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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March, 2005, 14:54 GMT
Taking Gay Pride to SA's townships
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Cape Town

Gay Pride parade
Black South African society remains unwilling to accept gays
Despite a decade of democracy and one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, South Africa still has trouble accommodating those who are black and gay.

Watching the recent Gay Pride march through the streets of Cape Town, however, you may have got a different impression.

Leading the procession were three open topped cars, and sprawled across their bonnets, Miss Gay Pride's top three transvestites.

Two of them were black, and even though South Africa has come a long way, that is something a little unusual.

It is the third year Cape Town has hosted a pride march, but again it was noticeable just how white-dominated the participants were.

"Being black and gay is a very different place to being white and gay in Cape Town," said Juanita Jacobs, or JJ as she's known, one of the Pride organisers.

Shebeen crawl

So this year the festival went a step further towards breaking racial barriers.

"This year we decided to take Pride into the townships to engender understanding," said JJ.

As a young black man I would need to be looking for a wife, making babies, and because I am not fulfilling those roles, society does not know how to deal with me.
Africa Melane
Journalist
"We wanted to bring the white South African Cape Town community and expose them to a section of the gay community they wouldn't usually see."

And so on the list of events was a gay shebeen crawl - a trip around some of the more liberal of the small bars that can be found scattered all over the black townships of the Cape Flats, outside the city.

Township tours have been laid on for years for tourists keen to see the other side of life outside the beautiful beaches, huge shopping malls and beautiful scenery of the "Mother City".

But this is the first time a tour of gay pubs, or shebeens, has been organised.

Two extremes

"It's exciting, I've never been here before. It's wonderful, it's good, it should - could - happen all the time," said one of the Capetonians on the trip.

But it doesn't - while white gay South Africans have been pretty much accepted, certainly in as sexually liberated a city as Cape Town, it is a different story in the black community.

Gay Pride parade
White gays set out to discover the black gay scene
Africa Melane is a presenter on the radio station Cape Talk - he's 27, gay, but did not join the Pride march this year.

"I certainly don't make any secrets about my lifestyle, but at the same time I don't stand on top of Table Mountain and shout to the world: 'Hey, this is who I am'," he said.

His family knows, but they have never talked about his sexuality - he says black African culture doesn't accommodate homosexuality.

"Tradition, ritual, family is paramount in any African culture out there, so as a young black man I would need to be looking for a wife, making babies, and because I am not fulfilling those roles, society does not know how to deal with me.

"You risk not being part of the community, not being part of the family, not being part of society."

Africa Melane has seen two responses - friends becoming introverted, denying it to themselves, and some even committing suicide because of the pressure.

Others go to the other extreme as transvestites or transsexuals.

And in Nyanga township, some of the regulars were certainly not hiding their sexuality, with one guy bounding into a lavish dance routine.

Discrimination

As the drinks went down, so the social barriers followed suit. The five minibuses continued their three-bar tour with organisers mumbling about making this a regular event.

There were also some foreign visitors on the tour and the observation was that there does not seem to be much mixing between black and white in the city - you do not see many black people in the gay bars.

A lot of people don't come out to these areas because of fear - the same fears that fuel racism are the fears that fuel homophobia
Juanita Jacobs
Gay Pride organiser
Ronnie Ngalo owns one of the shebeens - he explained this was due to economic reasons.

"It costs money to get to town on transport, to get into the bars and clubs, to buy drinks," he said.

"We get people from the rural areas who come here after being chased away by their family - we create a new family here in the township.

"There is still discrimination, our culture suppresses us, but gay people are here to stay."

JJ explained the thinking behind the shebeen crawl: "A lot of people don't come out to these areas because of fear - the same fears that fuel racism are the fears that fuel homophobia and the idea of breaking those fears down and meeting the other half is what this is all about."

A lot of things are changing in South Africa, and fast.

Old taboos are being broken and cultural barriers are coming down, but so far few people even in Cape Town can be openly proud of being black and gay.


SEE ALSO:
SA film lifts veil on gay sex
05 Nov 03 |  Africa
Equal benefits for SA gays
17 Mar 03 |  Africa
Glad to be gay in SA
29 Sep 01 |  Africa


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