South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, but according to The Extravagant Project, an NGO that advocates for gay and lesbian rights, that is far from the reality, especially in the townships.
Men and women are still being forced to lie about their sexual preferences out of fear of prejudice and cultural expectations.
On Saturday October 14, The Extravagant Project held a conversation at the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) in Nyanga.
Titled “Let’s talk about sex”, the conversation was designed to increase awareness about different sexual orientations and gender identities.
Views and experiences were shared by those who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, gender queer and straight.
These ranged from heart-warming to sad and hilarious.
However, each was inspiring in one way or another.
According to the organisers, the discussion was aimed at providing a new perspective, opening the door to talking about the many aspects of sexuality, and eradicating stereotypes.
Speaking to the audience, Sharon Cox from Triangle Project criticised cultural and religious groupings for discriminating against some sexual orientations.
Telling her story, she said, she was never accepted at her home and at the church because she was a lesbian.
She said the problem of stereotyping starts at childhood when parents buy specific toys for different genders.
“It starts before they are even born. We also teach boys to fight back. We do not raise girls as boys. We don’t encourage children to have conversations but to fight. We have a sense of who we are. I was never accepted in my church. My church told me I am going straight to hell,” she said.
She encouraged those listening to look deeper into themselves and realise their identity.
She said people need to approach their identity with an open mind and not to listen to what people think of them.
She said churches were vital in the fight against stereotypes.
“We are human beings who want to be something in life. Before you kill somebody because he or she is not what you think is right, think that it is somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, somebody who is like you. I am a lesbian. I am not sick.
“This is not a disease. People need to find themselves regardless of what people are saying,” he said.
She said hate crimes would not end as long as people refused to accept that all people were different. “Religion plays a big role in the whole issue; the same way it did with apartheid.
“It was religions that separated people based on apartheid. Religion hurts people but my God does not hurt his people. We have been there for years,” she said.
However, those in attendance differed on the rise of hate crime in Nyanga. Some felt it was high while others said it was on the decrease.
Some audience members felt the cause of hate crime was because lesbians and gays separated themselves from the community.
After the intense discussion, one of Extravagant Project’s founders, Pharie Setali, said she was happy that people were coming to their conversations to listen.
However, she said, she did not think many people understood what hate crime was.
“The session was really very educational and informative and that is what we strive for. We teach people, young and old to understand who we are and also them to understand themselves. When it comes to hate crime, most people think about killings only. But the abuse experienced by many of us, the way people look at us and the remarks they pass, is part of that hate crime. But we are making inroads in Nyanga and that is commendable,” she said.
Ms Setali said the next step was to go to the churches.