PMB, a place of gay acceptance

2016-10-26 06:00
PHOTO: sourced

PHOTO: sourced

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WHILE there are still many challenges to overcome, Pietermaritzburg is very progressive when it comes to gay and lesbian rights and acceptance.

This was the overall message that was shared during a focus group with people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, who work for the Gay and Lesbian Network (GLN).
The focus group with Maritzburg Fever was arranged by GLN director Anthony Waldhausen to highlight and address common misconceptions about the LGBTI community.

According to the group, there are places that are open and friendly in the city, where people can be themselves without having to worry about being discriminated against however, the group was unified in their opinion that, while people are not openly rude and nasty to them, they are tolerant.

“We often deal with a lot of questions about why we don’t look like we’re gay because people have preconceived notions of what it means to be gay, but what some people don’t understand, is that we’re all different so not all of us are flamboyant or feminine,” said Thuli Mjwara, programme manager.

She said there have been many cases in areas where sensitisation workshops have been held.

“This is mainly in the rural communities where being gay is acceptable if you don’t talk about it or if it happens behind closed doors. We have had incidents where openly gay people have been attacked because of their sexual preferences. These are the areas that we work in to break down some of the prejudices that people have,” said Mjwara.

The group felt that, while people were tolerant of the sexual orientation, they are still not 100% accepting. “People are more tolerant when you come out at a young age, so you grow up with people knowing, but if your sexuality is something you disclose when you are older people don’t take you seriously. They wonder what happened, why things changed,” said Nomhle Soni, who is part of the GLN research group.

Rooi Ntshiba, another participant, said sometimes, when a girl or boy feels within themselves that they are gay, they are afraid to come out to their family because of the subtle hints of homophobia that families make, some if not all unconsciously.

“Sometimes, as a family there will be a gay scene on TV and then comments are made about the couple for example, that stays with you as a child and you then know that your parents and family don’t approve so you keep it hidden and a secret. You end up choosing your family over your own happiness and who you really are,” he said.

The one thing that was clear from the focus group was that there is still a long way to go in terms of sensitising the community.

“We just need to get the conversation going. There needs to be more work done to educate families, friends and communities, it’s not an overnight thing. Although a few years ago people were afraid of the unknown, we have come a long way. Slowly people are becoming more open minded.

“Pietermaritzburg is the place to be, it’s very open and we have come a long way with our rights being acknowledged and protected,” said Waldhausen.

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