Society defines your sexuality and generally works on only one form of sexual orientation. A problem often arises when you do not conform to that sexuality. The result is the marginalisation of LGBQTIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer/questioning, transgender/transsexual, intersex, ally/asexual). This was the sentiment at the round table discussion hosted by the MTV Staying Alive Foundation on Wednesday 12 April.

The MTV Staying Alive Foundation uses edutainment in the form of the television drama series MTV Shuga to educate young people on issues they grapple with every day, including issues related to LGBQTIA.  The first three episodes of the television drama MTV Shuga: Down South have aired on SABC 1 and MTV Base and are currently available on MTV Shuga’s You Tube Channel. So at the round table discussion, subject matter experts who made up the panel and the audience were shown an exclusive screening of episodes 4, 5 and 6 of the television show, followed by a discussion about matters relating to LGBQTIA.

“Being gay should not just be seen as a sexual orientation but also a form of expression which should be allowed to be expressed.  It should not only be about understanding but about acceptance” says Jay Matlou, Health Officer and Master Trainer (for human sexuality, HIV prevention, diversity training and life skills) for OUT LGBT Well Being Organisation.

In the television drama, Reggie struggles with the realisation that he is different. Given Stuurman, who plays the character Reggie in MTV Shuga, says playing a gay man was empowering.  “I knew I would be playing a character which people would not like or possibly have issues with.  I had to think about it because some people might assume that I am the character. Despite all of that, the story had to be told on behalf of marginalised communities out there and I was keen to be the one to tell it. It has been a journey that has been very powerful for me,” he says.

In South Africa, we have progressive legislation where gay and lesbian couples can get married but if the laws are not manifested socially then the legislation is futile.

“Despite the strides that have been made on gay issues over the past 20 years, gay couples still find themselves having to look over their shoulder,” says Matlou.

There is a lack of progress and solutions which cater for the marginalised people in the country’s healthcare facilities.  Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, better known as Dr T, says many LGBQTIA people do not have access to tools that can assist them in having safe sex, for example dental dams, finger cots, female condoms, lubricants, etc. “Many black transgender people for example are self-medicating because they do not have access to healthcare in the state facilities and private care is very expensive,” she says.  At the same time, many health providers are generally not educated or trained well enough to assist LGBQTIA communities.  Healthcare workers should also be asking what type of sex a person is having, not only how many sexual partners a person has.  “The type of sexual play and acts impact one’s healthcare treatment and the type of sexual health advice required” says DR T.

She highlights that it is not only the healthcare system that needs an overhaul, but the entire system, including home affairs, banking and so on.

The audience (both at the event and online) had a debate on ‘coming out’.  One part of the audience felt that it is important for people to come out so these different human stories can be told with ‘coming out’ being a form of activism. The other part of the audience said that ‘coming out’ is a personal thing and no one should be forced into doing it.  The audience was encouraged to go back to their communities and talk about LGBQTIA issues so that people become more aware, informed and accepting.

“Human sexuality is fluid and vast. It is necessary that there be a continuance of affirming conversations of ALL sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions  and not just of the apparent ‘normal’ of heterosexuality,” says Matlou.