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It’s a pride thing: Our glittery guide to Joburg’s LGBTQ+ scene

Oct 17, 2019, Author: Candice May

Joburg is by no means the gay capital of Africa – Cape Town has that crown snatched – but it’s still home to a thriving LGBTQ+ community and culture. The City of Gold is getting its annual helping of rainbow flags, fun-loving crowds and LGBTQ spirit this month … and the Johannesburg Pride Parade and Festival, which drew 20,000 people last year, is just the tip of the iceberg. 

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When is gay pride in Jozi? 

Gay Pride events occur throughout the month of October in South Africa, culminating with the 30th Johannesburg Pride Parade and Festival on Saturday, 26 October 2019, starting at 11h00. This year, Pride is moving its parade from Melrose Arch to Sandton as part of an ambitious ‘Pride of Africa’ month. Fun fact? Joburg hosts the country’s oldest annual Gay Pride march, which bravely started in 1990 before the 1994 interim constitution. 

Homosexuality is no longer taboo 

If you think homosexuality is still a taboo topic in Joburg – think again. While this may still be the case in smaller, rural areas across South Africa, it certainly isn’t here. You won’t find a rainbow-flag covered queer village like Athens, Hannover or Chiang Mai in Joburg, but there are restaurants, bars and clubs especially dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community.  

The Joburg of today is an integrated city with little to no discrimination against LGBTQ+ people – same-sex couples can mingle freely and are welcome at most establishments as well as recognised LGBTQ ones. Sadly, LGBTQ hate crimes are still common though. Even though South Africa’s political climate has progressed over the years, this hasn’t translated to complete acceptance across society. We can’t know for sure the exact levels of hate crime because South African law doesn’t categorise hate crimes separately from other crimes.  

As with any change in public perceptions, there’s no magic solution and it’s a process that will take time. 

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There are established gay-friendly neighbourhoods 

If you’re particularly concerned, you’ll be happy to know that you’ll be totally safe if you stay and play in the suburbs of Melville and Melrose. Melville is a centre of creative energy and modern thinking, and the closest thing to a gay nightlife hub.  

The popularity of LGBTQ-friendly venues comes and goes, but Liquid Blue cocktail bar located on the bustling 7th Street remains of Joburg’s leading gay-friendly bars. The cocktails are some of the city’s best – our personal favourites are the Liquid Blue Martini with passion fruit vodka and the Melville Nights 2.0 Tiki with a Stroh rum float.  

Another lively spot situated on this strip is Ratz Bar, a little gay bar with classic 80s rock and disco tunes plus a daily cocktail special between 18h00 and 21h00. Other bars worth checking out in the area are Six Cocktail Bar, Hell’s Kitchen, Xai Xai and Smoking Kills.  

That’s not all – Melville is also chockfull of uber-chic coffee shops, avant-garde dining spots and hipster boutiques. We highly recommend checking out the brand-new The Whippet Coffee, Pablo Eggs-Go-Bar and La Stalla for a fabulous boozy brunch, Winner Winner Jozi for a laidback dinner or La Petite Maison for a fine-dining spoil.  

As far as shopping is concerned, Reminiscene should be at the top of your list. At this 20-something-year-old vintage shop, you’ll find an abundance of lace, velvet and horn-rimmed glasses … it’s a thrift shopper’s heaven! 27 Boxes, a shipping container development down the road, is also a great place to go if you’re looking for some new treasures for your wardrobe. 

Pink tourism is more popular than ever 

Joburg is home to many gay-friendly places to stay. Some well-known establishments are the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg in Rosebank, Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff in Westcliff, Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa in Morningside and Gold Reef City Theme Park Hotel in Johannesburg.  

But it goes beyond this – on the travel and tourism front, there are many pink travel and tourism companies who are dedicated to LGBTQ+ travellers. One example is Our Way Travel and Safaris, which prides itself on a collection of gay-owned, gay-friendly establishments and its Pink Route that travels from Cape Town to Joburg and then on to the Kruger Park and further north. 

Then there’s Holiday Houseboys AKA ‘your gay-friendly tour guide’ that’s all about getting the most of your holiday with a local, private tour tailored to your interests. The company has a presence in cities such as Istanbul, Bangkok, Hanoi, Bali, Kuala Lumpur and, of course, Joburg. 

If you have your accommodation plans sorted and are just looking for gay-friendly activities to do, our top pick is the The Queer Johannesburg Tour, a walking and bus tour that takes you into the city’s homosexual past – from its earliest days in the apartheid era to the present day – and includes the buzzing suburb of Hillbrow and the township of Soweto.  

Spoiler alert: There’s pitstop for refreshments at Wandi’s Restaurant, the best-known shebeen in Soweto, before returning home. It’s an activity that visitors and locals alike will love! 

Are you struggling with your identity? Do you feel lost and alone? HJ reader Shenay O’Brien is a singer, performer, drag artist and LGBTQ+ activist who started an online show earlier this year called We’re Queer, my Dear (#WQMD) that’s basically an online guide to members of the community who have identity issues. “We’ve truly grown as a nation and learned to respect each other. There’s the odd culture clash here and there, but I’m proud to say that Joburg has some of the friendliest, most supportive people celebrating in South Africa!” Shenay says.  So far, the response to the show has been fantastic, and the season is already in preproduction. Check it out on YouTube and social media. 

Facebook: @werequeermydear Instagram: @werequeermydearsa 

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Get the facts straight! 

According to the latest statistics, there are between 400,000 to over 2,000,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people living in South Africa. 

South Africa has a complex and diverse history regarding the human rights of LGBTQ people. But, today, people in the LGBTQ community in South Africa have the same rights as non-LGBTQ people. 

South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. South Africa was also the fifth country in the world and the first – and, to date, only – in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage. 

Same-sex couples can adopt children jointly and arrange IVF and surrogacy treatments in South Africa. 

LGBTQ people enjoy constitutional and statutory protections from discrimination in employment, provision of goods and services and many other areas in South Africa. 

South Africa’s niche tourism market – pink tourism – is dedicated to LGBTQ+ travellers. 

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