Is it or is it not LGBTIQ+ Pride Month in South Africa?

By Johan Maritz


My news feeds on different social media platforms have, since 1 June, been proclaiming that June is Pride Month. Many organisations and groups have now declared June as LGBTIQ+ Pride Month in South Africa and beyond.

I am perplexed by this, as it is indeed Pride Month, but in the US! Pride Month in the US is a commemoration of the Stonewall riots that occurred on 28 June 1969[1]. Police officials from New York City’s Public Morals Division conducted a raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, on that day. This happened regularly but on that day patrons decided they had enough and decided to fight back. Riots ensued, patrons from neighbouring bars joined the fight, cars were set alight, windows were smashed and police ended up having to barricade themselves in the Stonewall Inn. The protest lasted six days! This moment in history[2] is regarded by many as the birth of the gay liberation movement and the start of the fight for LGBTIQ+ equality in the US.

Has Pride in South Africa and around the world become Americanised?

According to French sociologist Frédéric Martel, this is not necessarily the case:

“Gay people are increasingly globalized and often very Americanized, but they remain deeply rooted in their individual countries and cultures. In the era of globalization, openness to influence and rootedness in history are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the local singularities of gay life and the heterogeneity of LGBTQ+ communities are strong, even when sheltered under the same flag.”[3]

I don’t disagree with Martel, and I accept that local queer movements can and should be African in ethos AND inspired by events in other places, but there are other celebrations in June which may complicate things.

June is Youth Month in South Africa. On 16 June, we commemorate the 1976 Soweto Youth Uprising when young people stood up against the Apartheid government’s directive that Afrikaans alongside English was a compulsory medium of instruction.[4]

Are we inadvertently setting up competing interests through combined commemorations? Do we run the risk of dividing resources, splitting our energies unnecessarily, by allowing Pride Month and Youth Month to overlap?

That may be so, and time will tell. But this may also be an opportunity for LGBTIQ+ youth to be celebrated during Youth Month. LGBTIQ+ youth’s liberation struggle is far from over, with several reports about homophobia and instances of hate crimes against young members of the LGBTIQ+ community. A case and point is the brutal stabbing to death of LGBTIQ+ teen Liyabona Mabishi on Human Rights Day in Khayelitsha this year[5].

The fact that young LGBTIQ+ people are still facing challenges in a post-Apartheid South Africa is disappointing, there is still much work to do. Just as the youth of 1976 rose up against a system which oppressed them, young queer people need to rise up against the oppression many still face today. And they should not have to do that on their own. June could be celebrated and Youth Pride Month.

Here I would like to make a special plea for the role of older LGBTIQ+ people, as people who have wisdom and insight, and who can mentor and support their younger counterparts. Many older people will have lived through enormous legal change: in the addendum to this piece I attach a list of key events that have shaped LGBTIQ+ life in South Africa.

So, when should Pride Month be in South Africa?

I think that the perfect month for LGBTIQ+ Pride would be October, to commemorate the first South African and African Pride event. This was a significant undertaking and not without risk for the 800 or so people who participated.  It was South Africa before democracy and homosexuality was still illegal. This ground-breaking event was inclusive[6] and was also a protest against Apartheid.

In my view, 13 October 1990, is a day that should be remembered and celebrated.

June can be LGBTIQ+ Pride Month if you want it to be. Hopefully it carries meaning for you. As LGBTIQ+ citizens we are also global citizens and there are benefits to having a more global sense of celebration like greater visibility, but please remember that the right to celebrate and exist was a result of a long struggle and that this struggle continues for many members of this global community. Also remember South Africa’s unique LGBTIQ+ history and we celebrated many liberation victories long before the US and the world did. Your pride should boldly include its South African history and many victories. Pride is also not a justification for complacency as the LGBTIQ+ struggle in South Africa is far from over.

Key events that have shaped LGBTIQ+ life in South Africa

I often feel that South African LGBTIQ+ youth do not know enough about their LGBTIQ+ history and perhaps the marginalisation of ‘older’ LGBTIQ+ voices plays a role in this. Here are some dates[7] which might add gravitas to Pride Month, whenever it is celebrated!

January 1966: The Forest Town Raid – police raided a party in Forest Town, Johannesburg. Nine men were arrested for masquerading as women and participating in ‘indecent activity’. This resulted in a lot public and political scrutiny, ultimately resulting in the Immorality Amendment Act of 1969.

