11th Annual Soweto Pride: What will you march for?

SowetoPride

This Saturday, 26th September, the 11th Annual Soweto Pride March takes place. As the date approaches, we are busy with many things. What will I wear? Why hasn’t FNB sent me that SMS telling me I have money in the bank? Who hasn’t paid their share of the stokvel money, wasn’t it due on Monday? Queer Christmas, some people call it. Our one day out of a whole 365 to be seen, heard, and to politically claim spaces where being a lesbian or anyone that’s gender non-conforming in their appearance is dangerous. The truth is that this ‘space’ we claim is literally everywhere, and we claim these spaces daily, as we recognise that our very existence is resistance. Progressive constitution or not, South Africa is still a site of polarised expressions of tolerance and difference. Sometimes these differences are manifested in our gender expression or perceived sexual orientation, but also so are our languages, races and classes. It’s not so easy to belong in South Africa, and when this belonging isn’t created, we are forced to claim it.

As I too wait for that SMS from FNB, I can’t help but wonder what I will march for this Saturday. For maybe the third time today, the #SaveTriangle call flashes on my Twitter newsfeed. The Triangle Project, an organisation that serves many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and inter-sex women and men living in the Western Cape, is on the verge of being shut down. I visited the Triangle Project a year ago, and borrowed a book from their library. An old book, written by and for lesbian women, looking and linking history and myths around what it meant to be a woman in the world and how that has now changed. I’ve forgotten what the book is called, but some learnings in the book remain. This is my small, almost invisible link to the Triangle Project. So when posts show up on my Facebook and Twitter feed reminding me how and why we need such organisations, I imagine that we know this.

We know the work that civil society and community based organisations such as the Triangle Project and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women do in our communities. We know. We benefit, in so many ways, big and small, from having places and people that we can go to, that we can trust with our truths, and that we can feel safe, feel seen, feel heard.

Across the sea, Blue Stockings, one of very few feminist bookstores and libraries in the United States of America, is also facing the possibility of being shut down. They too, are forced to make people remember why such places exist and why they should not be shut down.

There are organisations that we have seen come and go, leaving vacuums of belonging and safety. Safe spaces are shrinking and they are shrinking fast. When we speak about community, we also know that the work that such organisations do extends beyond us, beyond our social exclusion and queerness. By serving any underserved group or people, these initiatives by default serve the larger and greater good of a whole people.

But, with knowing all this, we still have organisations like the Tringle Project, teetering on the edge of non-existence, and we have to ask how? And why? The #SaveTriangle initiative is a call to action and consciousness for all organisations and people doing work and benefitting from such initiatives to advance gender and sexuality work, and not just in South Africa, but on the continent. Stories told in these places hold up mirrors for other African countries, and Africans living in the diaspora, where we get to see ourselves, our realities and our experiences reflected in conversations and images that the West almost never gets right. We see the layers and the complexities that make up our existence in contexts of varying hostilities.

Conference conversations always throw the ‘what if’ question around our organising and the real possibility of the absence of donor funds. What if one day, we woke up and the global North decided that we are doing well and that we and our governments should take responsibility for the gaping holes in social services and security that necessitate the existence of civil society. We all know that we are a long way away from convincing our governments that we should have safe and harassment-free access to contraceptives and information around safe sex for gender non-conforming people. We are an even longer way away from convincing our leaders that those Victorian era colonial laws against same-sex desire serve no purpose, religious, moral, ethical or otherwise-least of all in ensuring safety and security of citizens. There is much work to be done, to help shift perceptions, myths and beliefs around sexuality and gender, and what it means to own the bodies we are in. Sometimes it feels like this work, these conversations have just began, but we know there are people who blazed the trail and left behind space, publications, organisations, documentation that speaks to their experiences, which we are meant to build on and make stronger.

When we march, we march to remember and we march to never forget. The many gender non-conforming women and men gone too soon, murdered and subjected to the ultimate exclusion-death. We march for the many other African sisters and brothers who cannot and will not come out to claim their rights and freedoms for fear of governments and communities that only serve selfish agendas and tunnel visioned views of who we are and who we can be in the world.

