Recent news about the most successful Pride parade in Johannesburg’s history, interrupted by female activists from the One in Nine group, has led me to write down memories and thoughts about my experience on the 2001 organising committee. Eleven years is a Very Long Time in South African LGBTI history, and somehow the fact that it was 11 years after the first Pride March in 1990, makes this a nice coincidence.
For the record, this is the reason I will not serve on another committee ever again. The stress we endured was unbearable, and every committee member ultimately resigned out of frustration. It was, in a word, brutal.
Any errors in this account are due to my faulty memory. If Daniel, Yusuf, Donna, Amiel, Gary, Desmond, Quentin, or anyone else has a better recollection, please feel free to correct me.
I don’t use surnames in this account, but only as a matter of style. Our names were public record. Also, I’ve forgotten some names, and my spectacular record-keeping was disrupted by a dramatic hard drive failure in 2006. I have very few original documents from this time.
A naïve Randolph decided to attend a Pride 2001 committee meeting, one morning (Saturday?) in February of 2001. Llewellyn, a friend of mine at the time, was an activist. He had developed a presentation for schools called The Invisible Minority, which was about the gay youth in South Africa and how we could help them.
So, we were effectively representing the so-called “gay youth”. Graeme, who was dating Llewellyn at the time (or would, or had), was also at this meeting.
What I remember thinking, and which strikes me to this day as an older and possibly wiser man, is how much we can achieve as humans, with so very little. The meeting was not in an office: it was in a club house at a sports club, around an old table. I believe Gary and / or Yusuf had arranged it. We would meet all over Johannesburg as the year progressed, and the team shrank in size.
Naïve I was, and young. I hadn’t liked the 2000 Parade (I felt it was too late in the year, and something or other didn’t suit my queer white taste). In any event, Llewellyn said it would be fun.
Gary was there. I think Yusuf was, too. Donna, Graeme, myself, Llewellyn, Desmond, Daniel, Amiel. I don’t recall anyone else, but they must have been, because they came to the meetings that followed.
Daniel was the editor of a then-in-print glossy gay magazine, which in my 20-something opinion was classier than the other newspaper-stock garbage, so I took an immediate liking to him. He was a recent immigrant from the UK, and still had his delicious accent. My family on my father’s side is British, so I felt that enhanced our connection.
Conflating memories now, it came to pass that Yusuf and Donna (not that it matters, but non-white people) became co-chairs of the organising committee. Daniel was (if not then, later) the board representative.
Here’s where the politics immediately began to show. Understanding that a board was not concerned with the organisation of the parade and after-party, that became our portfolio as the committee. We divided the various tasks into sub-committees. At first I was simply an observer, but my desire to do something for the community, such that it isn’t, drove me to get involved.
Daniel would run the media and communications. I would do the website. Desmond would do entertainment for fundraising. Steve (who was murdered a few years later) was heavily involved as well. It was clear from the stalwarts like Gary and Yusuf, that the after-party would have to pay for everything, as it did in the past. However, it was clear for political reasons that one after-party wouldn’t be good enough. Targeting white gays with money was fine for financial reasons, but it wouldn’t be inclusive.
Our motto for 2001 was Out There, Everywhere. Yusuf came up with that I think.
Donna comes from a country rich in homophobic tradition, so we never lost sight that this was more than just a party for white gay men, even if they would be footing the bill.
We spoke to the group organising African Pride, to arrange coincidental after-parties.
Over time we would come to invent what has become known as Pride Week, coinciding with Heritage Day. That was us, and if nothing else, I’m extremely proud of that tradition. Celebrating the country’s heritage as well as its tolerance and acceptance of LGBTI groups? Fantastic.
We went (Yusuf, Daniel, Donna?, myself) to visit an artist who developed the artwork that would make itself on to the branding for Pride. I designed the main logo (which I did again for 2002 and 2004), and I also did the map. The website I also maintained, incorporating the previous years’ sites to respect those that went before us.
Amiel handled the CD and various other things using his connection at Gallo. I think the CD was fantastic, and should have sold better.
