October is commemorated as Pride Month in many parts of South Africa and Africa. So, what makes this month so special and why do we celebrate Pride in the first place?
LGBTIQ+ Pride can be a concept, a feeling, or a time (a day or a month) through which members of the LGBTIQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer, plus) community celebrate their identity and community with ‘pride’.
This expression of pride is in response to the shame and stigma that so many of us experience in our lives – just for being ourselves or loving who we love.
The celebration of Pride is also a way to build a sense of belonging (to know that none of us is alone) as well as a means through which to highlight the injustices LGBTIQ+ people face and to demand equality and inclusion.
Pride, as we know it today, has its roots in what is known as the Stonewall Riots. On 28 June 1969, police again raided a popular LGBTIQ+ bar in New York City called the Stonewall Inn.
After years of experiencing these homophobic raids and harassment by the authorities, the furious bar patrons fought back. The rebellion ignited days of scuffles and protests in the streets.
The first Pride marches
Until that point, LGBTIQ+ people were very careful to not be public about their sexuality or gender identity to avoid discrimination and even arrest.
Inspired by the riots and ongoing injustices, members of the LGBTIQ+ community in the United States (US) started planning marches to defiantly assert their place in society.
The following year (1970), to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, marches were held in New York City and Chicago – the first-ever Pride marches. These events inspired many in the US and around the world and soon other major cities started holding their own protests and celebrations for LGBTIQ+ equality.
This public expression of LGBTIQ+ identity sparked a new confidence and led to a growing movement to demand the human rights of queer people.
Today, international Pride Month is celebrated in the US and other countries in June, with many global Pride marches and parades held around that period. In South Africa, we do things differently, of course.
The first Pride march in Africa
On 13 October 1990, Africa’s very first Pride march was held in Johannesburg. On that day, while still in the grip of the apartheid regime, around 800 people marched through the city to insist on their human rights.
The historic event was organised by the likes of the late gay anti-apartheid activist Simon Nkoli, queer filmmaker Beverly Ditsie, and Edwin Cameron, who went on to become a Constitutional Court judge.
Many of the participants wore paper bags over their heads out of fear of being identified and targeted by the authorities. At that time, it was illegal to be lesbian or gay. Because of the date of this historic event, October is celebrated as Pride Month in South Africa.
While Pride marches are still not common in other parts of Africa, they have blossomed around the country. Many South African cities and communities now hold some form of Pride march or celebration.
We’ve also come a long way when it comes to our rights! With the advent of democracy and our inclusive Constitution, we have laws in place that are intended to protect us from discrimination and to confirm our equality.
However, society, families and individuals have lagged behind our progressive laws. LGBTIQ+ South Africans continue to face hate, prejudice and even violence. This year alone, 19 known queer people have been brutally murdered across the country. And there are many other reports of non-lethal attacks.
This is why Pride remains important today – not just for a month but as an ongoing and affirming feeling about ourselves. Pride is a way to come together and identify with each other, celebrate our successes as a community, mourn those we have lost, and continue the struggle for full liberation and inclusion.
Pride in our health and wellbeing
Many studies have shown that LGBTIQ+ people face mental health challenges because of the stress of living in an often unfriendly community. We may face depression and turn to substances to cope. Fearful of stigma and discrimination we may not always be open to going to a clinic or doctor.
So, this Pride Month (and every other month), we urge you to not only be proud of your identity and your LGBTIQ+ community but also your own health. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your friends and partners. By taking steps to stay healthy – for example, testing, preventing, or treating HIV – you also help keep your community healthy. You (we) deserve good health and well-being, so take pride in it!
OUT’s Engage Men’s Health offers free and friendly sexual health services with pride to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). EMH is in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. Our services include free HIV and other STI testing, treatment, PrEP and also PEP. WhatsApp or call us on 082 607 1686.