But can we also march for the living? Can we march for the lesbian women who continue to claim and take up spaces that many women are excluded from? Can we consider, the organisations and individuals that give their time and talents to push back walls of intolerance and injustice? Can we be conscious of the financial insecurity that many organisations and organisers live with, and that the time and effort to arrange a Pride march cannot happen without people committed to this work. Can we march for the future? Can we march to strengthen our resolve to transform and transgress archaic ways of thinking about what it means to be a woman or a man, and an African? Can we march to show unity in strength and purpose, to assure each other that we have each other’s backs when tides turn and we have to look to each other for support?

When I march tomorrow, I will march for the future, and for the movements that are re-born with every generation of gender non-conforming women and men, who take up the work of advancing gains over time, and guarding safe spaces for diversity and difference. I will march to honour the rebels and the radicals, that refuse to be silenced and put into neat little boxes, and told ‘to stay in your place’. I will march for the organisations that are hanging in there, in one way or another, and remember that we whom these spaces serve, can be the people that sustain them. If not us, then who?

What will you march for?

-Sheena Magenya

**Views and opinions in this article are entirely of the author and do not reflect on the positions and politics of the Coalition of African Lesbians

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The countdown has began! The General Assembly and Feminist Leadership Institute of the Coalition of African Lesbians is 6 days away!

Vinyl Sticker-I Am Ralf

From the 24th to the 28th of August 2015, activists, community mobilizers, thought leaders, feminists, feminist allies, women, people non-conforming in their gender identities and sexual orientations will gather to reflect, to envision, to dream and to celebrate ten years of radical, African, lesbian feminist activism.

For these five days, a collective of radical African women will share, exchange, teach, listen and engage with each other, looking back at the last ten years of CAL work, and reflecting on the gains and lessons learned from the last CAL General Assembly held in Maputo in 2008.

It will be a space of gentleness, of growth, of sisterhood and of radical feminist births and re-births.

The theme for this year’s General Assembly is : Radical. African. Lesbian Feminist.  [R]evolutionary! and the theme for the Feminist Leadership Institute is : Reigniting the Feminist Flame!

Look out here and on out social media spaces: Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CoalitionCAL and Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CALAdvocacy for regular updates on the sharing and the learning taking place.

Tweet to us using the hashtag #CALGA2015.

The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] is Moving!

moving

Dear members, partners and feminist friends,

This is to inform you that the offices of the Coalition of African Lesbians is moving to a new location, still in Johannesburg, which will be sent to you once we have settled in. We will no longer be located at Forum II, Old Historical Building at the Braampark Office Park on 33 Hoofd Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
Because of this movement, our internet connection and our phone-lines are unavailable at the moment, and we plead your understanding during this moment of transition. We are working towards ensuring that we are up and running as usual by next week Monday 10 August.
Also, as a result, our server is down, and therefore we cannot receive any mail via the cal.org.za domain. Please see below for a number to call to access alternative email addresses that you can use to contact CAL staff during this time.
We are excited for the move and the growth and are thankful for your understanding during this time.
For any inquiries regarding the upcoming CAL General Assembly, please contact Donna Smith at powersource.smith@gmail.com.
In case of an urgent need to contact CAL, please call : +27 76 918 3515
See you at our new place!
Sincerely,
CAL Secretariat.

INVITATION TO FEMINIST DIALOGUE WITH WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER KHOLOUD BIDAK IN JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

Feminist Dialogue feb 5

Dear all,

The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL], in collaboration with the 1in9 Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action [GALA], will be hosting a feminist conversation in Johannesburg on Thursday 5 February at 19h30.

We would like to invite all our members in Johannesburg on this date to attend this interesting and important conversation on the work that Women Human Rights Defenders [WHRD]’s do in Egypt in safeguarding the rights and freedoms of women and girls in Egypt. Please share this invitation widely and come show solidarity!

Please see the flyer for more details and directions. Or you can contact CAL Logistics officer Maureen at maureen@cal.org.za or call the CAL office at 011 403 0004/7.

With best wishes,

CAL Secretariat.

WHERE ARE THE VOICES OF AFRICAN LESBIANS?

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Binyavanga Wainaina is brave man for coming out at a time where there is rising homophobia and the introduction of homophobic laws on the continent. And he chose to come out the best way he knows how-through his writing, in a letter to his mother. Granted, Binyavanga is not a nobody in Kenya or in Africa, and his coming out garnered attention because of his renowned literary status. One wonders whether his coming out has given other gender and sexuality diverse people courage to claim their sexuality, publicly or privately-but that’s yet to be seen, or declared. It is, however, a step in the right direction for the sexual and gender rights movement in Africa, because the more of us they see, the more they realize that we are not a sexual minority as often purported to be. But is Binyavanga’s coming out representative of all so called sexual minorities in Africa?

