WeTheBrave: Homophobia can have deadly consequences

Many South Africans marked February as the month of love, treating significant others to gifts, dates and romantic getaways.

But not everyone was able to openly celebrate their relationships – particularly those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) community, who continue to encounter prejudice and persecution due to their sexual orientation.

Stories of restaurants, guesthouses and wedding venues refusing to serve same-sex couples still emerge, despite this being unconstitutional and illegal in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

The most recent incident took place in January at a Johannesburg restaurant were two journalists, posing as a gay couple, were barred from the establishment’s date night. A few months earlier, a lesbian woman and her partner too were turned away.

On both occasions an SMS stating “No T-shirts or Tekkies” and “No Same-Sex Couples” was sent to the potential patrons on receipt of their reservation. Reasons given by the owner for the eatery’s discriminatory policy include other customers feeling uncomfortable about having same-sex couples at the event, her faith and her Right of Admission.

Other instances of discrimination include a gay couple being denied accommodation at a Western Cape guesthouse on the grounds that it would be contrary to the owners’ religious beliefs and another proprietor in Sodwana Bay giving similar justifications for black people, gays and lesbians being unwelcome at his establishment.

In addition, an engaged lesbian couple was informed after signing the contract that their desired wedding venue simply would not host same-sex weddings.

“Unfortunately, homophobia is not exclusive to the hospitality industry, with healthcare being one of the many sectors into which it seeps. The difference is that discrimination in this setting can have deadly consequences,” said Nina Morris Lee, Head of Marketing at Anova Health Institute which is currently spearheading the WeTheBrave.co.za sexual health campaign.

She explained: “Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are the most vulnerable demographic for HIV acquisition and transmission. However, prejudice prevents MSM from accessing health services including HIV testing and counselling, antiretroviral treatment and the attainment of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce HIV infection in HIV-negative, at-risk individuals. As a result, the likelihood of HIV acquisition and transmission are elevated.”

To remedy this, Morris Lee said, the WeTheBrave.co.za campaign, funded by the Elton John Aids Foundation, addresses both prevention and treatment issues in an affirming, non-judgmental and sex-positive way that is both entertaining and enlightening. The campaign also links to Anova’s Health4Men clinical services in the public sector and independent clinicians in the private sector.

“We urge MSM to be brave enough to show their partners real love, not only during February, but all year round, by looking after their sexual health through using protection, undergoing regular HIV testing to know their status, taking antiretroviral treatment and using PrEP if needed,” concluded Morris Lee.

For more information on the campaign visit www.wethebrave.co.za or follow it on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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