My name is Elliot. I am a gay man. I live in Pretoria with my father, two brothers and an uncle. In my country, South Africa, the law has made it easier for LGBT people to protect themselves. Nowadays, we have a voice and freedom of speech. The media plays a positive role in raising awareness. Yet, many individuals remain in the closet and sexual activity takes place in the ‘dark’.
As a peer educator at the organisation OUT LGBT Well-being, I help LGBT people to accept who they are. South Africa is a multi-cultural and diverse country. The way people react to a person’s sexual orientation also depends on their cultural background. For instance, being African and homosexual is viewed as not embracing your ‘Africanism’. For some individuals it is problematic to accept and integrate religion and their sexual orientation. A lot of awareness is needed. But it is not always easy, as younger generations learn from their elders, and the judgemental attitudes are carried over. For older generations the subject is still taboo. Particularly in small communities it is difficult to come out.
Furthermore, stigma is attached to LGBT people and HIV/AIDS. Some regard AIDS as an LGBT illness. And LGBT people are viewed as very sexually active. What is more, most public health facilities are not sensitised to work with LGBT people, which makes it difficult to seek health care. People cannot always freely access information and obtain condoms. All in all, it is hard for them to come out to friends, colleagues, and most of all, to their relatives.
Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Straight, Transgender, Intersex, Human
I feel privileged to work for an organisation where I can share information on LGBT issues. My clients are 18 years and onwards, LGBT people and heterosexuals, whom I reach with many different awareness and education activities. Our methods include campaigns and youth support groups. We also have a Facebook page. Our organisation has a T-shirt with the words ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Straight, Transgender, Intersex, Human’ printed on it – this is a good way to start a conversation.
In the morning, I usually go to public places, such as shopping centres, to start conversations with people. In the evening, I visit clubs and other social spaces. Part of my job is visiting local health centres and churches, and working with parents. I engage people in discussions about human sexuality, healthy lifestyles, and breaking down stigma and stereotypes.
When I started working as a peer educator, I wanted to understand myself as a young gay man in a community where LGBT people are still taboo. I also wished to learn to interact safely with other gay men. In the future, I hope to work as a psychologist or social worker with LGBT people, and understand how they think and behave, in order to understand HIV prevalence in my country. This is my dream.