Awareness about the LGBTQI+ community has come a long way in South Africa and in Pretoria in particular, considering the city’s heritage and its traditions. Still, it seems that there is much room for growth.
Conraad and Pieter have been together for seven years. 29-year old Conraad, Mr. Gay Pride 2018, told his parents that he is gay just after school. He fought against it for the best part of his school years and in a matter of six months after school, he got introduced to LGBTQI+ – something that was quite difficult for him to fathom and to process as he now had to almost get to know himself from scratch. “I always knew I liked guys, but I fought against it because I did not understand where I fit in.”
Stephanie and Lisa have been married for 7 years and they both knew from a young age that they liked girls. Stephanie says she was classified as a Tomboy. “I had a crush on a girl in primary school already. I had a boyfriend to try to be normal, but every time she walked past, I would think: ‘She’s so cute’. We grew up in a time where you just wondered: ‘What’s happening to me?’ You couldn’t connect it to a specific word. That was quite frustrating – growing up knowing that there’s something different to you… It took me very long to come out and to be honest with myself about who I am.”
Conraad feels that the Gauteng LGBTQI+ community is currently divided. “In Greenpoint in Cape Town there is a whole block that is dedicated to this community with just gay clubs and bars. The one is for the Bears (the bigger, hairy men), then there is a club for the younger crowd like the Twinks, Muscle Marys and Silver Foxes and then further down there is a club that mainly caters for lesbians, but gay guys are also welcome. The whole Western Cape’s LGBTQI+ community is in one block!”
Stephanie and Lisa shares Conraad and Pieter’s sentiment and says that Pretoria is very steadfast in its traditions, which makes being gay or lesbian a daily challenge. “She gets chased out of female restrooms on a daily basis,” says Stephanie, looking at her wife. “When we go to rugby games at Loftus and you stand in the queue to be searched, they often tell her to go to the men’s side.” Lisa says it even happens to her at work.
Being part of the LGBTQI+ community doesn’t come without its challenges. It might have come a long way and people may be more acceptable, but it is scary how often it is the people closest to you that push you away because of your sexuality.
“It is very much about family. Parents who don’t want their children to be gay. Eventually it becomes so difficult for the children, that they run away. It doesn’t necessarily happen in public; it happens in private homes within a family. You want to feel safe at home… I feel it is families that still have a lot of problems with this,” says Pieter.
One of the things that hurt Steph and Lisa the most, is the fact that they are almost never allowed around children. “Because we are gay, we are automatically seen as paedophiles; child molesters. You won’t believe how many of our families are like that,” says Stephanie. “There are so many from our gay community who have no relationship with their families anymore.”
Conraad says: “One of my best friends pitch at our house with a girl. Six months later it didn’t work out and then he pitches up with a guy and we’re like, great! We mingle and go on. He doesn’t have to classify himself.”
“If you look at me, what do you see?” Stephanie asks. “A woman. A human being. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m just a normal person…If my own mother could accept me for who I am, why can’t you? All we want is acceptance.”
“We are not labels,” her wife, Lisa adds.
Gender-based violence is real in the LGBTQI+ community. “We regularly went out to Club Scorpios (which unfortunately closed) and one evening one of our friends and her girlfriend were on their way out of the club when five guys attacked her. She got her girlfriend into the car without a scratch, but they hit her blind and stabbed her in the knee… Unfortunately, in our life, we experience that men see us as a threat, ‘cause we’re gonna take their wives away from them. But you know what, that’s not who and what we are. I won’t go for a straight girl, because she’s straight. Why should I waste my time?” says Stephanie.
This month’s Gay Pride event is probably the biggest jol of the year for the LGBTQI+ community. There is also a serious side to it, though.
“Gay Pride was launched with Stonewall because there was victimisation. Straight people attacked gay people. So, the LGBTQI+ community marched as they felt they wanted to stand up for their rights. I think we reached that goal. We were very successful. I have not been at a Pride in the past four years where there was not a straight mom, dad, brother, sister or friend marching with their gay or lesbian friends,” says Conraad.
“The reason why the Gay Pride was started was to actually bring the gay community together and to say we’ve had it. We’ve been objectified; we’ve been raped; we’ve been ousted…We’re not here because we think it’s a lekker party; we are here because we actually stand for something,” says Stephanie.
The acronym, LGBTQI+ represents but a few members of the surprisingly large community. There are flags for being gay, bisexual, asexual, gender fluid, pansexual, genderqueer, transgender, non-binary, intersexual, bear, lipstick lesbian, straight ally, polysexual, transsexual, aromantic, autosexual, polyamorous, agender, lithsexual, trigender, lesbian, skoliosexual, bigender and demisexual.
“I feel instead of fighting for Gay Pride, let’s try fighting for Human Pride. To get everyone to stand together, you need to start moving away from labels,” Conraad concludes and we agree. Viva, Human Pride!