By: Zama Shange

In an effort to create an enabling environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, the LGBTI Community and Health Centre facilitates the creation of Safe Spaces for engagement, skills development and growth within eThekwini and uThukela Districts.

Saturday morning April 22, one such space was held for gay people and men who have sex with men (MSM). Attended by some 14 people, this was facilitated by Sbongiseni Nxumalo (Project Coordinator), with Sr Luthuli who is a sensitized health practitioner supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community. She has been working with the Centre and providing health care services to LGBTI people for over 5 years.

This safe space meeting focused on reviewing issues covered previously, how attendees had learned or changed their behaviour in respect to those, and expectations for future meetings. It allowed attendees to reflect on their experiences with health, sexuality, and culture affecting their sexual practices, wellbeing as well as to share what conversational themes they felt needed more attention.

Some of the most fruitful discussions surrounded the theme of culture versus sexuality. These inspired valuable anecdotes and calls to action about disclosure, knowledge, and respect.

One of the attendees opened the discussion with a disclosure story. He is the son of a pastor, and relayed the pain of having to hide his sexuality for so long and internalizing the judgmental environment in his home. For him, the first step to his “coming out” was forgiving and accepting himself, supposedly by wrestling through any shame brought on by years of concealment. He prepared his disclosure and had an honest conversation with his parents. He ended his story with the triumphant statement, “We are a family again,” which ensued applause from the room.

Sr Luthuli followed this by saying that disclosure is ultimately for the discloser’s peace and freedom. She emphasized the importance of becoming a relative “expert” in one’s own sexuality so any questions or doubts presented by family and friends can be addressed. With one participant echoing, “You must arm yourself with information,” it seems that information is the best resource for disclosure.

Sbo pointed out, disclosure is not mandatory. This shows how it is really for the discloser, not for any receivers. The meeting considered verbal and non-verbal disclosure. That if one never disclose verbally but give non-verbal cues by dress, behavior, or anything else, they must still be their own relative expert and be prepared for any questioning. The topic was closed by saying, “It’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually it works out.” Sr Luthili.

Another attendant highlighted the importance of information from a different angle. He explained that what is perceived as homophobia may not actually be homophobia, but miseducation and misguidance. If same-sex desiring individuals can reconcile this with the fact that they will not always meet immediate acceptance, more empathetic, positive, and informative conversations can happen.

Terra Collier, International Intern, LGBTI Community and Health Centre (42 McKenzie Road, Durban, 4001 // T: 031 312 7402 // C: 083 748 9565 // www.gaycentre.org.za // info@gaycentre.org.za