Writer: Cristle Mokwape & Dylan Louw
A closet: a cabinet reserved for possessions often forgotten or that you want “out of sight”. Imagine this closet in a busy area at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Imagine this closet as a representation, a metaphor perhaps, of the need to hide your sexuality, to keep it “out of sight”… Can you see this closet as the keeper of all your fears?
Alex*, 16, faces a series of challenges every day – most of them to with things that heterosexuals seem to be either ignorant or unaware of. When he speaks, it’s evident in the shaky sound of his voice that he feels people don’t take his feelings into account when spitting snide comments his way.
”Imagine you had to live your life in fear of violence and social banishment because people didn’t approve of who you choose to date, or choose to be. We’re all the same, physically, mentally and spiritually.”
Before Alex came out about being gay, all his friends behaved normally around him. His colleagues, classmates and family members all showed him what he thought was unconditional love. ”Once I announced that I’m gay, I started losing friends. Just like that, I was declared an outsider.”
It’s only natural that this fear of discrimination is what keeps gays and lesbians closeted for years. Homophobia – or fear and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – is just as bad as racism, as well as being a violation against human rights, which, we’d like to add, is illegal.
In a broadcast that was recently You-tubed around the world American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said on Human Right’s Day: “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights”.
So we ask: why in a country where we are supposed to be accepting of everyone’s culture, history, ethnicity, rituals and personal preferences, do we still have our youth fearfully denying who they are for fear of social rejection and the threat of violence?
Does a black person deny his skin colour out of fear? No. Does a religious person hide his beliefs? No! So why do we as a nation accept everything from polygamy to eating mopane worms but fail to accept a person’s sexual orientation? Fear is probably the reason most youth remain closeted in our nation.
Take the 2010 incident around the UCT’s “Pink Closet Project”. The project was aimed at helping people struggling with self-acceptance and social acceptance. The idea was this: place a gigantic pink closet in one of the busiest areas of UCT’s campus, showing support for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual rights, and invite students to enter and write on the walls about their experiences of coming out.
The closet was burned down by a bunch of homophobes a mere 12 hours later. It’s hard to imagine that people were willing to go to such lengths simply to show their rejection of a group of people whose only difference from them is the people they love?
Even peoples’ families have mixed reactions to their coming out. “When I came out to my parents, my father offered to buy me a motorbike so that I can ride the anger out,” said Alex. “I think he was hoping that I’d feel and look more muscular on it. Two of my friends’ fathers completely wrote them off, only to reconnect with them about 3-5 years later.”
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people.