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Hidden away 1200 km south of Johannesburg and east of Port Elizabeth, lays the charmant harbour town of Knysna (a local Khoikhoi word that quite possibly may mean ‘ferns’). One of the best kept secrets of South Africa, the town of Knysna is located in the Garden Route and is surrounded by lush native South African rainforests, spilling out into a crystalline estuary fed by the Knysna River. For the past eleven years at the end of April and the first week of May, Knysna has also become home to one of the freshest and most exciting LGBTI celebrations around the world – the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras and Arts Festival.

Initially started by local businessmen to entice tourists to the town during the slow month of May and reinvigorate the local economy, the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras was also an event that that would not only incorporate the region’s gay identity but celebrate the cultural contribution the gay community made to the region and overcome histories of suppression. And with an ever increasingly visible gay population, Knysna and the Pink Loerie has very quietly become one of the must-see annual celebrations within the global gay community.

During the early days of the events creation, the organisers had first thought to have the event as a parade similar to the famous Pride events found throughout Europe and Johannesburg. The next option was to hold a parade and party akin to that of the Sydney Mardi Gras. Whilst acknowledging that the region was in need of an event that provided a celebratory and creative outlet for the gay community, the organisers agreed that whatever it was that was created should go beyond that of the traditional, more well known Pride parade. It should be a celebration, a carnival. This would allow the event to then become something that incorporated all residents and visitors in the town regardless of their sexuality, thus celebrating the rich diversity of people there. It would be an event that would truly embrace the ideals of equality and freedom. Whilst essentially still being a celebration of gay culture and queer freedom, it would also be a platform where LGBTI cultural and political issues could be debated and addressed. Issues such as sexual education, HIV/AIDS and acceptance from both sides of the community are often primary themes of discussion and celebration. After some initial discussions with the local government and a whopper of a fund raiser that proved just how much support they had from all areas of the community, they were ready to begin…

And so in 2001, the very first Pink Loerie Mardi Gras was celebrated and to say it was a huge success is an understatement. A more culturally aware version of the European Pride, Pink Loerie Mardi Gras provided a wider range of events, exhibitions and gatherings that focus on creative and political endeavours within the South African and international gay communities. Performing art shows, art exhibitions and charity drives are held that provoke thought and debate and provide many a creative platform to share their opinions and experiences. And, for the more outdoor oriented, there are excursions to local tourist attractions such as Monkeyland, Birds of Eden, as well as lagoon rides on the passenger speed inflatable boat, Knysna Rib Adventures. But at its heart, the Pink Loerie is a festival and celebration so dancing, fun and music also played an enormous part of the event, with almost daily concerts held at various locations throughout the city. The grand finale of the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras, the Parade and after-party, is held on the final weekend of the week-long celebrations. Spanning over five days, the festival attracts floats, performers and DJ’s from all over the world and local businesses also get into to the spirit, competing for the best Pink Loerie window display for the year. This is the event where Knysna comes into its own, with the locals showing the full extent of hospitality, fanfare and festive spirit that is the backbone of the event and the reason that people keep coming back every year.

This year proved to be even bigger than ever, with a few unique little twists. Not a party to miss an opportunity, there was even a Royal Wedding Variety Show – celebrating the nuptials of the newlywed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. A nationwide competition from which six local charities benefited and where the main prize was a US $28500 break-away weekend for ten people, all included, at the most exclusive address in South Africa, Pezula Noetzie Castles, was held, as well as four performance art shows, one an Afrikaans one-man play about living and growing old as a gay man, called “Kuifman”, by the Mr. Gay South Africa™ 2010 producer team of Kosie Smit (director) and Wim Vorster (actor and writer). “Little Poof”, a cabaret where the artist, Bruce Little, portrayed 10 different gay stereotypes – from Sakkie, the sash queen to Lizaan, the emo lesbian, was a sold-out success. A nationwide fine art competition was held for LGBTI artists at Knysna Fine Arts, which was won by the editor of CD4, a local HIV-themed magazine, Yngve Sjolund.

But the most notable accomplishment of Pink Loerie this year the charity drive for six local charities - Loeriehof Old Age Home, Graham Street, Knysna: repaint of the premises sponsored by Plascon;  a make-over for two lucky aged ladies by Mr. Gay South Africa™ 2010 and Mr. Gay World 2011, stylist Francois Nel and his first prince, André Lammers, the make-over specialist of  TV channel SABC3’s “Expresso” and gifts to all the residents of Maria Garcia Skincare™ International; stock for Masizame Art Project (township disadvanted kids) and stationery for Paula Witney Pre-School (township kids nursery) – both donated by Mr. Avon Reyneke; Vermont Care Centre (township frail care) – cash donation; pet food for Animal Welfare (sponsored by Royal Canin) and Isis Legal Centre for Women & Children (PC and printer sponsored by Mr. Avon Reyneke).

Pink Loerie Mardi Gras & Arts Festival is therefor  a time of celebration, but celebration with a purpose.

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31st July - 5th August 2013



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