21 May 1969: Immorality Amendment Act of 1969 – introduces Section 20A, with the infamous ‘men at a party’ clause, which prohibited two or more men from being together and performing any act that would arouse ‘sexual passion’. The amendment also raised the age of consent for male homosexual activity from 16 to 19, although ‘sodomy’ and ‘unnatural acts’ were already criminal. The objective of the government was to minimise the presence of homosexuals, and protect society from the ‘corrupting influence’ of the LGBT community.

1971 to 1989: The Aversion Project – homosexual soldiers in the South African Defence Forces (SADF) were forced to submit to ‘cures’ for their homosexuality.

4 March 1988: Immorality Amendment Act of 1988 – imposes an age of consent of 19 for lesbian sex, which had previously been unregulated by the law. This was higher than the age of 16 applying to heterosexual sex.

13 October 1990: The Lesbian and Gay Pride March – South Africa’s first Lesbian and Gay Pride march was held on this date in Johannesburg. It was the first Pride March on the African continent and acted as both a gay pride event and an anti-Apartheid march. The march was organised by the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) and attracted a crowd of about 800 people. Speakers at the event included Beverly Ditsie, Simon Nkoli and Justice Edwin Cameron. The purpose of the event was not only to demonstrate pride in gay or lesbian identity but also to provide a wider platform for voicing political concerns. The march was part of a broader struggle to decriminalise homosexuality in South African law and to end Apartheid.

27 April 1994: Interim Constitution – the Interim Constitution comes into force. It includes a clause explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, giving LGBT South Africans legal protection for the first time. A subsequent court decision in 1998 will establish that the crime of sodomy was legally invalid from this date.

4 February 1997: Constitution – the final Constitution comes into force, including the same anti-discrimination protections as the Interim Constitution.

8 May 1998: Sodomy and ‘unnatural sex acts’ – in the case of National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v Minister of Justice, a judge of the Witwatersrand Local Division of the High Court declares the criminalisation of sodomy and ‘unnatural sexual acts’, and section 20A of the Sexual Offences Act, to be unconstitutional for violating the anti-discrimination clause of the Constitution.

9 October 1998: Constitutional Court confirmation – the Constitutional Court unanimously confirms the judgment of the High Court in the National Coalition case.

12 February 1999: Immigration – in the case of National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v Minister of Home Affairs, three judges of the Cape Provincial Division of the High Court rule that it is unconstitutional for the government to provide immigration benefits to the foreign spouses of South Africans but not to the foreign same-sex partners of South Africans. The declaration of invalidity is suspended for one year to allow Parliament to correct the law.

2 December 1999: Constitutional Court confirmation – the Constitutional Court unanimously confirms the judgment of the High Court in the second National Coalition case, but removes the suspension of the order and instead ‘reads in’ words to the law to immediately extend immigration benefits to same-sex partners.

28 September 2001: Adoption – in the case of Du Toit v Minister of Welfare and Population Development, a judge of the Transvaal Provincial Division rules that same-sex partners must be allowed to jointly adopt children and to adopt each other’s children, a right which was previously limited to married spouses.

10 September 2002: Constitutional Court confirmation – the Constitutional Court unanimously confirms the judgment and order of the High Court in the Du Toit case.

18 October 2002: Marriage – in the case of Fourie v Minister of Home Affairs, a judge of the Transvaal Provincial Division dismisses the application of a lesbian couple to have their union recognised as a marriage on the grounds that they failed to attack the constitutionality of the Marriage Act.

31 October 2002: Natural parents – in the case of J and B v Director General, Department of Home Affairs, a judge of the Durban & Coast Local Division of the High Court rules that a child born to a lesbian couple must be regarded as legitimate in law, and that both partners must be legally regarded as natural parents of the children and recorded as such on the birth register.

28 March 2003: Constitutional Court confirmation – the Constitutional Court unanimously confirms the judgment and order of the High Court in the J and B case.

31 July 2003: Marriage appeal – the Constitutional Court refuses leave for a direct appeal in the Fourie case, directing that the appeal should instead be heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

15 March 2004: Sex description – the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, 2003 comes into force, allowing transgender and intersex people to change their legally recognised sex.

July 2004: Marriage Act – the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project launches a case in the Witwatersrand Local Division challenging the constitutionality of the provisions of the Marriage Act that limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

30 November 2004: Marriage – a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court of Appeal hands down a judgment in the Fourie case. The majority of four rules that the common-law definition of marriage must be extended to include same-sex marriages but that such marriages cannot be solemnised in South Africa until the Marriage Act is amended, either by Parliament or by the Equality Project’s application. The judgment is appealed to the Constitutional Court by both parties.

