Hope used to be the thing with feathers for LGBTQI+
They're supposed to celebrate the LGBTI community, but The Feather Awards do more fawning over celebrities
The Feather Awards have – and continue to – suffer an identity crisis, even after a decade of their existence. The fallout from last week’s announcement of the nominees for this year’s ceremony has been an embarrassing muddle.
If you’re unaware, two of the three Hunk of the Year nominees, Thabang Molaba and Tumi Seeco, have been called out for alleged homophobic utterances on social media. The latter was withdrawn and replaced with Dominic Khumalo.
A decade in and the awards, which are meant to “recognise and celebrate the LGBTI community and iconic personalities and achievers who inspire the LGBTI community (as voted for by the LGBTI community and local media)” seem to be doing a lot more fawning over the iconic personalities than they do feting the LGBTQI+ community.
The GLAAD Media Awards in the US, for instance, exist to “recognise and honour media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and the issues that affect their lives”, and have never strayed from their purpose.
You’re nominated because you have displayed great understanding of what representation looks like, what it means to the misrepresented, and why it all matters. If you cannot fathom that even though the LGBTQI+ community is housed under one acronym, that within that community lies myriad stories and experiences and tastes and fears and dreams, if you choose to believe that we’re all a one-dimensional being seeking tolerance from those who identify as heterosexual, then you aren’t an evolved human being.
Being an evolved adult doesn’t necessitate that you be an activist for the LGBTQI+ community either. It simply means you can recognise how critical representation is. It is what Fox 21 Television Studios and FX Productions have learnt with the success of the TV series, Pose. It is what we experienced when Inxeba (The Wound) hit our cinema screens, and collected countless gongs for its achievements. Heck, it is the reason The Feathers cannot be allowed to dissolve – they have the potential to be more than just superfluous and superficial, especially after having existed for a decade already.
However, in their current form, the Feather Awards don’t appear to understand their intent.
Toya DeLazy tweeted a week ago that “The Feather awards need competition so that they can regain perspective & celebrate members who really impact the community. You can't have your finger in every pot fam. What do y'all stand for Kanti?”
There is something troubling when the LGBTQI+ community cannot relate to an awards ceremony that is meant to be “for us, by us”. They shouldn’t still feel unattainable to their main constituency.
A common retort from organisers and those close to them, whenever the topic of representation comes up, is that they are engaged in various activism and awareness workshops throughout the year, which are meant to help educate communities about LGBTQI+ lives and acceptance. Except, all of that commendable and essential groundwork The Feathers do to engage communities seems to get shelved when the awards come around.
All of that is swapped for the red carpet, where the celebrities take centre stage, and the conversations are fluffy and ephemeral – it almost undoes all of the work done during the lead-up to the ceremony itself. When the powwow wraps, it is doubtful that many of the winners recognise quite what the bestowal of such an award means.
There should be no reason, even for a heterosexual entertainer or icon, to belittle or take for granted recognition from the public for their work and their efforts to raise awareness for minorities. It should feel like an honour – no person has the divine right to be awarded trophies; they should be earned. Therefore, it is up to The Feather Awards to incorporate more of the LGBTQI+ community (from all backgrounds and outlooks) in the creation of our awards, so that we place more value on them too. Otherwise, how are the honourees to covet them if the rest of us don’t truly believe in them either?
In her acceptance speech at the 29th edition of the GLAAD Media Awards, Lena Waithe said: “A lot of people ask me why I say I’m ‘queer’, and I say that because I think it’s a big umbrella. I don't want to separate myself from my trans family, my non-binary or my bisexual [family]. Sometimes, we can be a little segregated. You have the wealthy gays over here, the gays on a budget over there, the asexual people in their group ... we need to be united because Laverne Cox’s struggle may look different than mine, but the pain we feel is the same. Someone who may be asexual may have a different journey than mine, but there are things we have in common. At the end of the day, we’re already ‘othered’, so why should we ‘other’ ourselves anymore than we already are? We have to support each other, we have to talk to each other, we have to educate each other about own individual journeys, because at the end of he day we’re all we’ve got – we’ve got people trying to come against us. If we stand together, there is no weapon they can form that can harm us.”
It is the perfect rallying call, and a reminder to The Feather Awards that while they can play a huge role in educating the wider public about LGBTQI+ lives, they can do so without alienating the same community they exist for.