Cape Town 'not gay friendly'

Glenn de Swardt | February 17, 2006

CAPE TOWN — There is ongoing constructive debate concerning racial dynamics in Cape Town in the local media.

However, debate around other areas of discrimination in our city is lacking.

In particular, the silence on our attitudes and behaviour towards our gay and lesbian community is deafening.

I argue that Cape Town doesn't deserve the reputation of being 'gay friendly' while gay and lesbian members of our community are thrown out of their homes by their parents, gay youth are compelled to leave school prematurely because of the taunting and bullying they endure, lesbians are more likely to be raped and we're vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse on the grounds of our sexual orientation.

On the evening of February 10, I was verbally abused because of my sexual orientation by a complete stranger in Observatory.

The incident was witnessed by my partner and members of the public. The perpetrator left the premises before I could lay a formal charge.

As a professional counsellor I have counselled countless people who have experienced such abuse, but this was my first personal experience of blatant homo-prejudice in the eight years I've lived in Cape Town. I felt violated, insulted, hurt and angry.

Unreported incidents

This is one of many prejudiced and homophobic incidents that play out in our city each week, most all of which go unreported.

I know this because I manage the counselling services for a large gay and lesbian organisation.

It is ironic, however, that my experience occurred within two days of the launch of the Pride Shelter Trust, a non-profit organisation that will establish Africa's first shelter specifically for members of the LGBT community in Cape Town.

Let's not kid ourselves – homophobia and homo-prejudice are alive and flourishing in Cape Town.

I was reminded of the ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party) Cape Town mayoral candidate, Pauline Cupido, publicly calling for Cape Town to become "less gay friendly and more God friendly".

As if being gay friendly and God friendly are mutually exclusive.

I personally think that anyone abusing religion in order to satisfy their own political agendas is morally questionable.

The church as a scapegoat

Not so long ago some churches tried to justify apartheid and racial discrimination by quoting actual biblical texts.

People who publicly sanction discrimination or prejudice of any kind, on any grounds, whether directly or indirectly, should be held accountable for the emotional and physical suffering or material loss suffered by the victims of such prejudice.

On Saturday February 11 I phoned Mrs Cupido, informed her of my personal experience of a homo-prejudiced incident and enquired what support she could offer me.

None, she replied, other than lay (non professional) counselling by Christians.

Which I'm afraid wasn't good enough – how appropriate would Christian counselling have been if I were Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or an atheist? I needed professional counselling.

Mrs Cupido must be reminded that she perpetuates emotional and physical pain and that she needs to come forward and either offer professional support for victims of prejudice, or publicly call for tolerance of diversity.

In the interim, if anyone in Cape Town experiences a homo-prejudiced or homophobic incident they should e-mail Pauline Cupido directly and discuss this with her – her e-mail address is cupidos@netactive.co.za cupidos@netactive.co.za. Maybe she'll develop a degree of compassion, insight and tolerance through our pain. – Glenn de Swardt is an organiser of the Cape Town Pride Festival.

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