11 March 2005 Marriage – the Chief Justice instructs that the Equality Project case will be heard by the Constitutional Court simultaneously with the Fourie case.

1 December 2005: Marriage – the Constitutional Court delivers its judgment in the Fourie and Equality Project cases (now known as Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie). The court rules that the common-law definition of marriage and the Marriage Act are unconstitutional because they do not allow same-sex couples to marry. The court suspends its order for one year to allow Parliament to rectify the discrimination.

31 March 2006: Spousal inheritance – in the case of Gory v Kolver NO, a judge of the Transvaal Provincial Division rules that a same-sex life partner is entitled to inherit from the intestate estate of the other partner as if they were married.

August 2006: Marriage – the government rejects a call by the African Christian Democratic Party for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Constitutional Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. Cabinet approves the introduction of the Civil Union Bill in Parliament.

13 September 2006: Marriage – legal but not equal – the Civil Union Bill is introduced in the National Assembly. As originally drafted, the bill would provide for ‘civil partnerships’, for same-sex couples only, which would have the same legal consequences as marriage but would not be called marriage.

14 November 2006: Marriage – legal and equal – the National Assembly passes the Civil Union Bill, with amendments to allow marriages or civil partnerships available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples, by 230 votes to 41.

23 November 2006: Constitutional Court confirmation – the Constitutional Court confirms the judgment and order of the High Court in the Gory case.

28 November 2006: Marriage – the National Council of Provinces passes the Civil Union Bill by 36 votes to 11.

29 November 2006: Marriage/Civil Unions – the Civil Union Act, 2006 is signed into law by Acting President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

1 December 2006: Marriage – the first legal same-sex marriage is performed, in George.

16 December 2007: Age of consent – the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 comes into force, equalising the age of consent at 16; previously it had been 16 for heterosexual sex and 19 for homosexual sex.

31 March 2008: Age of consent – in the case of Geldenhuys v National Director of Public Prosecutions, the Supreme Court of Appeal rules that the erstwhile difference in the age of consent was unconstitutional, notwithstanding that it has already been rectified by Parliament.

26 November 2008: Constitutional Court confirmation – the Constitutional Court confirms the order of the Supreme Court of Appeal in the Geldenhuys case.

18 December 2010: Flag – a gay pride flag of South Africa is launched in Cape Town.

Mid-March 2010: National Task Team – the establishment of a National Task Team (NTT) to address the issue of hate crimes against LGBT people such as corrective rape is mandated by then Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe.

29 April 2014: Intervention Strategy – the National Intervention Strategy for the LGBTI Sector developed by the NTT is launched by then Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe.

25 May 2014: Cabinet – Lynne Brown becomes the first openly gay person to be appointed to a cabinet post in any African government.


Martel, F. 2018. How Pride Became a Global Phenomenon. Available online: [accessed 2 June 2020]

South African History Online. 2014. The History of LGBT legislation. Available at: [accessed 2 June 2020]

South African History Online. 2017. The First Gay Pride March is Held in South Africa. Available at: [accessed 2 June 2020]

Thompson, B. 2020. The History Of Pride Month And What It Can Teach Us About Moving Forward Today. Available online: [accessed 2 June 2020]


[1] The History Of Pride Month And What It Can Teach Us About Moving Forward Today.




[5] Western Cape LGBTIQ+ teen stabbed to death.

[6] Many subsequent Pride events in different parts of the country have been criticized for not being inclusive enough and with their representivity questioned.

[7] Adapted and consolidated from:

Press Statement: CSA&G and SHR, University of Pretoria, Recognise, Support and Commemorate International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) 2020

The Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G), recognise, support, and commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). This annual event, observed on May 17, is marked internationally for the recognition of LGBTIQ+ rights. In particular, it is used to raise awareness and educate the public on issues of violence, discrimination, repression, and also to call attention to the health challenges that detract from the progress and wellbeing of the LGBTIQ+ community all over the world.

Download Press Statement

IDAHOBIT also provides the space and opportunity for dialogue and education for the community without succumbing to the gaps and divisions often created by religious, cultural, racial, and class differences. Nevertheless, it is also understood that, within the LGBTIQ+ community itself, there are often divisions between different identifying sub-communities, the kinds of challenges they confront, and the needs most pertinent to them, which inevitably create further differentiation between facets of identity.

