OUT, the Gauteng-based health and well-being NGO focusing on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year – a remarkable achievement.
Formed in 1994 under the name the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of Pretoria (GLOP) as a loose group of volunteers who wanted to make a difference, OUT has since become a highly respected professional mental and physical health services provider and a model for many other LGBT community groups in South Africa.
It now overseen by a board, is registered with the Department of Social Development and has 12 permanent staff members at its Prism Lifestyle Centre and Clinic in Hatfield, Pretoria, which offers its clients – that’s you and me – numerous vital services. And this year, OUT is committed to letting as many LGBT people as possible in Gauteng and beyond know what it can do for them.
OUT’s services include HIV counselling and testing, STI testing, CD4 and Viral load monitoring and testing, general physical examinations, Pap Smears for lesbian women, the provision of Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for risky sexual encounters, Wellness Adherence, treatment literacy, referral, and follow-up.
OUT also makes its way directly into the community by offering a number of its services, such as free HIV testing and safe-sex packs for men and women, at events and nightclubs.
For OUT’s Director, Dawie Nel, the organisation’s services are still vitally necessary despite the apparent legal protections of our constitution. He points out that research from 2003 found that 6% of LGBTI people in Gauteng have actually been refused health care services because of their sexuality, primarily in the public health care system.
“If you have money you have more choice,” he admits, but he notes that the research also found that 12 percent of the people surveyed said that they delayed seeking care because they anticipated some kind of embarrassment or discrimination from mainstream health providers.
“A nurse will for example assume that a man is sleeping with a woman and a woman is sleeping with a man. There’s also very little medical expertise for dealing with issues specific to gay and lesbian people – such as anal conditions related to anal sex and use of condoms and lubrication,” he says.
Founding members in 1994.
But it’s not only the physical aspect of LGBT well-being and health that is targeted. The organisation is well aware that people’s social interactions, state of mind and low self-esteem (a reality for many in a community that is constantly told by society that it is abnormal or inferior) affects their behaviour and choices which will in turn influence their physical health.
That’s why OUT also offers telephonic counselling (Helpline: 0860 OUT OUT/ 0860 688 688) for LGBT people which is available daily between 9am and 10pm, as well as various monthly support and activity groups. Check the OUT Facebook page regularly for updates on these groups.
“We need to explore the mental health of men who have sex with men and gay and lesbian people which can directly affect their sexual behaviour and risk levels – and we need to address that. We also have a very undeveloped sense of LGBTI community in South Africa and that’s something we want to help build,” explains Nel.
“We’ve discovered that there is sense of alienation and not getting fulfilment from life for many people in our community and the Prism Lifestyle Centre for us is an attempt to create a space where they can have more fulfilling and healthier social connections and in so doing also address their sexual risk and sexual health,” he says.
OUT’S online resources, www.men2men.co.za and www.womyn2womyn.co.za, further provide easy access to information on sex, sexuality, sexual health and general well-being. The organisation also offers training on the needs and issues facing LGBT individuals to people, counsellors and organisations in the health and well-being arena to help them be better prepared to serve our community.
OUT is funded primarily by international philanthropic funds and donors, with little local financial support, something which Nel attributes to that old bugbear – a weak sense of community.
“We can’t be self-sufficient unless we have a much more active culture of the community donating and supporting our efforts. That’s not the case – local companies and individuals do not support us financially. It’s very common in the States for example, but not here,” he says.
OUT’s Prism Lifestyle Centre in Hatfield, Pretoria.
Despite this, OUT has set up a donation line which allows individuals to easily donate to the cause. Simply SMS the word “donate” to 42655 (R30/sms) and your donation will make a contribution towards OUT’s work.
Nel says that highlights over the past 15 years include: OUT’s groundbreaking research in 2003 assessing the needs of LGBT people – the first such research ever undertaken in South Africa; its key submissions towards the historic legalisation of same-sex marriage; the opening of its Clinic and Prism Lifestyle Centre in Hatfield, Pretoria; and the opening of a branch in North West Province.
Nel is enthusiastic about the future of OUT, citing the organisation’s ambitious plans to expand its services into Mpumalanga and Johannesburg this year, and ultimately nationally, and to use its expertise to train other organisations and groups in the country and the continent.
“Our efforts do make a difference in people’s lives – even if we just succeed in communicating the message that a healthy community is important. That message is getting out there more and more and we are giving people access to manage their sexual health – and that’s very satisfying,” he says.
For more information about OUT visit www.out.org.za. It’s your organisation – make use of it!
15th ANNIVERSARY EVENTS
To mark the successes of the organisation, and to raise funds towards future work, OUT will be hosting three events in September.
These include a series of Expert Discussions on 16 and 17 September on building and growing community organisations, as well as a black tie Gala Dinner on 17 September, with guest of honour South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. For more information on these two events contact Lizette Stassen at email@example.com or on 072 444 9088.
In addition, OUT will be putting on an all-day Benefit Music Concert on 18 September at Harlequins Rugby Club in Pretoria featuring top South African acts including Prime Circle, HHP, Reburn, Voodoo Child, Wonderboom, Jacques Terreblanche, Evolver and Kinky Robot. Tickets can be booked through Co