LGBTI festival is a place to call home in a world of threats and violence

Tshepiso Leeu told Eyewitness News this is why events like Rock the City LGBTI festival are important, they represent freedom, a sense of belonging that many don’t experience at home, at school, in public, or even workspaces.

Mzansi Gay choir will be taking the stage at Rock the City LGBTI festival. Picture: mzansigaychoir / Instagram.

JOHANNESBURG – Threats, violence, and harassment against LGBTQ + people happen daily around the world.

In a number of countries, events like Pride cannot go ahead without a heavy police presence.

Tshepiso Leeu told Eyewitness News this is why events like the Rock the City LGBTI Festival are important – they represent freedom, a sense of belonging that many don’t experience at home, at school, in public, or even at work.

The third annual event will take place on 30 April at Arts on Main in Maboneng, Johannesburg.

“Rock The City LGBTI Festival is the first of its kind after the known Pride’s in Johannesburg and surrounding areas, it is a platform for LGBTQ + representation and a way of creating visibility. There aren’t that many platforms, particularly at a festival level that include the LGBTI + community and prioritize LGBTQ + artists and have the majority of the artists being queer ”.

According to the [European Union](https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2019/637949/EPRS_BRI(2019), three out of five African countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality and the public expression of sexual or gender behavior that does not conform with heterosexual norms.

South Africa is the only African country that has legalized same-sex marriage, and our Constitution protects against anti-LGBTQ + discrimination. But violence against LGBTQ + people remains common.

Leeu said she wanted to create a space where Queer people and allies could come together, celebrate life, and dance to music made by Queer artists without worrying about their safety.

“Honestly, safety has always been a priority, the last thing you want to do is make things worse for a group that is already unsafe on a day to day, the places we choose for our events must be Queer-friendly and also easily accessible to the people. Johannesburg seems to be very central for people coming from different directions so most venues I choose are within Johannesburg ”.

LGBTQ + members are exposed to various types of discrimination from being denied healthcare to being mistreated and disowned by families. Leeu said sometimes it was people just refusing to associate with you because you identify as Queer.

“We recently had an artist pull out of our lineup after realizing that the event was a Queer event – this is exactly the reason why we need safe spaces. We still need to do a lot of teaching and awareness ”.

The theater scrub nurse says everyone is welcome to show up, the invite isn’t just for Queer people but an open invitation to all. And promises a mixture of well to know artists and upcoming ones.

“The beauty about this is that while we do such incredible work we also get to have fun, so artists are mostly chosen on their ability to create a vibe and share their talents with us. It’s also a great platform for up-and-coming artists to showcase their talents and share stages with artists who are already well known. And under Queer visibility, we chose artists who represent the Queer community very well.

Events like Rock The City LGBTI + festival empower individuals to reclaim the rights and freedoms they are denied, and the public space they are often excluded from.

“We as the LGBTQ + community are aware of the violence and homophobia we experience. As such, spaces like Rock the City are essential within our community and finally giving LGBTQ + entertainers a platform where we can have representation as it is very seldom that it happens in the entertainment space ”.

A platform that aims to showcase LGBTQ + art crafts and business as well as create a platform for LGBTQ + visibility. The festival sees some of the best LGBTQ + artists and mainstream artists performing in a Queer-curated space where Queer people can gather and enjoy themselves.

“With this event we have Langa Mavuso coming, it’s really such a pleasure to have such a great artist like Langa Mavuso take on the stage. And Mzansi Gay choir, I just think that their thing is amazing and falls perfectly under us as Queer people creating the things we think we need, ”said Leeu naming a few of the acts.

As a parting shot, Leeu said today marks Lesbian Visibility Week (25 April -1 May) that aims to show solidarity with all LGBTQ + women and non-binary people in the community, as well as celebrate lesbians. She hopes that we remember to uplift all women and to speak up for those who don’t have a voice.

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