On paper, South Africa is one of the best places to be if you are gay. South Africa’s constitution outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation (we were the first in the world to do so in constitution), and gay people in South Africa are legally allowed to marry (we were the fifth country in the world to allow this). Those are two things to be very proud of.
South African gay people should be able to live a fearless life… a normal life. And many of us do. I know that I can hold my boyfriend’s hand in public in Cape Town without the fear of being beaten up. We are lucky. We need to be grateful and not take this for granted. If South Africa’s path had followed a different direction, we could easily have shared the fate of places like Uganda.
But what is on paper is not reality for all South Africans. Some of us are not so lucky.
There are some of us who live in areas where our neighbours, friends and family do not understand us. They do not understand the core concept that you need to understand to accept homosexuality: that love knows no gender. This ignorance turns into fear and fear turns into anger. Anger turns into bullying and violence. One in every two women will be raped in her lifetime. This happens mainly in South African townships. And this needs to stop.
I believe that we as South Africans really understand change, better than anyone else in the world. We understand that change is important, and more importantly, we know that change is possible. We live in a free democracy because of this change.
We therefore need to start changing how society sees gay people. We need to stop the violence and bullying. To do this, we need to extinguish the anger. To do this, we need to comfort the fear. And finally, we need to educate our friends and neighbours, and help change their perceptions.
We can’t so this if we are not seen… if we hide. We need to be bold and show ourselves. If we are ‘out’, we need to show that we are happy. We need to hold our partner’s hand in public. If we are in the closet, we need to come out… to someone. We need to be seen. We cannot comfort other people’s fear if we still harbour our own fear.
Through small changes in our own lives, we have the power to change the lives of the rest of gay South Africa. We have the power to make sure all South Africans live as was intended when the constitution was drawn up. We have the power.