Gay Shame

Dear Tanya Harford and Jenny Green,

At 3am in my hotel room last night, jetlagged and sleepless, I was dawdling online and read about the confrontation at Johannesburg Pride between you and a group of black lesbians and feminists who were forcing the march to halt, and demanding a mere 1 minute of silence for all of those who have been raped and killed across South Africa for their sexual orientation or gender expression. I then clicked on the accompanying video and saw one of you revving your car and threatening to drive over the women blocking the way with their banners and their bodies. I saw another of you hurl your white self at one of the black protesters and begin to fight. And as one of the other marchers yelled, ‘go back to the location’, my body turned hot and cold and I started to cry. Not only cry. I sobbed.

I sobbed for the memory of those heady days in the early 90s when we went to the first Gay and Lesbian film festivals. When the likes of Judge Albie Sachs came and spoke at the opening nights and we turned to one another and said, ‘would you ever have imagined?’ When we went to see everything, no matter how bad and experimental, just because it felt so great to see others like us up on the screen.

I sobbed for the memory of the Pride marches I had been on. When it started in downtown Johannesburg and wound through Hillbrow, and the residents of the high rises came down and lined the street as we walked past. Some people shouting encouragement, others yelling abuse. Not because of our race but because of who we slept with. The clusters of mean-faced Christians with their banners yelling ‘God Hates Fags’ and ‘Turn or Burn’. One year we had a piece of the Rainbow Flag from the Pride parade in New York. It was as wide as the road and about 100m long. We held on to it as it billowed in waves, feeling a thrill of connection with that fabled parade across the Atlantic.

I sobbed for the pride we felt when discrimination was outlawed in the Constitution. When we won immigration rights for same-sex partners. When our marriages were legalized.

I sobbed for the women and men I’ve met over the past few years who have still not felt the benefit of all these wonders. Women who cannot bear children because a doctor thought they should be forcibly sterilized simply for being HIV positive. Women and men and trans-people who have shown me the marks and scars on their bodies from fists and knives and ropes and God knows what. The most amazing woman I met early this year, who carries her passport as her most treasured possession – because it means that if she is killed, somebody will know who she is and be able to tell her children what happened to her. All the incredible, truly courageous people across our country for whom you could not spare a minute of silence. Sixty seconds out of 1440 available that day.

Dear Tanya and Jenny, watching what you did on Saturday, my tears surprised me. I’ve seen much worse. Your action was not a crime and a tragedy on the scale of Marikana. It was not even startling and unusual. We’ve always known that racism and bigotry is as rampant in the LGBTI community as it is in the rest of South Africa. What you did was mundane and nasty and mean.

My sobs startled me. You didn’t violate any legacy of mine. I’m no great struggle hero. I’ve been to my share of marches and protests and parades but I haven’t been jailed or beaten or sacrificed terribly much.

Nevertheless, what you did on Saturday, dear Tanya, Jenny and company, robbed me of something sacred. You spat on all of those who have marched before you. You severed any semblance of a connection with a proud legacy. All that pride I’d learned and nurtured and expressed over the years, you took it away. And you replaced it with shame.

Shame on you.

Shame on you.

31 thoughts on “Gay Shame

  1. It appears to me that there was a well organized parade and then some people tried to block the parade. I’m not sure how the parade was organized and whether those demanding the one minute of silence had approached the organizers with their request during the organizing or not but to disrupt the parade in that way is a way that belongs in darkest Africa. It’s the usual syndrome of “if I can’t get my way then nobody will”. So typical, just have a look at the trucker’s strike and the violence and the service delivery protests where innocent motorists are stoned as if they are responsible and not the elected officials.

    • But for [Black] people who tried to block the [white dominated] parade… for [Black people] to disrupt the [white] parade this way … belongs in darkest Africa.

      No, dude, it belongs in the very whitest Africa. All oppressed people must listen to and respect other more oppressed people. It is Black LGBT folks who are suffering the bulk of the most violent gay hate attacks and white LGBT folks must pay attention and have some empathy. People’s lovers and friends have been brutally murdered and the wider LGBT community has not paid nearly the attention they would of had the victims been white.

      Wow, I thought Amerikkka was racist, at least no one would dare put their name to such a piece of racist shit as this comment was.

      In sisterhood from NYC, thank you, Brett.

