Usually, our blog revolves around some theme in the realm of education (we are an educational institution, after all). This blogpost, however, will approach learning in a different way.

June signifies Pride Month to several places across the globe. As a way of acknowledging how far queer rights have come and how far they still need to progress, I’d like to dedicate this blogpost to a bit of LGBTQIA+ history in South Africa.

Whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual (or even straight), the purpose of this blogpost is to inspire you to look into South Africa’s rich and complex LGBTQIA+ history.

Simon and Bev

When you start exploring LGBTQIA+ history in South Africa, you’ll notice that the fight for queer rights and the struggle against apartheid converged in substantial ways. This sets our queer history apart from a lot of other countries’.

Simon Tseko Nkoli, founder of GLOW (Gay and Lesbian Organisation of Witwatersrand), and Beverley Palesa Ditsie, fellow GLOW member and queer rights activist, are two people who exemplified this dual struggle very clearly.

As a gay activist and anti-apartheid figure, Simon was firm in his stance that these two types of oppression – homophobia and racism – cannot be separated if you are queer and Black. Addressing the people present at South Africa’s first Pride March, Simon stated: “I am black, and I am gay. I cannot separate the two parts of me into primary or secondary struggles. They will be all one struggle”.

Beverley also recognised that queer liberation and the struggle against apartheid went hand-in-hand. Of the first Pride Marches she said: “We understood that Pride was a political act, an act of protest at these injustices as well as a celebration of our existence. We were no longer begging for our freedom. We were taking it”.

In doing research for this blogpost, I stumbled across Simon and I, a documentary directed by Beverley Ditsie and Nicky Newman.  There’s a heart-breaking scene where Simon is with Beverley for what would turn out to be their last time together. They talk about how he was invited overseas to speak on and advocate for queer rights but couldn’t go due to his health. He optimistically states: “But wait until I get better, [then] I’m going back to the world. I’m sick and tired of sitting in here”.

Simon would unfortunately not go on to explore the world as he succumbed to an HIV-related illness.

Africa’s First Pride March

In an attempt to advance both the struggle to decriminalise homosexuality and put an end to apartheid, GLOW organised the first Lesbian and Gay Pride March in Africa. The turnout on 13 October 1990 was low, but the potency of the crowd spoke to a united front against oppression.

Those who partook in the march chanted “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re everywhere!” and “Out of the closet and onto the streets!”

Brown paper bags and masks were passed around to conceal people’s identities, but the atmosphere was celebratory and resistant.

Honouring Those that Came before Me

As a queer person, I feel it’s important to recognise where we are and how we got here. People fought relentlessly and bravely for the freedoms I enjoy today.

The first Pride was a rally for queer rights and a call for queer visibility. The essence of Pride is activism, but these days Pride seems to be taken more as a celebration than a political act. Some would argue that these events should call back to that legacy and be utilised to highlight the issues faced by many queer people in South Africa to this day. I tend to agree.