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14 April 2011

How healthy is Cape gay community?

How healthy is Cape Town's gay community?

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Added pressures

There’s substantial dialogue around physical and sexual health within the LGBT sector – safer sex campaigns, awareness-raising around STI’s and promoting access to queer-friendly health services. We’re also aware of our own mental health issues. Like everyone, else gay people are at risk of anxiety, depression and loneliness, but we also have to contend with issues related to coming out and establishing our unique sexual identities against a backdrop of heterosexism.

Social health

An area we seldom address is our social health. How healthy are we as a collective on a socio-political level? How effectively are we able to access our rights? To what extent are we integrated into Straightville, while also retaining a functional sense of identity?

There’s no doubt that, in terms of offering specialised support and health services for the gay community, Cape Town is the best serviced city in Africa. This is largely due to the diverse range of services provided by Triangle Project and other organisations, and our vibrant gay tourism industry.

Cape Town Pride is a dynamic, inclusive and multi-faceted annual festival, MCQP has become an international brand and the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival has become an institution. Spatially we have a sense of an evolving ‘gay village’ which for some serves as the symbolic epicentre of our being gay and, superficially, vast areas of Cape Town appear to be relatively gay friendly.

All is not well

But, in terms of our collective social health, all is not well.

Within our sector we‘re plagued by all the usual ‘isms’ including racism, ageism and elitism. Many of us are prejudiced towards other LGBT people; people living with HIV, transgender people, older people and anyone who doesn’t conform to our emphasis on appearance can often attest to our disparaging attitudes.

Recreational drug abuse poses a huge problem and barebacking is rife. Many of us can contact a drug dealer with ease but hardly any of us have even heard or PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), preventive medication that should be initiated within 72 hours after exposure to the HI virus. Our collective response to HIV remains “We are negative unless tested positive” and then we simply don’t undergo regular testing.

Homoprejudice is alive and well. It manifested very distinctly at the local public hearing on the proposed Civil Union Bill, conducted at the Woodstock hall. Besides the disconcerting fact that so few LGBT people bothered to attend the event, it was marked by blatant hate-speech often wrapped in a veneer of religious dogma. During the last mayoral election in Cape Town the ACDP’s Pauline Cupido’s campaign offered to make Cape Town less gay-friendly and more God-friendly. Many of us have interfaced with homoprejudice from civil servants, members of the S.A.P.S. and public clinics.

Gay youth are teased and bullied at schools, sometimes to the point of leaving school prematurely. In spite of our being able to marry our partner of choice we dare not display affection in public. Parents continue to physically abuse their children who come out as being gay or lesbian. Gay bashing is a reality.

Perhaps the ugliest façade of homoprejudice is the fact that black lesbians living in our township areas are at an increased risk of so-called curative (or corrective) rape – based on the assumption that rape can ‘correct’ lesbianism. During February 2006 a young lesbian was stoned and beaten to death by a mob, simply because she was lesbian. Her friend, who survived the attack, had to be hidden in a safe place. This horrific event occurred a few kilometres away from our Cape Town’s ‘gay village’ where most of us remain blissfully unaware that all is not well in Queerville.

Dangerous apathy

Few of us took an active interest in the same-sex marriage campaign as it unfolded yet we complain when we’re not able to get married when we want to. We expect others – such as Triangle Project and a handful of activists – to take up our issues and to speak on our behalf. In spite of many of us being HIV positive we’re silent in demanding access to treatment for everyone and comfortably defer to organisations such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

Unless we’re directly and personally exposed to homoprejudice we prefer to deny it. Very few of us attend public meetings or protest actions; we seldom lay complaints with the Press Ombudsman or the Human Rights Commission. We often bemoan homoprejudice to our friends but hardly any of us write letters to the press or call in to radio stations in response to topical socio-political issues.

Our complacency must end; every one of us is responsible for our collective wellbeing. I’m hopeful that the advent of The Pink Tongue, Cape Town’s own gay newspaper, will increase our awareness and discussion of our social ills, in addition to addressing LGBT physical, sexual and mental health issues.

This article, by Glenn de Swardt (the Triangle Project), was first published in The Pink Tongue, August 2007
-(updated April 2011)

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