The theme for IDAHOBIT 2020 is ‘Breaking the silence’. Across Africa, there is still an active criminalisation and discrimination agenda by state and non-state actors that continues to silence and repress LGBTIQ+ persons, and often resulting in violence, extortion, and displacement. Even in non-criminalised contexts like South Africa, there is still a real and constant social pressure on many LGBTIQ+ persons to conform to heteronormative and cis-gendered standards in order to fit into their family, learning environments, workplaces, and other social structures. LGBTIQ+ persons in Africa face unique challenges through the impact of colonial, military, and apartheid legacies that policed, silenced and attempted to erase queer LGBTIQ+ minorities in their societies.

By facilitating discussion amongst community members and allies, we can contribute to the promotion of the rights and welfare of LGBTIQ+ persons in Africa.

As part of IDAHOBIT 2020, the Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender organised and co-hosted a webinar event to commemorate the day. The webinar contributed to the discussion of this year’s theme with a focus on the unique challenges faced by LBQ women, transgender people, and gender-nonconforming persons in Africa. It featured panellists Rudo Chigudu, Lara Oriye, and Sylvester Kazibwe who are doctoral and master’s candidates at the Centre for Human Rights. Amongst other issues, panelists considered the ‘absence’ of certain conversations in the queer community and the impact of these. In this vein, themes of intimate partner violence in the community and internalised homophobia were explored. The panelists also recognised that activism is constrained by lockdowns currently in place in response to COVID-19 as human rights defenders cannot travel to defend those accused and arrested due to lockdown restrictions, access to health services and psychosocial support services has been disrupted, and mental health challenges are exacerbated for LGBTIQ+ people during this time. The audience also had the opportunity to contribute comments and ask questions.

About CSA&G

The Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G) was established in 1999 as the Centre for the Study of AIDS (CSA) initially as a standalone centre to help guide and shape the University of Pretoria’s (UP) HIV response, its engagement with communities from which staff and students are drawn and implement both service and research programmes. Hence, the CSA&G has always been able to, and continues to situate its work in both theory and practice. Since that time, the CSA&G has found an intellectual home within UP’s Faculty of Humanities but works across all nine UP faculties, support services and its Executive. The CSA&G uses an intersectional approach to sexualities, HIV and gender, promoting human rights and social justice.

About the Centre for Human Rights

The Centre for Human Rights is an academic department of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. It doubles as a non-governmental organisation (NGO). As such, the Centre functions as a teaching and research department while also running project activities as an NGO, aimed at training, advocacy, and capacity building.  This duality makes the Centre well-placed to deal with topics that may be perceived as contentious or politically charged, such as issues around sexual orientation, gender identity, expression and sex characteristics. The Centre’s reach is within South Africa and beyond, particularly on the African continent. The Centre specialises in human rights law and human rights issues on the African continent while linking these to global human rights knowledge streams and discourses from other regions of the world.

For more information, please contact: 

Pierre Brouard
Deputy Director
Centre for Sexualitiues, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G)
University of Pretoria 

Ayodele Sogunro
Manager: SOGIESC Unit
Centre for Human Rights
University of Pretoria

A queer lockdown

by Pierre Brouard

A lockdown is a very queer thing, but to be queer in a lockdown can be even trickier.

Queer people who want to come out may not because if they face hostility they cannot escape, and those who are out may suddenly find they face a new kind of scrutiny, unleavened by opportunities to leave the home even temporarily and find solace in friendship and community.

A young trans man of my acquaintance reached out to me recently to say that as he was forced to be with his family during lockdown he was faced with an extreme and intense version of their transphobia, manifesting in deliberate mis-gendering from his family, accompanied by promises (threats?) of prayer interventions to “de-trans” him.

As Mamba online noted “amid the pandemic, millions around the world are under some form of lockdown or isolation, leaving vulnerable people at the mercy of those they live with.” Citing a UK organisation, the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT), they say that “If you’re a young person and you’re thinking of coming out, press pause on that until you get support.” Of course this may be possible for some, but if you are gender diverse in some way, it is often more difficult to “press pause” on how you look.

AKT also noted that for many LGBTQIA (queer) youth, homelessness is already their reality. While there are few statistics on queer-specific homelessness in South Africa, international studies have shown that queer youth are more likely to end up on the streets. And South Africa only has one shelter for queer people in crisis, the Pride Shelter in Cape Town: what might other queer people across the land do?

It is important, I believe, to see this issue against the backdrop of a broader gender violence epidemic. There is already evidence of gender-based violence (GBV) becoming worse during a lockdown: victims and perpetrators in domestic violence contexts may be forced to stay together, in pressure-cooker spaces, and opportunities to find support will be limited by the requirements to stay at home.