Desmond, being in the entertainment industry himself as part of a cabaret act, was in charge of the entertainment for Pride Week. I had some contacts that I also used, which resulted in at least one amazing night during Pride Week, with really great South African music artists, with whom I am still friends to this day.
Over the weeks, the cracks started to show. The board, while having zero mandate in the organisation of the parade and after-party, started sticking its nose into our business. In retrospect, they had every right to make sure we were following the letter and spirit of the Pride Constitution, but I maintain that their methods and communication were dreadful.
Somehow, the politics of a LGBTI rights organisation (which has since dissolved) had manifested itself in the Pride constitution. Two of its members were also on the Pride board. I felt that it was a conflict of interest.
One particular person, who ultimately pulled his head out of his ass (as did I – I’m not an innocent victim here), was so happy to show off his knowledge of legal terminology, that we ended up exchanging emails longer than this blog post.
People were resigning. Llewellyn and Gary were some of the earlier ones, and the trend continued right to August, when we didn’t even know whether there’d be a parade at all. I may have the timelines screwed up here, but I think one or two weeks before we had the parade, we still didn’t know if it would even go ahead.
It was a nightmare. The OC and the board were fighting tooth and nail. Poor Daniel, who was the board rep, couldn’t have been more diligent about his duties, and in the end we managed to get him paid for the work he was doing. Daniel was putting most of his time and energy into Pride, and had practically nothing to show for it. With everyone resigning, he was taking on more and more work. I believe he worked the hardest out of everyone that year.
The parade route deserves a special mention. We were going to be the first committee to take the route out of the inner city, and run through Rosebank instead. It would encourage more attendance, and therefore more money. We devised several different options, and in trying to keep everyone happy (which is as pointless as it is impossible), even tried to have a portion that went through Killarney. I liked that route but it was just too long.
Eventually, bowing to political pressure, as well as financial and time constraints, we would run through the city once again. I remember taking my red map book (you know the one), scanned the necessary page, and using Paint Shop Pro and lots of patience, converted it to the final version, sufficiently different to the original so as not to infringe copyright. The map I’d done for Rosebank was set aside and used in 2002. (My only regret for the 2002 map was getting the mall on the wrong side of the street.)
The main after-party, the moneymaker, stalled in negotiation. Ice Productions was going to do it, and they would pay a percentage of the takings to Pride, so that we could pay for everything else. I think we got greedy. My boyfriend at the time was a shrewd financial person, and I believe we were asking too much from Ice. I’m not saying it was an unfair percentage, but it was higher than before, so they balked. I don’t know what came of the negotiations, because my role changed after I resigned. Yes, me too.
I called an emergency meeting sometime in the end of August, at my house. I’d been in a car accident on 11 August, so I think this was the 21st, a Monday. I invited the board and what was left of the organising committee, and the first thing we did was decide whether the parade would go ahead.
The second thing we did was suspend the constitution. All political power was taken away from the board, and the group of people in my house in Auckland Park decided to pay Daniel a nominal salary until the event happened, and share space with the aforementioned LGBTI rights organisation. I don’t remember where the money came from, but it may have been from a fund, or the aforementioned rights organisation. Daniel or Carrie can fill in the blanks.
So that was the short version of the committee. Every single person who served on it worked to their best abilities, but Daniel and Donna I think did the most. Special mention goes to Amiel for the CD, which I mentioned before. Securing rights and getting it printed was an amazing job, especially considering the challenges.
And yes, I too resigned from the committee during the year. I know I stayed on somehow, because I remember running through thousands of people with a radio in my hand, shouting at Daniel that the front of the parade had to slow down for the back to catch up. I carried the flag at the front, I ran to the back, ran back to the front, corralled people, yelled orders, and I had a blast. It was the best outcome from one of the most terrifying and stressful years of my life.
To the people I worked with, thank you. I’m friends with many of you still, and every year I watch with interest to see how Pride has grown. 20 000 people in 2012 is a fantastic turnout. That a small group of activists is allowed in South Africa to demonstrate, to stop a parade, to be noticed, to be written and spoken about, shows how far SA has come as a country.
So let’s see what the next 22 years can bring.