Being LGBT in a conservative town

2019-05-01 06:01
PHOTO: sourced

PHOTO: sourced

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AS MUCH as progress has been made and the world has become a more open space, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are still bearing the brunt of past stigmas and discriminations, this according to much of the gay community in Pieter­maritzburg.

Even after having come such a long way in terms of breaking social stigmas and past myths, the gay community are still suffering at the hands of the ignorant according to director of the Gay and Lesbian Network in Pietermaritzburg, Anthony Waldhausen. “We are a very conservative city. Therefore, many people still approach the LGBT in a negative way and have negative connotations and feelings towards us,” said Waldhausen.

Having set up the LGBT network 16 years ago, Waldhausen said that, even though they work towards educating the public and helping them understand the LGBT community, people are still stuck in the past and still have trouble grappling with the thought of people of the LGBT community being the same as themselves. “We run various workshops and educational sessions with organisations such as clinics and police stations to educate these officials about our community. Given that our people are still often treated with hostility when approached by these officials, it is important for us to partner with them to teach and educate them about our struggles and way of life,” said Waldhausen.

Waldhausen said that people within the LGBT community still face criticism and discrimination from their families and that this was the reason that many felt like they were not accepted by society. Bulelani Mzila, an openly gay man, said that manoeuvring through life as a gay man is a difficult task. “Even though I look as masculine as I do, when I speak people are shocked and taken aback.

“When in public, I must always think twice about the way I behave, to not attract any unwanted attention, whether I am in taxis or in my community walking on the street,” said Mzila. Mzila added that it is important for members of the LGBT community to find acceptance at home before looking for acceptance elsewhere.

“For me, having the support from my household allows me to find that little bit of peace within myself because I am allowed to be me at home,” “When I am at home, I am myself and my family accept me but that is not the case for everyone,” said Mzila, stating that he and many other people who share his lifestyle feel trapped and uneasy whenever they are in public. Mzila said that it is very important to educate the community about the LGBT community so that ignorant hate crimes against the LGBT community can stop.

Speaking on being gay, Mzila said that he is still a man, irrespective of his sexual orientation, and men who feel threatened by his presence must look within themselves and at their own sexuality if they feel uneasy when they are around him.

“I’m sure that the way men feel when I am around, if they feel uneasy, is the same way that women must feel when they are in the presence of various men,” said Mzila, adding that men must understand that not every gay man wants to be involved with them and even if a gay man sends advances towards a man, that man must understand that they do not have to react in a hostile way and they should understand that women go through the same thing when rejecting the advances of men.

Bongeka Sibisi said that she “came out” three years ago as openly gay to her family and believes that the pressure attached to the act of coming out is not healthy.

“We are normal people just like straight people. I do not see myself as different and don’t understand why we need to inform anyone of our sexual preference because straight people do not have to do it,” said Sibisi, stating that she only told her family as a courtesy and not because she felt obliged to.

“My sexual preference should not be a concern of the community, for me to even have to state what I am into,” “Attitudes need to change and the only way that can be done is through education,” said Sibisi.

Sibisi said that if more governmental institutions enforced educational workshops and practices, the general public would be more informed, especially people of colour who still attach stigmas to the LGBT community based on culture.

Waldhausen noted that the Gay and Lesbian Network hosts various workshops throughout KwaZulu-Natal to promote and encourage open discussion regarding the LGBT community. Those seeking help can visit their premises on 19 Connaught Road; contact them via telephone at 033 342 6165; or visit their website at www.gaylesbian.org.za

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