Queer History Tours – JHB

Queer History Tours

The Queer Johannesburg Tour included both a walking tour of Constitution Hill and Hillbrow and a longer bus tour of Johannesburg and Soweto. Unfortunately due to lack of capacity, Gala no longer offers the tour, but hopes that it will resume in the future.

It is part of Gala’s mission to popularize queer history and experience by developing creative ways of introducing straight and queer people alike to the wealth of information it has collected. The tour revealed the thread of LGBTQIA+ history and contemporary experience in the tapestry of Johannesburg. Over the years Queer Johannesburg has been a hit with visiting tourists and conference delegates, as well as local residents.

The walking tour started at Constitution Hill and the former queer neighbourhood of Hillbrow in Johannesburg. The tour took visitors through the streets of Hillbrow and Joubert Park, where they could hear about how queer Johannesburg life started during World War II, and get a feeling for how LGBTQIA+ people of all races and classes experienced life in the city. The tour stops at Simon Nkoli Corner in Hillbrow and takes in the famous Harrison Reef Hotel, which housed South Africa’s longest ­running gay bar and was also home to Africa’s first black LGBTQIA+ church. The walking tour ends at Constitution Hill where you can see how today’s constitutional equality for queer people is built on the site where thousands of men were incarcerated for ‘immorality’.

From parfaits d’amour at the Waldorf Hotel to LGBT students in the 1976 Soweto Uprising, the Bus Tour provided an opportunity for visitors to see Johannesburg ‘queerly’ as they never have before. The tour took in the site of the infamous gay Forest Town party raided by the police in 1966, where one can hear about the moral panic which followed; it visited Constitution Hill and sees how today’s constitutional equality for LGBTQIA+ people is built on the site where thousands of men were incarcerated for ‘immorality’; the bus drives through Hillbrow and Joubert Park, it visits the home of Mrs. Phadi, and learn about the gay shebeen she opened in the 1980s that became the headquarters of the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW); and it provides an opportunity to see Soweto through the eyes of its young queer residents, and hear about the township’s LGBTQIA+ history and ‘the life’ on its streets today.