If one of us is not free, then none of us is free

March 3 - The Cape Town Pride 2018 Festival returned for its 16th annual outing under the theme Love Happens Here on Saturday. The pride parade started at 12noon at the Fan Walk at the beginning of Somerset Road and proceeded to Reddam Field at Green Point Urban Park. Photo: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

With the LGBTIQ community across the world celebrating Gay Pride Month in June, Social Media was awash with the story of a group of people who wants to host a Straight Pride Parade in Boston, and reading up on them, they state that they see Heterosexuals as a marginalized and threatened group, and want to march to highlight this.

As a Liberal, I believe in anyone’s right to have a legal march for whatever legal cause. But as a gay person, I can’t help but wonder, how they believe that, when heterosexuality is not illegal in any country, when heterosexual people are not condemned to death anywhere in the world, when no heterosexual couples have ever been harassed or even beaten up for holding hands, they feel they are a marginalized group.

But it actually comes to the question on why is Gay Pride in particular, and Gay Rights in general, important. It is a question on why do we as an LGBTIQ+ community still celebrate Gay Pride, and also why the DA supports this community.

And let’s start with a short history lesson – June is celebrated as Gay Pride in memory of the Stonewall Riots that happened in New York 50 years ago this year. This was when the LGBTIQ community in that city had enough of the constant police harassment in their own spaces and took to the streets in protest. This is generally seen as the start of the modern Gay Rights movement, and countries like the USA, UK and without a doubt, South Africa have come a long way since then. As with Woman’s Day in South Africa, Pride Month has its roots in remembering the struggle for freedom and equality. So just like we do not question the celebrations of Woman’s month in SA, it is important to also allow the LGBTIQ+ community their space to remember where we have been, and the struggle we have been through to come to where we are.

But there is another, and currently, the relevant reason behind us celebrating Gay Pride. But sadly this meaning gets overshadowed by the choice of the word: “Pride”. One criticism against pride is that, if we as a community believe we are born as homosexual, what is there to be proud of? Why do we feel the need to express our pride in our sexuality? Well, quite frankly it is because “Gay-not-ashamed Month” just doesn’t have a good ring to it! Pride Month and Pride Parades as Durban will host again end of June, is not about being proud of my sexuality. It is about not being ashamed of who I am. In a world where we are still told on a daily basis how we are not normal, how our very existence is wrong in the eyes of the Lord, where we are told that it is acceptable to be homosexual, as long as we are not homosexual (e.g. hold hands) where others can see us, we as a community stand up to say – “I am not ashamed to be who I am. I am not ashamed of who I was born as” Which is why Pride events are always wonderfully inclusive events where people of all sexualities march together, accepting each other.

The last point on why Pride is still important is also one of the major reasons why the Democratic Alliance is proud to always be involved with Pride and with the LGBTIQ movement in this country. Rights enshrined in the constitution does not, sadly, mean rights on the street. Lesbian women still live in fear of corrective rape. Some gay men still take stock when in public, making sure we are not “too gay” in the fear of being beaten up, as recently happened on a beach in our city. People going to and from Pride, still have to make sure that there is nothing on them that shows they attended pride when walking in our streets, or using public transport, out of fear of retaliation. And in most other nations on our continent, it is still illegal to be homosexual, and the death penalty is still in force in some countries for the so-called crime of being gay.

If one of us is not free, then none of us is free. If there are South Africans who have to hide who they are, then this is a constitutional violation, and none of us is then truly free. If a minority group in this country is still marginalized and discriminated against in our country, then discrimination still exists, and none of us is truly free. And even for me as a Gay man with more rights than anywhere else in Africa – as long as my brothers and sisters across our continent is still jailed for who they are, then I am not yet truly free.

So we have Pride, to remember and remind others of the promise given to all of us in the Constitution. And I will continue to work within a political party that has shown its firm commitment to this Constitution, and to LGBTIQ+ rights, not just during election time, but on a continuous basis. We cannot rest, we must work tirelessly to ensure that our rights on paper are also our rights on the streets. Because if one of us is not free, then none of us is free.

Martin Meyer is the DA KZN Spokesperson on Human Settlements and Public Works. Member of the Legislature.