LGBTQ & HIV campaigner Glenn de Swardt remembered

Glenn de Swardt

Tributes have flowed in for well-known South African activist, academic and clinician Glenn de Swardt, who sadly passed away this week.

De Swardt will be remembered for his pioneering work to improve the health and rights of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities.

Dr Kevin Rebe, from the Anova Health Institute / Health4Men, wrote the following tribute to a man who made a difference in so many people’s lives.

Go well, Glenn.

Glenn De Swart died peacefully at home on Tuesday the 13th of March and is survived by his husband Gavin, family, friends, beloved cats and his prized vegetable garden. Glenn was a truly unique and inspiring person who has shaped our lives in a multitude of different ways.

In his book, Queer Visibilities, Dr Andrew Tucker, a close friend and colleague of Glenn’s expertly framed the impact Glenn had in our world; “I’d like to acknowledge and thank Glenn for showing me not only the breadth and depth of the city of Cape Town but also how to cope with its extremes. Glenn has worked tirelessly to achieve a better world for all queer individuals. It is perhaps an indicator of both his humility and effort that today so many queer men and women do not even know how much he has helped them”.

Glenn was born in Johannesburg on the 11th of December 1958. He was a scholar at Pretoria Boy’s High School and then went on to earn his degree as a Psychiatric Social Worker at the University of Pretoria. Glenn completed his military service for the South African Defence Force in the role of a pianist, a role that to those who knew him, seems perfectly apt, bringing much life and levity to an otherwise foreboding space.

Following his formal education, Glenn went on to experience the wider world, he lived in a number of different countries including Canada and Italy. He met his husband Gavin in Cape Town and they were married in 2007. About 5 years ago, Glenn and Gavin emigrated from Cape Town to Johannesburg to allow Glenn to further his work with the Anova Health Institute.

It is important at this sad time that we remember Glenn’s personality, qualities, individuality and the contributions he made. He often used to tell me that he lived in a completely queer world and that was where he made his difference, but I think that is an undersell, Glenn impacted on many people, both gay and straight in innumerable ways. He had a particular way of connecting with people that made them feel heard, understood, valued and supported.

Glenn was known for his passion, dedication, honesty, intelligence and his total lack of fear for calling out injustice and unfairness wherever he encountered it; he genuinely wanted to relieve the pain and suffering experienced by marginalised people and through his work, both at an individual clinical level, and at a larger public health level, he achieved this.

Professionally, Glenn is best remembered for his work in conceptualising and operationalising the Health4Men Initiative and this program remains as one of his enduring legacies. In 2008 Glenn and I were invited to meet with Prof James McIntyre and Dr Helen Struthers to discuss the creation of a health platform focused on men who have sex with men, the first of its type on the African continent. I am unable to convey Glenn’s excitement about what this opportunity meant to him, but I clearly remembered him expressing that this was a dream come true that would allow him to contribute to LGBTI health in a way he had not thought possible.

Glenn became the Program Manager for Health4Men and helped to make the program a leading example of key population care in the developing world. Elements of this program have since helped dictate the standard of care for holistic mental and physical health delivery to MSM, and the program is internationally recognised for its innovation and success.

During his leadership of the Health4Men Initiative, Glenn achieved notable gains in MSM healthcare. He collated and edited one of the African continent’s first health manuals on gay men’s health entitled Top to Bottom, a double entendre that he always found rather amusing. This manual has now been used in the training of more than 250 health facilities. He conceptualised the first Africa region online health information service for East African MSM, known as Afya4Men. He developed the first harm reduction services for MSM who use drugs and was passionate in defending the most vulnerable in society.

Glenn certainly made his mark on the academic fraternity. He has published over 21 peer reviewed medical articles, numerous book chapters and countless pieces of gray literature, all of which contribute substantially to our knowledge in the field. His creativity came to the fore in developing health promotion and educational materials that resonated with his target audience and often resulted in real changes in health behaviours and access to caring and skilled health interventions. His understanding of gay men and the lives they live, when complexed with his creativity and passion, helped drive the Health4men Initiative to great success.

In addition to his programmatic work, Glenn was an outstanding clinician. He was loved by his patients as he had the uncanny ability to really hear people’s concerns and to practically advise them on ways of moving forward. Many of us benefited from his counsel and his care.

Glenn has many other notable achievements outside of his work with Anova, too many to include here. He worked tirelessly at the Triangle Project for many years, improving the lives of gay and other MSM directly as well as positively influencing the communities and societies in which they live.

Glenn was a founding member and the director of the Pride Shelter Trust, a home for LGBTI people in acute distress and he derived great satisfaction from its existence. He was active in organising Pride Events and contributing to major LGBTI annual events such as the Mother City Queer Project.

There are many other examples of Glenn’s tireless work with patients, civil society groups, educators, governments, international agencies, donors and others. In each of these spheres, there are no doubt people who have been touched by Glenn and who will remember him always for the unique individual he was and for the contributions he made.

Mambaonline joins the Anova Health Institute and others in the LGBTQ, human rights and HIV sectors in honouring and thanking De Swardt for his many contributions to our community. Our deepest condolences to his husband, Gavin, and family and friends.

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