Several LGBTI activists and community leaders were recognised for their work at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg last night.

The event, the first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Activism Awards Dinner, was held at the Braamfontein recreation centre. The awards were supported by prominent community organisations including OUT, Behind the Mask, GALA and FEW.

The Rising Star award was given to John Meletse, a volunteer at the Gay and Lesbian Archives, for improving the visibility of deaf lesbians and gays within the community. Paddy Nhlapo was awarded the Human Rights prize for his involvement in the HIV/AIDS cause. Well known photographer Zanele Muholi won the Arts and Culture award to thunderous applause. Her work, which has been exhibited at numerous galleries, explores African lesbian sexuality. The Community Development category was awarded to Reverend Paul Mokgethi, an openly HIV positive gay reverend of the Hope and Unity Metropolitan Community Church.

The final, and perhaps most prestigious, category was the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was given to Bev Ditsie. Ditsie is a respected filmmaker, writer and long-time activist and was given a standing ovation by the audience. Born in Soweto, she became involved with the Lesbian and Gay movement at the founding of GLOW in 1989. She was also one of the organisers of the first Lesbian and Gay Pride March in Johannesburg.

“This is my community. This is where I feel like I am home”, an emotional Ditsie said in her acceptance speech.

The organisers hope to make the awards an annual event.

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