Remembering Stonewall and other LGBTQIA+ liberation struggles that found their feet on a dance floor.
A lot of people think the outgoing, flamboyant and fabulous members of the LGBTQIA+ community can be fickle and only really interested in having a good time. But they were our freedom fighters.
I imagine how each of them must have done their hair just right that night, spritzed their favourite fragrances and selected their most flattering outfits for a great night out. They didn’t plan a revolution. Most of them just wanted to let their hair down or have an excuse to dress up or perhaps get lucky. They had wanted to get down and get funky, fighting for freedom, yours and mine, was not on their agenda, to begin with. But as they were dancing their hearts out, sweating out the madness of their mostly closeted everyday lives through dance, drinking, laughing and playing; the music came to a jarring and sudden halt (much like it did in Orlando the other day). But on the 29th June 1969, the man with the gun was a policeman, and he was not alone.
Like the incident at Pulse nightclub June 12, 2016, it took place in the early hours of the morning, and it was also an LGBTQIA+ venue, the Stonewall Inn. The police had decided to conduct a raid to clamp down on the poorest and most marginalised people in the LGBTQIA+ community, the “transgendered, drag queens, effeminate gay men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes and homeless youth.” But the cops didn’t bank on these people deciding to not only fight back but even start a riot. Heels, wigs, glitter and disco became weapons of self-defense, and they started working together to make our freedom happen right there and then.
Stonewall was an iconic turning point for LGBTQIA+ rights in America (and by default the rest of the world), and it caused the LGBTQIA+ community to mobilise and lay the foundations for what is currently one of the most organised and efficient liberation movements on the planet. And the story in South Africa was similar but also not.
The “Moffie Culture” movement, however informal, has been a force to be reckoned with
At the forefront of LGBTQIA+ liberation in South Africa was the celebrated “Moffie culture” found within the Western Cape Coloured community, according to South African History Online as researched by Dixson Pushgparagavan. Flamboyant, fabulous and “out in front” homosexuals were celebrated in these communities and similar to the Stonewall Inn patrons; they refused to sit quietly and adhere to the confines of the ignorance and discrimination that abounded in South Africa for most of its history since colonisation. We owe a lot to gay culture in Cape Town during the 50s which created its own language described in Wikipedia as follows: “Moffietaal (Afrikaans: literally, “homosexual language”) in the drag culture of the Cape Coloured community in the 1950s. It permeated into white homosexual circles in the 1960s and became part of mainstream white gay culture through South African Airways “koffie-moffies” (Afrikaans: literally, “coffee gay men”, a slang name for male flight attendants) in the 1970s.”
The “Moffie Culture” movement, however informal, has been a force to be reckoned with for many decades and may arguably be the oldest known LGBTQIA+ liberation movement in the country.
Years before Stonewall, in 1966, LGBTQIA+ people in Johannesburg had already faced a similar police raid at a “gay gathering” of 300 plus people at a home in the suburb Forest Town (close to Zoo Lake), in Johannesburg. Dancing, laughing, looking for love, and then, suddenly, not. The raid got huge attention and caused a major scandal, but rather than rioting, we retreated and scattered, and perhaps this is why “LGBT Legislation” became even worse after the incident for some years before it got any better.
The party going, fun-loving and fabulous LGBTQIA+ individual may be a stereotype that many in the community can’t or don’t want to relate to, but we should be eternally grateful to these types of people because they are the pioneers that initially took up our cause, snapped their fingers and said, “enough”.
Kudos to the many LGBTQIA+ introverts and legal minds, writers, academics and activists who have also played an astounding role in the playing out of our liberation story in a quieter less “showy” way. But it took a few brave and crazy sparks to ignite the fire that is now being kept ablaze by so many steady burners, and it is no secret that these sparkling individuals who started something, are tragically often marginalised and ostracised within the LGBTQIA+ community as well.
Thanks to all the “drag queens”, “transgendered people”, “sex workers”, “effeminate gay men” and “butch-identified” as well as all other marginalised members of the LGBTQIA+ community for their high-profile efforts over many years, for affording me the rights I now enjoy to love who I love. Aluta Continua.
Bruce J. Little is a contributing writer for Anova Health Institute. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova Health Institute and affiliates.