Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pride or Prejudice?

Miss Jones from the website The Modern Lesbian airs her concerns over the Joburg Pride debacle.  I happen to agree with many of the points she makes here. 
Earlier this month, the organisers of the Joburg Pride parade released a statement that sent shockwaves throughout the LGBTI community. They announced that they would no longer be hosting the event and this information spread like wildfire throughout the gay community, leaving many in disbelief. While most people started freaking out, I had a ton of questions rushing through my brain.

It’s no secret that I wasn’t exactly a fan of the previous committee (I’m sure my previous article, Profits vs People, is proof enough of that), but what made me angry, and I’m sure many others, is the fact that they left it this late. Pride usually takes place during the first week of October and we’re already heading towards the end of April. Hardly enough time for new roleplayers to take over and plan a massive event such as this one.

It didn’t take long for people to respond to this, by creating new groups and Facebook pages aimed at setting up a new committee and calling a meeting, inviting organisations and members of the public to attend and voice their concerns. We were very excited about this meeting because we thought the winds of change had finally come and the voices of an all inclusive LGBTI community would finally be heard. So we sent deputy editor of The Modern Lesbian, armed with our list of concerns, our eagerness to assist and the interests of the lesbian community at large into the meeting. However, what happened next, took us totally by surprise and left us disgusted for actually attending this meeting. Here’s a few highlights:
        Very few people actually attended this event. It was mainly the people that organised the meeting, a former board member, hardly anyone from the press, hardly any representation from organisations and a few individuals with their own concerns.

·        The people who called the meeting were very adamant that a company be set up and that it remains a COMMERCIAL entity, and not an N.G.O, which upset a lot of attendees, as the basis of any business, unlike an N.G.O, is to make a profit.

·         While the whole commercial angle was spun, the question was asked why the previous board had collapsed and what the real reasons behind dissolving the previous entity was. This was dismissed. One attendee challenged the host by saying: “We want politicisation of Pride, not commercializing our rights!” A verbal attack from both parties followed. Many people got up and left the venue out of sheer frustration  According to the organisers of the meeting, the biggest issue surrounding Pride is BRANDING. (WTF? Really?)

·     What added fuel to an already out of control fire, was when organisers suggested that Pride 2013 be cancelled altogether, and that Pride 2014 should be focussed on instead.
      Many attendees raised the concern that a lot of people could not attend due to the day and venue chosen, as transport and time was an issue. This was met with further animosity from the chairpersons as, in their opinion, everyone was invited.

·       Another gentleman, claiming to be the co-founder of Pride (unverified), then had a go at the attendees, creating the impression that he is more important than others there, and having more rights, as he’s the only one that understands what it takes to make a success of this event.

·       He also dropped a bomb of his own, that the previous committee had received a grant of R3.5 Million (his words, not ours!), to organise the event, but refused to comment or answer any questions regarding any spending by the previous board.
     Attendees suggested that, seeing as not all parties could attend, a new committee should not be elected as yet. This was met with fierce opposition by the chairpersons and tempers flare once again.

·      At this stage a screaming match between the chairpersons and the attendees erupt, with statements such as “Pride is dead”, “Who elected you to call the shots” etc are bellowed and at this point, it seems more of an ego thing than an actual exchange of useful ideas. A parting shot is thrown at one chairperson: “You just want to be Pride Queen” because of frustration felt by attendees for not once having an opportunity to voice their concerns or raise their ideas!

The points raised above are not simply the views of our own attending correspondent, we also received a few statements from other attendees, which will be published in full on our website at a later stage. Among the statements made, Angela had the following to say: “My first thought about the meeting when I am reflecting back on it, was, that it was not what a lot of people expected. The chair person did not keep to the agenda and I think that this triggered the discussion that was at hand in the end. The idea of putting a board together out of one meeting with no background information, legal clarification or information on internal issues, and then asking people to step forward into director positions without looking if they have the expertise to assist in those roles, seems a bit naive.”

What an embarrassment to the local LGBTI community. Which brings me to my next, rather pressing question...what is Pride really about? Is it about the over inflated egos of those calling the shots? Is it about eager opportunists that can’t wait to line their own pockets? Is it about people or profits? Can a party not be accompanied by principles? If Pride started with a political agenda, why is any possibility of adding politics to Pride so quickly dismissed?

In South Africa we as LGBTI people enjoy a lot of freedoms that our cousins from abroad are still fighting for. We are quick to forget the fight for marriage and other equalities in the eyes of the law, causes that would never have gained any momentum had it not been for mass rallies such as Pride. We also seem to forget that there is a group of serial killers targeting gay men, and that the rape and murder of lesbians is not taken seriously by the powers that be because both of these issues are STILL not being seen as HATE crimes. We are also very quick to forget that our rights were challenged by traditional leaders in parliament last year, and only a few of us were willing to stand up to them. What I find very ironic is that the theme for last year’s Pride was “protect our rights” yet when a women’s rights organisation were trying to do just that, they were violently assaulted by Pride organisers and even blamed for the previous board’s decision to dissolve.

We have always supported, for free, any cause or event that uplifts the LGBTI community, as long as their efforts are not aimed at the pockets of the people they wish to attract. This is something we feel very strongly about. So again, I have to ask, why do we have to PAY to be GAY in SA? As previously mentioned, according to the gentleman attending the meeting, the Pride board was given THREE AND A HALF MILLION RAND in GRANT money. I’m assuming that doesn’t include corporate sponsorship, corporate partnership, the infamous pink money scandal, stalls and float applications. I’m sorry, but am I the only one thinking, where the fuck did all the money go? Did the previous organisers just cash in their chips and will the new board carry the interests of the LGBTI community as a whole, or are they just as keen to dive into our wallets? By the tone of the last meeting, this is definitely the tune that plays the loudest.

Let’s look at this another way, by comparing Pride to a similar event...

An international cricket match is attended by roughly 20000 spectators. There are food and snack vendors, beer tents and kiosks that supply refreshments. There are international VIP’s as well as entertainment. There is extensive media coverage. Security is world class and second to none. Cost to attend the event, roughly R100 a head. Right, so let’s take Pride’s R3.5 million grant and divide that by 20000. That’s R175 per head. Now, people will criticise this analogy by saying it’s not the same, but I beg to differ. Stadiums get sponsors and advertisers, so does Pride. Roads around the stadiums are closed off, so is the pride route. A lot of time, effort and money go into organising both events, the only difference is, with the exception of glass and alcohol, you can take your own food and drinks into a cricket stadium, you can use currency issued by the reserve bank and the experience also costs you a lot less!

By the look of things, the people that organised the meeting this past Sunday, is also organising the very first Pride parade in Pretoria on the 7th of September this year. Will it be about profits or people? Only time will tell. In the meantime, we’ve joined hands with a few of the organisations that had representation at the last meeting, and we will most definitely be at the next one to see if the new broom does in fact, sweep clean or sweep even more dirt under the carpet. 

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