It is no secret that on the African continent the subject of sex and sexuality is entirely loaded. Not only do cisgender heterosexual people find the idea of other sexual orientations unpalatable but most make it a point to stigmatise and berate those who have them.
This hostile environment has led to a great deal of internalised self-loathing among members of the LGBTQI+ community and made it almost impossible for them to live their lives proudly. Whether for fear of legal persecution or concerns over personal safety and stigma, most LGBTQI+ people live their lives under cover.
However, not all African countries are intolerant. Some host pride festivals to give the LGBTQI+ community an opportunity for self-affirmation, to proclaim their dignity and equal rights, to increase their visibility as a social group, build community and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance.
Here are some cities that either have an established pride festival or are working towards one:
In South Africa, gay rights and gay marriage have been legal and enshrined in that country’s constitution since 2006. The South African city of Cape Town is home to one of the most vibrant, tolerant and open gay scenes in all of Africa. In March this year, the city held its 14th consecutive Gay Pride Parade, with the theme of ‘Love Happens Here’. Thousands turned out to take part or support the parade.
Thanks to South Africa’s inclusionary laws, Johannesburg also hosts a pride festival and parade. Set to happen in October, this year’s theme is Green symbolising #Growth. It aims to encourage people to celebrate who they are without judgement and to embrace the growth in our societies as we become more open to diversity.
To educate and arm revellers with much needed information, they will also have six informative sessions delivered by experts on these topics: Civil Union – What you need to know; Adoption, Surrogacy and Fertilisation; Trans Health; Women’s Health and Men’s Health.
In what is probably the least expected of the venues, Uganda’s LGBTQI+ community refuses to be daunted in their pride. Ugandan LGBTQI+ activists have announced plans for a pride celebration, despite having to cancel the parade in previous years. In 2017 organisers of the Pride Uganda parade had to abandon the event out of fear of physical harm, following arrests and police raids.
It remains to be seen if organisers can actually pull it off this year, given that the atmosphere in Uganda is not at all promising. The country’s parliament passed the controversial Non-Governmental Organisations Bill in a late-night sitting. This Bill could result in the closure of NGOs that help the country’s LGBTQI+ population. Organisations have already felt the impact: In May, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum Uganda (HRAPF) was broken into and ransacked, and a security guard was killed. However, it has yet to be ascertained whether these events were as a result of the Bill.
LGBTQI+ activists in Swaziland hope to make history by holding this African country’s first ever pride march and festival. Melusi S. Simelane, communications and advocacy manager for the advocacy group The Rock of Hope, told The Daily Beast, “This first event is small scale, but we cannot hide forever. We cannot do advocacy if we are not visible. One of the key aspects of any form of advocacy is ensuring visibility; to say, ‘We are here, we exist.’” Swaziland, like most African countries, has a high incidence of hate crime and the festival, like that in Uganda, would face many safety issues, if it does go ahead.
The admirable fight for inclusion that these places continue to put up should serve as a beacon of tolerance for the whole continent. Tolerance does not necessarily mean acceptance; it means empathy and respect as you allow others to live and love in peace.
Happy Pride Month to every queer African!