  2. I missed this year’s Pride and had hoped to go after having an amazing time at last year’s (my first Joburg Pride). However, when I heard about the incident during the parade, I was truly saddened. Community pride should always take precedence over logistics. Regardless of whether or not the women hadn’t coordinated the blocking of the route, the response they received was completely unacceptable. Our community has to deal with so many outside obstacles that we need to always find common ground amongst ourselves. Again, I wasn’t there this year, but I do remember last year there was a moment at the park when we reflected on the atrocities that many lesbians have experienced because of their sexuality. The events of last Saturday are a stark reminder that while we’ve come a long way, we have miles to go before we sleep. Perhaps next year, those issues should play a more prominent role in the ‘celebration’.

  3. Hi There
    You really have seen a very one sided view of the incident, and i am sure you also only saw the edited version of the video sent out by One in Nine. You can take a look at the newest video – – as well as the E-News coverage – – if you want to see how Tanya “attacked” them, as you can clearly see she was pushed and fell into one of the protestors, knocking her over, she then tried to get herself up off the floor by leaning on another protestor whilst at least 3 of the protestors kicked her in the back. They did not inform Pride that they wanted to do this, they could have approached Pride at any time – even if it was 10 minutes before, and spoken to anyone in the committee, but they chose their first line of communication as a protest to paraders. I also think you need to look at photo’s and more video footage so that you can see that it was not a white parade and it was at least 50%, if not more comprised of black, mixed race or indian community. Pride is a free event, and it is organised by a group of volunteers who put their hand up every year to organise it without a salary, and with pretty much no thanks every year. Every year we get tons of people who say they could do it better and when we get together to organise it again, all these people disappear and we don’t hear from them again. NGO’s are free to get in touch with us, to engage, to get involved. Very few do. Getting 20 000 people to stop in a parade to do a minutes silence would never have worked anyway. If they had communicated and engaged they could have spoken to everyone from the stage and got their message across very clearly and in a very positive way for all of the community. We certainly think it is terrible and saddened by the verbal abuse that was flung by paraders – but that is in no way a reflection of Tanya and Jenni or the Pride Board.

    • Can you honestly say you do not see Tanya pushing one of the protestors flying before she fell? Falling because she misjudged her own momentum. And then grabbing the second by the back of the neck as pushing it towards the ground not once but several times, not in an attempt to get up but in a clear act of aggression? It seems we only see what we want to see. The activist who then kicked her is not in the right, but the aggression started with Tanya.

    • Samantha, your interprestation of these videos are strange:
      1) I see Tanya going in and shoving someone before others come in and shove her back
      2) What is Tanya doing in the middle of these protesters to begin with? She obviously came in there to ‘stop’ them with her authority. Thats a very violent act in an of itself.
      3) This person who you call Tanya was clearly the person who started the exchange between her and the activists.

      If you don’t see that while watching the video, then you’re eyes are obviously too biased to recognise what clearly amounts to racism.

    • I am outraged and appalled by the way in which the One in Nine Campaigners were abused by the Gay Pride Committee ad the rest of the participants in the Parade. Do the committee members of Gay Pride and those who simply walked past (some even walked over!) the One in Nine activists, think that their rights simply popped out of some lucky packet at a party? If it were not for the POLITICAL actions and courage of activists, the very same committee members would be second-class citizens without any legal claim to being treated with dignity. The argument that the Chair of the Committee makes viz. that the One in Nine Campaign did not ask for permission to have a minute’s silence to protest the continued attacks being made against LGBTI in South Africa is absurd. It should have been obvious to anyone that while people still are being murdered, assaulted, discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, the struggle for equality and respect has NOT BEEN WON! I salute and thank the One in Nine activists. Your protest is not in vain.

    • I also don’t really understand Samantha’s interpretation, because the unedited videos still seem to show clearly that Tanya initiated the shoving. I also think it is revealing that you can clearly hear someone (a friend of Tanya’s, no doubt) yelling “Tanya, chill!”

  4. Samantha you miss the point. The kind of protest that One in Nine do is precisely NOT to be a part of the march or to “approach Pride”. They plan to shock. They are activists. It is very easy to stop 20 000 people. I have been in much bigger marches. All the organisers needed to do was to call for a minute’s silence; to put their egos away and realise that there is more to Pride than Party.

  5. Activists did what activists do. And I’m glad they did. Too bad about the racism and violence. This is the society we live in, the society where a certain section of our community is abused in the most horrible way. People need to know about the Ugly in our world. We cannot party the nasty away. We have legal equal rights. But what’s the use if these rights are trampled upon? Some of us are not protected by the law,in fact, officers of law and courts are some of our biggest enemies.
    I feel bad that I’ve been partying away from the scene. I would have thrown my white behind down on the ground next to those women, believe me.

