Not too long ago, a friend of mine celebrated 3 years of marriage to his husband. There were cute pictures and well wishes sent to the happy couple over social media. The Ellen Show is currently on its 17th season and I just got a new match on my Tinder profile. The significance of these seemingly insignificant moments is actually, huge. These are moments that have been made possible for us by a hall of fame of artists, activists and ordinary people who have become heroes.
The summer of 1969 saw the Stonewall Riots happen in Manhattan, New York City. This was a watershed moment where gay, lesbian and transgender activists demonstrated against the cruel and inhumane treatment of LGBT people. The police arrested and violently beat some of these demonstrators. This did not deter or slow them down.
These Riots were some of the most important events that influenced the Gay Liberation Movement. They were a catalyst in the fight for LGBT Rights, not only in the United States, but across the world. The Stonewall Riots were started by Marsha P Johnson, a Black Transgender woman.
20 years after those riots in October 1990, Dr Beverly Ditsie and Simon Nkoli lead the first Pride March on the African continent. They marched and demonstrated. They demanded that their voices be heard. They dedicated their lives to making sure that the struggles of LGBT Africans were heard.
Their activism was powerful. It was confrontational and it was worth it. Because of Ditsie and Nkoli, our Bill of Rights includes protections for all LGBT people. Because of them, South Africa became the first nation in the world to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.
The work and activism of a black, gay, HIV positive man and a black lesbian woman are why my friend could celebrate three years of legal marital bliss. Because of heroes like Johnson, Nkoli and Ditsie, LGBT people everywhere are treated with a little more respect and dignity. They are part of the reason we have Pride.
And pride to us is more than just a party (don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good party). It’s deeper than rainbow colored flags, glitter and crop tops. Pride for us is about celebrating the journey it’s taken to get here. It’s about about making sure that we acknowledge the icons who have done the impossible work for us.
It’s a time for us to say their names out loud. To make sure that history remembers them and their work. So every year, I say the names of James Baldwin, Zanele Muholi and Audre Lorde. I sing the endless praises of Nakhane, Thandiswa Mazwai and Janet Mock. I celebrate the sacred lives of Binyavanga Wainaina and Ayanda Denge. It’s important to acknowledge the work they have done. To celebrate how they have moved the needle forward in fight for LGBT rights.
Pride is also about looking forward, towards our future. While we acknowledge the incredible strides that have been made, we are too often reminded that there is still a long way to go. Out of the 54 countries in Africa, you can only get legally married in 1. Being homosexual is only legal in 21 of those 54.
We are still living in times where there is media censorship on programs that feature LGBT characters and storylines. Violence against Transgender people is still shockingly high – the life expectancy of black transwoman is only 35 years old. The work is so far from being done.
But I’m reminded that that we cannot waver. We can’t afford to get tired. In the past few weeks, the brutal and unfortunate murder of George Floyd has accelerated a movement that has been running for hundreds of years. Black People everywhere are tired of being seen last. We’re tired of being treated as though we are not valuable. We’re angry because we’re not met with, at the very least, respect and dignity. We’re demanding change. I feel the anger and the exhaustion both as a black man and also, as a member of the LGBT community.
During the apartheid regime Simon Nkoli was quoted saying “I am Black and I am Gay. I cannot separate the two parts of me into secondary and primary struggles. In South Africa, I am oppressed because I am a Gay man. So, when I fight for freedom I must fight against both oppressions”. Those words ring true to me and to every black LGBT Person right now.
For us, THIS pride month is really to make sure the world knows that our black, gay lives matter.