports "white-supremicists", and should not support rapper Cassper Nyovest, organisers say.

Supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) attends to Gay Pride March held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on October 25, 2014.
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Supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) attends to Gay Pride March held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on October 25, 2014.

Prominent activists in the LGBTQ+ community will be staging citywide boycotts of this year's Johannesburg Pride -- Africa's biggest queer gathering -- due to the event's location at an "elitist" venue, and choice of a "homophobic" headline performer.

Saturday's event will be hosted at the high-end Melrose Arch retail development, which activists say is out of touch with the realities faced by queer communities.

"The refusal of the organisers to engage more deeply and meaningfully with the political history and function of Pride events is not surprising," LGBTQ+ activist Sekoatlane Phamodi told HuffPost SA.

"It has been commercialised and exploited in a pink-washing project by white-supremacist capitalists who serve the interests of other white, wealthy men who occupy a political identity by saying we 'serve' the LGBTQI community, and who celeberate the advancement they have made to the exclusion of those who haven't been included," Phamodi said.

The outrage has been brewing since organisers made the announcement in 2016, but as the event draws nearer, it is reaching boiling point.

This is not a new gripe by any means. Five years ago, in 2012, 20 black lesbians and feminists from the One in Nine campaign staged a protest at Johannesburg Pride -- a "die-in", where they lay down on the road, pretending to be dead -- in front of Pride participants.

"Ultimately, Pride is a political act, not just a celebration," says Gay and Lesbian Archive director, Keval Harie.

"The first Pride held in South Africa in 1990 was very much a political act, and at that time the question of whether you could be 'out' wasn't even a question. There was a lot of shame around it. People were literally walking around with paper bags on their heads. So, it's important to take stock of where we came from, because we have made big strides in South Africa, thanks in large part to the activists of the past," he said.

The choice of rapper Cassper Nyovest to headline the event has also been called "misogynist" and "homophobic" by popular queer performance artist Siya Ncobo aka Umlilo.

Johannesburg Pride organisers told HuffPost SA that by holding the event at Melrose Arch, they intend to make Pride more "mainstream" and safer for those attending.

"There is a different kind of pride associated with being in a world-class complex such as Melrose Arch... it lets Pride have the same quality as [those in] New York, San Francisco [and] London," Johannesburg Pride chairperson Kaye Ally said on Tuesday.

"The issues we face in South Africa [safety and human rights abuses] are the same issues being faced in places such as India and Russia. Having it in a mainstream environment such as Melrose Arch [makes] it convenient for everyone. Taxis are parked right outside the entrance. And the other community members can park in the basement parking and know their cars are still there when they get back. So we have removed a lot of the vulnerability of parking on the street, and other things like that."

The diversity of the guests in attendance speaks for itself, Ally says.

"Just look at the pictures in our galleries, you will see that it is the most diverse crowd. It is represented by every identity. But if you break it down, I personally don't see colour, or race..."

Other Pride events, such as Soweto Pride, should follow their example, she suggests.

"My question to the other Pride events in the country is, why is your Pride event not growing like ours is?"

Johannesburg Pride takes place on Saturday, with parallel events happening all around the city over the weekend.