Binyavanga’s coming out begs the question-where are the lesbian voices in Africa? Can lesbian women publicly and proudly raise their voices without fear of reprisals from conservative, patriarchal systems of silencing and oppression? And if we can- then why aren’t we? What systems of oppression still keep us muffled and quiet?  When homosexuality is spoken about in Africa, the voice, rhetoric and overall emphasis on either affirming or disputing the rights of non-heteronormative people is more often than not the voice of gay men. Binyavanga is a gay man and he has ‘come out’ and publicly said so. But what does this mean for bisexual, trans and lesbian women? Does Binyavanga’s coming out also give us a voice and a space to claim our rights to exist in spaces that are hostile to our otherness? Can a lesbian woman in Africa copy-paste and edit his letter as a telling of her own story? Has he, in essence, spoken for us all? Women’s sexuality as a whole is a completely side-lined and unacknowledged part of womanhood, where societies, cultures, traditions and religions refuse to recognize women’s sexual rights and bodily autonomy. In this light, lesbian women struggle for legitimacy in a phallocentric world, where the absence of the penis means the absence of sex and sexuality. It can even be argued that colonial laws never took lesbian relationships to account because the very thought that two women, or women alone, could have sexually gratifying relationships was seen as ludicrous, and therefore unaffected by any kind of laws. Sexuality, sadly, is still seen as the dominion of men, both heterosexual and homosexual.

 There is an assumption that the voice of the gay and lesbian movement is one-and that it does not matter whether it’s a gay man or a lesbian woman that ‘comes out’ and asserts their sexuality and gender preference publicly. But it does matter. We can argue that Binyavanga’s self-outing was made easier because he is a man, and a non-effeminate man at that. Masculinity, in its various manifestations in both heterosexual and homosexual contexts, continues to dominate spaces and voices, and Binyavanga’s masculinity, in a patriarchal world, in a way, protects him. Would Binyavanga’s heartfelt writing be received the same if he were a trans-woman? Or what if Binyavanga was a lesbian woman-how much support would (s)he have attracted?

A quick Google search for prominent black African lesbians yielded a host of African American queer and lesbian icons and of course, Brenda Fassie. Another blog had a list of prominent South African lesbian musicians-all of which but one are white, and some of which live outside Africa. Brenda Fassie made this list of course, which one cannot help but think, is Brenda Fassie the only prominent, black African lesbian woman known? Granted, the internet’s contents cannot be taken to be exhaustive, but the very absence of black African lesbian women online speaks volumes. Google searches for black African lesbian women often turn up unsolved murder stories of lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The story isn’t any different for Google searches of gay African men-but thanks to Binyavanga, an African gay man’s voice is being heard, and he is claiming his space on the continent and in his country. But lesbian women need to raise their own voices-and claim their own spaces.

Binyavanga has helped push an already happening conversation into a public, heterosexual space. The energy around unapologetically and honestly stating our sexuality should not lose momentum. And the voice he uses in planting, firmly, his homosexual identity, is admirable. He makes no apologies, and offers no explanations. And neither should we. We need more lesbian voices, and the voices of gender non-conforming women, asserting ourselves and owning our place on the continent. It doesn’t have to be a coming out story, and you don’t have to be a literary giant. It just has to be your truth as a lesbian, bisexual or transgendered woman, but it has to be spoken out loud, because like Audre Lorde said-your silence will not save you.

               

Is Homosexuality Un-African?

homosexuality in africa

This conversation is a very chicken-and-egg kind of conversation. What are you first? An African? A woman? Or a lesbian? What identity do we value the most above all the ones that often lead to controversial conversations? This has been something that has always come up for me, even in the most social spaces-where my activism is questioned, and I am told that the fight for racial equality is bigger than the fight for gender equality. I am TOLD that I am first a black, African, woman-and everything else that attaches to this seemingly primary identity cannot have more importance. Like many other things in a patriarchal world, anything that is not supported by a predominantly male heterosexual majority, is quickly pushed to the back.

But my sexuality matters, always has and always will. And my sexuality is as important as my womanhood and my ”Africanness.

In an attempt to start a discussion about the homophobia in Africa-this clip of the World debate on whether homosexuality in  un-African. Participating in the conversation is Fikile Vilakazi, who was representing CAL.

Feel free to share with your friends and comment.