The 34th Johannesburg Pride, a gathering of over 24,000 passionate advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, unfolded at the iconic Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday, October 28, 2023. This year’s march carried a profound dedication to LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda, who endure the world’s most stringent anti-gay legislation imposed by Uganda’s controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, enacted in May of this year, has intensified the already severe penalties faced by LGBTQ+ people in Uganda, a nation where same-sex sexual activity remains illegal. The draconian law enforces life imprisonment for same-sex sexual acts and even the death penalty for what it deems “aggravated homosexuality.”
Kay Ally, the organizer of Johannesburg Pride, emphasized the critical role of Pride events in fostering inclusivity and acceptance in society. She expressed concern about the prevailing notion in Africa that being gay is “un-African.” She firmly stated, “In particular, we are marching for Uganda.”
Leading the parade was Mandela Swali, a 25-year-old Ugandan gay man who had recently arrived in South Africa. Swali, adorned in glitter and a Ugandan flag, recounted his escape from Uganda after being arrested for engaging in same-sex activities with his boyfriend. In his words, “This is the space and this is the family I deserve to have right now. I feel like I’m at home.”
The notorious “aggravated homosexuality” crime introduced in Uganda sentences individuals to death for engaging in same-sex activities with people who are disabled, HIV positive, have mental health issues, or are over the age of 75, among other categories. Additionally, those found to “promote” or “normalize” homosexuality face imprisonment of up to 20 years.
Johannesburg Pride’s dedication to LGBTQ+ Ugandans and their call for solidarity with LGBTQ+ communities throughout Africa reflect a stark contrast with South Africa, the continent’s sole nation to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2006.
The significance of this year’s Johannesburg Pride was heightened by the preceding year’s subdued celebration, marked by concerns of a possible terrorist attack, which dampened the LGBTQ+ community’s spirits. In response, the enthusiasm for the 34th annual event surged, emphasizing the urgent need to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights, especially given the challenging circumstances faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Africa.
Kaye Ally, the event’s organizer, affirmed, “This year we’re going full force. That hunger for Pride, as well as all the happenings in Africa, has amplified the need for us to take to the streets and to come out in all our flamboyancy and assert our authenticity.”