  6. Let’s for a moment accept the argument that the organisers at first thought these activists were homophobes. They attacked. There you go. In our society violence is a knee-jerk reaction to what we don’t understand.

  7. What I fail to understand is how the Pride organisers didn’t of themselves think to observe a minute’s silence at the start of the parade, for all the LGBTI people killed for being who they are. Do they not read the news? Do they not think these people are part of their community? Do they really think about the meaning of Pride and what it is supposed to be? Why did 20,000 people need to be stopped?

  8. To me as a gay man this is a heartbreaking incident. Can we imagine what could have been possible if Tanya had chosen to lie down in solidarity with her black sisters. Even for a minute. She says when interviewed that she tried to break them up because their gathering was “illegal”. I remember when going to Mandy’s or The Dungeon in the early eighties was illegal…. Being gay is illegal in so many places in the world, and yes it was once illegal in South Africa. South Africa has the opportunity to be a role model to the rest of the world. It is a country with a constitution and laws that protect gay people like no other. I think that this fragmentation of the lesbian community is exactly what those who hate us want. I so hope that the women who organized pride, can find it in their hearts to invite the organization who lay down, to meet with them. I so hope, that the women who lay down on the street can find it in their hearts to accept that invitation. For all to come together, to talk, to listen, to hear what each is dealing with, to understand one another’s struggle. If you need a faciltiator to help with that, I will do anything to help you find one. That conversation, that meeting, that coming together, would be true liberation, and something about which all your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters around the world would have real pride.

    Paul Browde,
    Formerly of Johannesburg
    Now of New York City.

  9. I read the statement by the Pride organizers claiming that when they first saw the One in Nine group, they thought they might be homophobes looking to disrupt the parade — at which moment they lost any shred of remaining credibility. Either they were being incredibly disingenuous, or they were admitting to not knowing that the One in Nine movement exists — the protestors were clearly identifiable by their T-shirts and banner. So the Gay Pride organizers don’t know that there’s a South African organization that fights for the rights of black lesbians not to be raped and butchered just because they’re black lesbians?

  10. Here are a few facts people do not know and should be taken into account: the driving force behind the ‘1 in 9’ campaign is a veteran activist Carrie Shelver – who is white (it is her holding the bullhorn at some stage). She is also a past chairperson of Pride herself – in the late 90s and forced Pride through Hillbrow, and Jhb CBD when the majority of attendees did not want to go that route, mainly due to safety concerns. Shelver was also part of the Pride organising committees of the late nineties and early 2000s who left Pride with huge financial losses. She is well-known for stirring up racial tensions. Since the new Pride Board registered a non-profit company in 2007, Pride has turned around, is financially sound, attended by many more non-whites as ever before and in the words of Emily Craven, one of Shelver’s supporters, “stable” for 6 years – something unknown before. Shelver was also behind the protests to move the whole of Pride to Soweto. From that Soweto Pride was born, which is not very well attended (less than 1000 people). She has a gripe with the success of the new Pride board and this is the result there of. They did not approach Pride for a minute of silence before the time, instead they say they asked for it by staging a surprise attack (because that is what it was), on a legal and well-organised parade, without the people in the parade having a clue as to what they were asking or standing for . I was there and I saw it happen (not the scuffle involving Tanya though). They pulled a publicity stunt – which worked – but they did not earn the sympathy of parade participants of all races. Quite the opposite.

    • You should learn your history, or read the paper a little more carefully. Shelver was not part of the pride board that ran the event into the ground, she was in fact part of the very last board that made any attempt at being political. She was also the Director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project during a time when just about every right you have as a gay person in South African were won. You owe her a debt you probably cannot even comprehend. Less than 1000 people come to Soweto Pride because it is a political march and not a giant excuse for a party. It is still subversive, it is still dangerous, it is the front line of our battle for freedom and justice. I know what I am proud of when I march through Soweto, I have no idea what I am proud of when I meander through Rosebank on that pointless prelude to the booze up which is really all that Joburg Pride is about…

  11. Tanya was at the scene 30 minutes after the initial protest. Her main aim at that time, and from the video footage was to get the people off the road. The parade had gone through already!! The route and road closures was opening up to normal traffic and she was telling the protestors (who would not listen) that they needed to get off the road or risk being hit by oncoming traffic. As ‘Gay Observer” said above – Soweto Pride has a few hundred people attending, mostly black. Joburg Pride has over 10,000 black, indian and mixed race people attending. The problem here isn’t the organisation – they do great work – the problem was the lack of communication and the way they went about getting coverage. Also One in Nine is an organisation that works with all women and abuse thereof – not just black lesbians.

