Learning to Live with Pride

retiefMy partner, a very smart writer (and I would add very dishy too) Glen Retief, published an opinion piece in today’s Harrisburg Patriot News. He lives 50 minutes north of Harrisburg in the little town of Selinsgrove, PA in the Susquehanna Valley. Having come of age as a gay man in South Africa as that country experienced tremendous change, in this essay he writes about his personal history with LGBT Pride including his first Pride event.

As a gay man, my relationship with the Pride movement has been more complicated than might be expected. My inaugural expe­rience with Pride came in 1990, when I attended the first-ever LGBT march on the African continent, in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was 20 years old and fresh out of the closet. Mandela had been released and the liberation movements unbanned. And we, a thousand or so LGBT people, decided we would decriminalize ourselves by marching through the city.It was both tragic and exhilarating. Tragic, because the signs of oppression were all around us. The religious bigots were out in force holding signs warning we’d burn in hell. Fear prompted a quarter of the marchers to wear paper bags over their heads. A few spectators actually threw furniture at us — it was difficult to know wheth­er in joy or hostility, given that furniture-throwing is traditional in downtown Johannesburg on celebration days.

But what a feeling of power! People shouted “Viva, human rights!” from the sidewalks, making the point that we, too, were an oppressed group, like blacks and women. And six years later, South Africa in fact became the first country in the history of the world to enshrine LGBT equality in its bill of rights.

He then shares about his negative experiences of Pride in large US cities like NY and then the shocking stultification when he moved to Central PA where so much of LGBT still seemed hidden in oppressive closets.

Here, in Pennsylvania’s heartland, I felt as though I’d stepped back to the 1950s. There were no male or female couples walking hand in hand in the river towns. Men in hats and suspenders bicycled along Route 11/15, past porn stores advertising extra parking for truckers.

I had no idea where to meet LGBT people in this beautiful but rather alien landscape, so the first place I hit was the anonymous on-line dating sites, where I found the common requirement of “discretion” because of fears of persecution. It was awful.

He then goes on to share what else he found in The Valley and how it helped him to better understand and appreciate Pride Events and especially living authentically.

Check out Learning to Live with Pride: Time in central Pennsylvania helps author gain true respect for meaning of movement


This post has 11 Comments

  1. Sheria in SA on July 26, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Furniture throwing in hilbrow, the city that never sleeps, came as a complete cultural shock for me years back when I arrived in johannesburg South Africa, still is. The occupants of these high rise buildings make it clear, “move over fireworks, we have a better way of “lighting up” our streets!” Now if only I could understand the logic behind this bizzare tradition! Am here wondering, does this happen in other corners of the world? I want to know, please twit, blog about it…

  2. p2son on July 26, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Sheria, it is a mystery indeed. I am sure there is some history behind it. Now you are the journalist. This is your assignment. Why on earth are they tossing furniture out of windows in celebration in Johannesburg???

  3. Sheria in SA on July 27, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Trust me Peterson, we will get to the bottom of this. I have spoken to a number of hilbrow residents many times to see if they can feed me with a proper story on the origins of furniture throwing.No one seems to come up with a tangible explaination, except get amused at scenes of broken furniture, mattresses, fridges etc and tell me, “it’s our way of celebrating the new year.” And am glad you brought it up in your post. Documenting furniture throwing would make interesting viewing; furniture carnival in hilbrow? Um, not exactly. Wait ’til you see it!! 2010 tourists welcome, or is it beware? lol.

  4. Sheria in SA on July 27, 2009 at 12:28 am

    Now Glen should be able to shed more light on this since he grew up here! Ask him and tell me via e-mail what he says about furniture throwing. Can’t wait…

  5. e2c on July 27, 2009 at 1:25 am

    Very interesting piece – you can tell Glen that, although i grew up in the Juniata Valley (not too far away from Shippensburg), I lived elsewhere for nearly 30 years. In 2004, I moved back to this neck of the (literal) woods and am *still* in culture shock!

    And I’m a straight woman who more or less “blends in” (though maybe not; I dress differently than most locals, and I’m sure I stick out in other ways, too).

    So although I’ve not dealt with *all* of the dilemmas he’s facing, I’m acquainted with many of them.

  6. Glen on July 27, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    I’m no sociologist, nor have I studied the furniture-throwing tradition. Hillbrow has always been a New Year’s hot spot, but what I remember is that the furniture-throwing arose during Hillbrow’s rapid transition, during five or so years in the late 80s, from an all-white urban neighborhood to a 99% black one. I always thought it had something to do with hundreds of thousands of people moving so quickly from such flat oppressive little matchbox houses and shacks into these towering high rises. There must have been something intoxicating about suddenly inhabiting such vast heights. So drunken New Year rolls around, and it’s like, “Hey, Mom! Look! Now we can throw that old chair out of the window and watch it explode like a big bomb and scare all those people!”

  7. Sheria in SA on July 27, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    e2c, it’s great to stand out from the crowd, and I applaud you for that as I am on the same page as you. You go girl!
    I hate it when people are slaves of fashion trends! For the most part, it is a lack of creativity as well as style on the part of an individual if all they do is follow the latest fashion trends. What I find appealing is someone like you and me and others out there who mix their individual style with a bit of the “now” fashion trends. You only have to wonder how many times those who are addicted to fashion trends change their wardrobe! lol. And sorry Peterson that the debate is going in a whole different direction. Well you add so many juicy elements to your posts its hard to not talk about them!
    Glen, you don’t have to study furniture throwing in order to know the logic behind it, you just have to have the interest and curiousity in order to know what’s behind this bizzare trend…

  8. e2c on July 27, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Sheria, thanks – but really, I don’t wear anything unusual. I’m told that my way of talking (and just being) is obviously not “local.” (Although I’m definitely *not* wild about trendiness by any means!)

  9. Sheria in SA on July 27, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    e2c, your welcome. Interesting, I too used to get that here in South Africa. I was told I had an accent. Accent? Wow, I found that amusing, interesting, um nice! Now, standing out can be seen in our mindset; the way we think or the way we dress. Individual style is that something unique and different we are born with; that something so different from others that you stand out. e2c, I can see you are in this category.

  10. Jarred on July 29, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Glen’s article is truly inspired and inspiring. As a former resident of rural Pennsylvania (and a Susquehanna University alumnus, no less), I can completely identify with his description of what it’s like trying to find other LGBT people in such a setting. And I think it’s colored my own feelings about pride events much the same way it has his.

    A few days after Rochester pride, another person and I got into a debate over the value of Pride and whether LGBT people are just making fools of themselves and hurting themselves. I wish I had been able to express the importance of events to those of us who have struggled with needing to hide who we are to such an extraordinary extreme.

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