In Pretoria, there is more acceptance of LGBT than in the South African countryside, because of better access to information in the city. Yet, there is still a long way to go, even though the constitution protects the human rights of all citizens, including LGBT. There are, for instance, still incidents of gays being killed, some even in the comfort of their own homes. As a peer educator for OUT in Pretoria, I am determined to make a difference. I teach people about tolerance, and I give information on a variety of topics, including HIV and AIDS, drug use, and risk reduction.
All peer educators working for OUT – there are about ten of us – come together every second week. Then, we update each other about our work and jointly plan new activities. We also have personal development sessions with a mentor. We give tips to each other about how to best reach our target groups. We all have our own methods for this. Some post adverts on websites, others reach people through mutual friends or social media. Recently, I organised a party at my house for young gays who are ‘out’. We ate chips and pizza, and reflected on acceptance of homosexuality in our society. We spoke for hours! But there are still so many in the closet. And those who are, run more health risks, such as contracting diseases.
As peers, we have the advantage of understanding the slang of LGBT
The LGBT community in and around Pretoria speaks in a certain slang (code language), also online. As peers, we have the advantage of understanding this language. This helps us to contact those who are still in the closet. Our clients face stigma and taboos when they come out, which also makes it difficult for them to seek health care. And those who are religious find it difficult to integrate their sexual orientation and religion. Another challenge is changing to a safer sexual lifestyle and being consistent in practising this. We pass on information in an informal manner, through man-to-man and group discussions. Speaking about anal sex, for instance, is a touchy subject for some people. One of our mentors once said about peer educators: ‘To be able to do the job, they must be emotionally okay beings, equipped to deliver lifesaving messages, in sometimes very challenging circumstances.’
I remember a client who was a very straight-acting sport player. He felt that he might be a she and therefore transgender. I educated her regarding the transition process and supported her in finding places where she could get answers to her questions. I achieved something. She realised that she could be accepted and should not give up. She now attends regular counselling at the OUT clinic and has made great progression in her transition, resulting in a more sustained sexual and mental well-being It is important to reach self-acceptance before telling your family and friends. Psychological support can make the process easier. I am proud that I am able to work on behaviour change. Thanks to the information and training I received, I have grown as a person and I am able to work with other people.