The gay community in Pietermaritzburg say they are still bearing the brunt of past stigmas and discrimination. Despite the world having evolved and become a more inclusive place for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, there are still reports of our fellow brothers and sisters suffering at the hands of ignorance, according to Anthony Waldhausen.
Waldhausen is the director the Gay and Lesbian Network in Pietermaritzburg who says that the conservative city still handles the LGBT community with negativity.
“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 who has headed the network for 16 years.
Waldhausen says that people are still stuck in the past and that people within the LGBT community still face criticism and discrimination from their families.
“Even though I look as masculine as I do, when I speak people are shocked and taken aback,” says Bulelani Mzila, an openly gay man.
“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.
“When I am at home, I am myself and my family accept me but that is not the case for everyone”.
Bongeka Sibisi, a lesbian, said that 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.
Sibisi said that she “came out” to her family as a courtesy and not as an obligation.
“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.
The Gay and Lesbian Network hosts various workshops throughout KwaZulu-Natal to promote and encourage open discussion regarding the LGBT community. Those looking to make a difference can contact them via telephone at 033 342 6165; or visit their website atwww.gaylesbian.org.za