The South African picture seems mixed: so far domestic violence organisations report fewer calls, although they believe victims may be too scared to reach out; rape statistics seem down, and Thuthuzela Care Centres are less busy according to the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. A number of these organisations noted that the beginning of the lockdown was a time of great anxiety for those living in unsafe relationships and homes as they would have had to make quick decisions about where to sit out the lockdown, based on variables they could not always control.

So far, so bad.

Pivoting away from queerness as problem, I’d like to turn to the idea of queerness as opportunity. When you’ve lived your life on the margins, or been sexual in ways which are under the radar, away from the gaze of prudes, life in a time of Covid-19 can simply be a new challenge.

One thing is clear: hooking up during lockdown is not only illegal it is almost impossible to achieve, and even people who are in relationships but do not live together are faced with a complete hiatus in the intimate sphere (beyond phone/cam sex, becoming re/acquainted with one’s sex toy collection and developing a shortcut to Pornhub).

For some, who have lived through the fears of HIV, STIs and even risks associated with hook up culture, a prohibition on sex may seem like another hurdle to be negotiated, not resigned to. Jay, 28, from Spain, in a Huffpost story, had this to say:

“I already feel like I put myself at risk so much already with some of these encounters that Covid almost doesn’t feel that risky in that particular context.” Pressed to explain, he clarifies: “Crazy people, STIs, all the risks that come with walking into a stranger’s house and making yourself vulnerable. Most of the time in secret, so if something were to happen no one would know where you are.”

Obviously I’m not suggesting that queer people (or anyone missing sex, casual or not) break the requirements of a lockdown, but I’m arguing that queer people have “form” when it comes to making peace with danger, and have a rich history of counter-narratives and counter cultures to draw on.

Here are some ways in which this could play out.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if hook up culture and its apps, Grindr and Scruff come to mind, were just a tad kinder, making it possible for people to share ideas and feelings, not just nudes? This is not an attempt to sanitise queer sub-cultures, many of which have fought very hard to break the shackles of heteronormativity and moralism, but there is a case to be made that some aspects of hook up life are dehumanising, splitting the affective from the physical. A sex quarantine, which this is in effect for many people, is a chance to ask some tough questions about what makes us really feel better about ourselves.

Queer people can re-ignite debates about what constitutes family. This has crept up on us over the last decade or two, but the traditional heterosexual family (whether it’s nuclear or extended it usually involves men and women living in spaces with children they have created heterosexually) is under the microscope in ways hitherto unimaginable. And the queers have come to the party; surrogacy, co-parenting in different homes, single and polyamorous parenting arrangements, have all entered the lexicon. In addition, a group of queer people living together in a tight or loose, but unromantic, set up do often consider themselves to be family. And even those who don’t live together might see their queer kin as just that, people to draw on in good times and bad, sometimes before their biological brothers and sisters.

In the context of this lockdown, I know that I have un/consciously reached out to my queer family, especially those who are living alone, to see how they are doing. Some have lost or abandoned (or been abandoned by) their genetic family, or we have a shared experience of marginality: in these times “your people” have special needs, perhaps, and there is an intensity to video and audio calls which I cannot deny.

Such kinship is an example of social capital – “direct and indirect resources that are a by-product of social networks” – in operation. Heckman speaks of queer kinship forms as exemplars of bonding, bridging, and linking social capital.

According to Hawkins and Maurer “Bonding social capital refers to relationships amongst members of a network who are similar in some form. Bridging social capital refers to relationships amongst people who are dissimilar in a demonstrable fashion, such as age, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity and education. Linking social capital is the extent to which individuals build relationships with institutions and individuals who have relative power over them (e.g. to provide access to services, jobs or resources).”

Because queer people often live at the intersection of multiple identities and communities, argues Heckman, they have a unique position within social networks and thus a particular relationship to bonding, bridging, and linking social capital.

Deploying queer capital

Deploying queer capital in the lockdown is, of course, easier said than done.

But I would argue that bonding, bridging and linking are in the queer “wheel house”: now more than ever we need to be there for each other. But the Covid-19 experience is also a time of vigilance. Queer people must seize this moment to ask the bigger questions: can restrictions on civil liberties be used post-Covid by those who resent queer rights; will sentimentality about “family” we are seeing push back the gains of queer family forms; will ideas about “sexual safety” and “morality” be invoked to sideline sexualities and genders outside of Rubin’s charmed circle? We haven’t locked down the implications of Covid-19, perhaps only time will tell.

(If you need phone or Skype support or counselling on coming out, contact OUT in Pretoria on 012 430 3272 / 066 190 5812 or call the Triangle Project Helpline on 021 712 6699 in Cape Town.)