People’s Pride March 2013 – Queering South Africa’s Social Movements

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Wow! The Johannesburg People’s Pride march was amazing.  As I sit down to write this post, I am still sizzling from the energy and blazing sunshine, skin beginning to glow red. Joburg People’s Pride  brings something truly unique, powerful, and beautiful to the fight for social justice. Not only did it feel momentous to be a part of the march itself as it moved through the streets of downtown Johannesburg, but it also gave me a sense of what it can feel like to bring together struggles against racism, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism in real terms, on the ground.

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It was the first ever JHB People’s Pride march, and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it. A queering of the ways in which issues of sexuality, race, gender, landlessness, education, health care, xenophobia, and HIV/AIDS are usually articulated (in isolation from one another), People’s Pride can build bridges of solidarity between these issues. I was given a placard to carry that read, “We demand universal and quality education”.  My favorite was “We demand an erotic justice”. And, in my mind, I was demanding a public culture of sex. A culture where sexual knowledge is accessible and circulated. Joburg People’s Pride contributes to the public elaboration of a social world where less alienated relations can be made possible.

This mode of action speaks back to the de-politicization of gay rights movements, here and elsewhere, which have been hijacked by capitalist consumption and white, middle class interests.

Last year’s Johannesburg Pride march, which has become an indisputably apolitical movement, can be said to have catalyzed the formation of People’s Pride. The main pride organiser’s statement that “we are not political animals” when responding to her and other’s engagement with the deliberately politicized 1 in 9 disruption-intervention (if you have no idea what I am talking about, watch the video), illustrates how pinkwashing and homonationalism have normalized LGBTIAQ movements.

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It was when I read That’s Revolting: Queer strategies for resisting assimilation that I began to realise the ways in which the issues of gay-marraige, gays in the military, and gay adoption have co-opted a movement that had radical and revolutionary origins. A movement which probably felt a lot like the JPP march.

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Rather than pursuing a struggle for erotic justice, public sexual culture, and the dismantling of heteropatriarchy, the mainstream gay rights movement has embarked on a normalizing mission to align itself with heterosexual, white, and middle class values and interests (See The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life). This, of course, has the effect of further alienating queers who are marginalised along additional axes of oppression such as class, race, nationality, and HIV/AIDS status.

The march concluded with a very powerful and respectful honour to those who have lost their lives because of the violence through which heterosexuality and patriarchy are policed in our society.

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Two rows of marchers standing with simple placards showing the smiling faces of people whose lives have brutally ended because of homo- and trans-phobia, intolerance, hate, and violence.

A drummer played a marching rhythm. Faces appeared one by one. People who once had life, like us marchers, at one time. It is important to keep our history with us as we  work towards the building of an equitable future. The silent walk of honour was a powerful way to achieve this, and to actively invoke these lost friends and allies into the present.

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The phrase “They cannot kill us all” was painted in black on a white sheet, greeting the marchers as we arrived at the final turn of the procession.

Ending with a gathering at Constitution HIll, the march concluded with the high energy with which it began. Thank you Joburg People’s Pride for this day and for creating a space where we can create something new. A space for creativity, and a space where we can find new paths towards justice together.

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