    • 1 in 9 does not organize Soweto Pride, why are people suddenly so keen to put down Soweto Pride. Of course it is small, it is organized by one little NGO, has none of the resources that Joburg has, and is a full on political march. What is the connection Samantha, black people organise 1 in 9 and black people organise Soweto Pride so that makes them the same thing?

  12. Viva Carrie Shelver Viva! Umzabalazo uyakuvumela, yonke indawo. Pride is a money making organisation lacking social consciousness, breeding hate for homosexual people. Phantsi nge Pride Phantsi! BOYCOTT!

  13. what happened was not a racial was just a matter of group came with a briliant idea the other was just there to ensure a well run and secure wasnt racial.had been white folks i believe the reaction would have been more or less the same!!!

  14. The Joburg Pride Board is in the wrong. The Joburg Pride Board, according to their website, contains only white persons, and although it claims to be non-political has a non-executive member who is a member of the DA. All the members of the Joburg Pride Board are involved in events management directed at the gay and lesbian community. Especially Tanya who now also organises the 94.7 Cycle Challenge and the Discovery Walk the Talk. Organising Joburg Pride has been very lucrative for the members of the Board. I am sure the Joburg Pride Board would not like to be called tenderpreneurs, but that is precisely what they seem like. The statement issued by the Joburg Pride suddenly includes two more names, which are quite Black-sounding, smacks of crude tokenism. One in Nine was clear of their aims, (1) was to highlight the plight of Black lesbians and the violence they suffer, and (2) to expose the crude commercialism and exploitation of the LGBT community with the connivance of Joburg Pride. As a heterosexual male, who knew nothing about this before, I would say One in Nine has suceeded.

    • “… it claims to be non-political has a non-executive member who is a member of the DA…”. I am 100% behind the One in Nine activists, but Donovan, you undermine your contribution to the debate with this ill-conceived statement. Freedom of association is a crucial tenet of our democracy: if there are non-executive members who happen to be Jewish, Christian or Muslim, are we to assume that Joburg Pride is a religious movement?

  15. I think this incident shows Tanya for what she is a power hungry bully, who does not respect other people’s rights. As soon as someone disrupted her expected plans, she could not accomodate any deviation to them. I think her behaviour is disgusting and shows how simple her skill set for managing conflict is! As a professional in the event management industry that she is apparently supposed to be, I would think twice about her ability to manage mass participation events. What is she going to do next swear at, push over or physically assault cyclists on the Cycle Challenge route if they don’t behave? 1 in 9 had as much right to be at the Pride march as Tanya had to be there. Their protest was a peaceful one, that Tanya made into an aggresive one, and the united theme around Pride has been totally ruined by a bully who does not have any respect for others.

  16. An emotional read. I filled with tears and anger as I read some of the comments. For me it isnt about 1in9 asking or not asking for permission to have a minute silence, but it is about the need for them to protest in the first place. They wouldnt have needed to protest if Joburg Pride and their organisers were using the massive 20 000 plus crowd to protest against the slaughtering of lesbians in the communities. Or to raise awareness with Highveld Stereo and Etv News about the plight of black lesbians in South Africa. Instead, they chose to have a huge p!ss up with feather boas and stiletoes. THAT is the issue here.

  17. You got to see Gay Pride at Folsom Street Festival in San Francisco, USA.
    It is a sight to deplore. This is perversion at its worst. I don’t think there is another species on the planet so deranged.

    NAMBLA is waiting in the wings, to come out shouting,

    “Sex after eight is too late”!

    Perversion can NEVER be accepted as normal.

    Gays are like Muslims! They pretend that they are a loving people, but when you dig, you will find that there is more violence among these people, than among heterosexuals.

    LGBT’s are handicapped and wired wrong – physically, mentally, morally. By their refusal to see themselves as handicapped and their demands to be accepted as normal, rightly brings out protests in sane people.

    Normal people do not abuse mentally challenged people and they wouldn’t abuse sexually challenged people, if the behaved themselves.

    ALL perversion is wrong!

    That is what morality is all about.

    But when the day arrives that WRONG is RIGHT and RIGHT is WRONG, then you realize that there is a major problem in the world.

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