The late Gerald Kraak

The general public may not have known of the late Gerald Kraak, but he had an extraordinary impact on South Africa’s LGBTI community – including the country’s landmark adoption of marriage equality.

Kraak, 57, passed away in Johannesburg on Sunday after a battle with cancer, shocking LGBTI organisations and individuals who benefited from his considerable support over the years.

Kraak, who first worked in the anti-apartheid movement and left the country to avoid conscription into the military, later became the head of the South African office of Atlantic Philanthropies. In that role he was responsible for bringing a vast amount of international funding to the LGBTI rights movement in the 1990s; a time when it was largely ignored by funders.

Kraak supported many NGOs, community groups, authors and events such as the Out in Africa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. He made sure that not only urban organisations benefited from grants, but so did black LGBTI community groups and activists from townships and rural areas.

Kraak’s channelling of funding to the same-sex marriage cause allowed LGBTI organisations to successfully lobby the ANC and the courts to ensure that gay and lesbian marriage became a reality in Africa for the first time in 2006.

Kraak is also credited with bringing the struggle of transgender and intersex people into the LGBTI movement and with positioning LGBT rights within the broader human rights context.

When Atlantic Philanthropies recently phased out its funding programme, Kraak helped to found The Other Foundation, which aims to ensure that the LGBTI rights movement continues to be supported.

He was also a major talent in his own right: Kraak wrote two books, including the acclaimed novel Ice in the Lungs, which was a joint winner of the 2005 European Literary Award.

Kraak further directed the ground-breaking 2003 documentary, Property of the State, which explored the experiences of gay men in the apartheid military.

Long-time friend Dugan Fraser told Mambaonline that Kraak lived alone in Killarney with his cats, surrounded by a close circle of friends.

“He was an incurable romantic who had no time for the likes of Grindr or Gaydar. He was a lover of beauty and had a lot of time for art, theatre and music. He will be sorely missed,” said an emotional Fraser.

LGBTI activist and friend Melanie Judge called Kraak “a rare breed.”

“In his unwavering personal and professional commitment to equality and justice he was always led by his heart,” she said. “That made him the gentlest soul to the last. His legacy will live on in the myriad of social organisations and movements he fought alongside, and in the many hues of queer life that he supported and celebrated.”

Sharon Jackson, Deputy Director of Out in Africa, said that Kraak provided funding for the festival to do its outreach work, including running satellite film festivals around the country and providing transport and tickets to over 3,000 people per year.

“We are devastated by his loss – he was more than just a supporter of the festival – he was a dear friend and will be missed,” added Jackson.

Numerous LGBTI organisations paid tribute to Kraak in a joint statement on Monday, describing him as “an extraordinary man.”

They said: “There are very few LGBTI organisations that have not benefited from Gerald’s dream of a better world. It is because of his courage to support an overlooked sector that our movement exists in the form that it does. We thank you, Gerald, for all that you have done to make this world a better place.”

A memorial service for Kraak will be held on the 1st of November.

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