The annual Pretoria Pride Parade was held on 5 October, at the Centurion Rugby Club”. This event provides an opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community to come together and celebrate their identities. Similarly, the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G) and UP&Out have also taken steps to showcase the gender and sexual identities of the LGBTQ+ community through UP Pride Week 2019, which starts on 14 October. The Pride Week commenced with a vibrant wall painting and include events such as an information session on the LBGTQ+ culture in Pretoria and a Pride March.
PDBY asked some members of the queer community for their views on the importance and relevance of these events and initiatives that specifically celebrate the LGBTQ+ community at the university.
According to Johan Maritz, the senior manager of the CSA&G, although the South African Constitution protects LGBTQ+ rights, pride events are still relevant because not celebrating runs a risk of the LGBTQ+ community becoming complacent. He explained that, “pride marches are there to remind ourselves where we come from”. He also added that for people who are still dealing with their sexuality, it can be a difficult step to publicise and celebrate their sexualities, as they are making something that is private, a public reality. He then highlighted how people at the university have become more accepting and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and their struggles. “More people are open and willing to join us on parades. There’s still lots of room for improvement but acceptance is becoming more visible and people are becoming more comfortable and living in their true identities”. Maritz additionally explained that there has been a generational shift, as in the past people were very label-conscious and had to embody their identity but more young people now reject those labels.
Dr Christi Kruger, a researcher and programme manager at the CSA&G stated that, for organisers and participants of a minority group, it can often be difficult to know if LGBTQ+ events are publicised enough and if people are aware of pride events. The increase in pride events has also drawn some criticisms such as that the politicisation and capitalisation of such events could possibly be seen to undermine the true purpose of Pride initiatives. Both Maritz and Kruger believe that some Pride events are not about making a statement anymore and some have become classist or exclusivist as entrance fees and locations are not very accommodating of the diverse backgrounds that queer people come from.
For Kruger, pride at UP is important to her as she came from a conservative hometown where celebrating LGBTQ+ identities was controversial. The increasing tolerance and openness at UP is a stark contrast from the lack of support and acceptance she faced in her community at home. She also told PDBY that everyone needs to be reminded that, as we live our daily lives, we all have to acknowledge that the LGBTQ+ community does not live outside our community. “They are part of the main student body. Queer people are in our classes. They are a part of our reality”.
Another member of the queer community and staunch supporter of LGBTQ+ pride, Transformation and Innovation Officer for the University of Pretoria Charter of the United Nations Association of South Africa (UNASA UP), Sheldon Reed, had some insights into the significance of Pride for the queer community
As the Transformation and Innovation Officer, he is responsible for ensuring that UNASA UP promotes the equality and inclusivity of minority groups in the activities and events affiliated to the society. He shared with PDBY his plans to connect with more people, outside of the Humanities Faculty and to start involving other campuses in Pride events to include more people. For Reed, such initiatives on campus allow the society to promote exposure and visibility, reaching out to people who might not have had the opportunity to explore themselves. He added that Pride Week is relevant on campus because, for some people, moving to the university might be the first time that they are exposed to more open spaces where they have more freedom to express themselves and to understand that there are others out there like them.
For students and university staff to support the LGBTQ+ community regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, Kruger encourages people to educate their families if they subscribe to certain stereotypes and prejudices. Maritz suggests that we should do away with terms like ‘tolerance’ as it still leaves room for judgement and instead embrace more favourable terms such as ‘acceptance’ which is more complete and accommodating towards the queer community. According to Reed, showing support by attending pride marches, erasing queer stereotypes and patiently allowing oneself to be exposed to the LGBTQ+ community is the way to make attainable progress. He added that UNASA would like to start involving other campuses besides the Hatfield Campus and reach out to people beyond the Humanities Faculty from where they get the most support. Finally, Reed illuminated the fact that “the big part of pride is gathering to celebrate who we are, our love to share and the fact that we have come so far. It’s called Pride because we are proud of who we are. We don’t want to be ashamed”.
Photo: Darec Hall