Thami Kotlolo, founder of the Feather Awards

The man behind the controversial Feather Awards has responded to criticism that the event is frivolous and irrelevant to the LGBTI community.

On Tuesday, we reported that Exit, South Africa’s longest running LGBTI newspaper, had declined its nomination by the awards. This followed an article last month by singer and actor Majola, accusing the event of misrepresenting “the complexity and seriousness of the LGBTI community.”

Questions were asked about how nominees were selected, why they were predominantly heterosexual and to what extent the event acknowledged the violence and discrimination faced by LGBTI people in the country.

Thami Kotlolo, founder of the Feather Awards, told Mambaonline that he had never been given an explanation by Exit as to why it had declined its nomination. He also said that it was unlikely that Majola had actually ever attended the event.

“He’s never been to the Feather Awards to see what we’ve done. Last year we addressed all kinds of issues, such as corrective rape, and we included a message of support from Desmond Tutu,” Kotlolo said.

He also stated that the Feathers have previously hosted community workshops that are not reported on, such as the one last year looking at cyber-safety.

Kotlolo claimed that much of the criticism of the awards has been “factually incorrect,” and insisted that LGBTI people had indeed been honoured in the past, including lesbian photographer Zanele Muholi and filmmaker, activist and co-founder of Johannesburg Pride, Bev Ditsie.

However, he said, “You don’t decide to just award gay people, because we would have run out of people to award.”

Kotlolo explained that when it comes to selecting the nominees, these are suggested by “focus groups” on Facebook and though friends and acquaintances in the LGBTI community. The winners are then decided on by a panel of judges consisting of journalists and editors in the entertainment industry, many of whom, he insisted, are LGBTI.

He argued that at its heart the Feather Awards is a light-hearted event that doesn’t intend to focus on activism. “Some of the things we do don’t resonate with all people and that’s okay,” he said.

He nevertheless acknowledged that perhaps it may be time to make the Feather Awards more socially conscious. “Going forward, there are people who make amazing contributions – maybe we need to review our content so that the platform works on putting our people out there. We are open to people’s thoughts. Bring your suggestions, let’s talk about it.”

Citing the lack of unity and in-fighting when it comes to Pride events in Gauteng as an example, Kotlolo suggested that LGBTI people are often their own worst enemies. “We need to resolve our differences amongst ourselves before we go out to the world. It seems we like are always attacking ourselves and each other,” he said.

The Feather Awards are described as a cheeky and irreverent celebration of high-profile individuals who, the organisers say, have inspired, scandalised and amused South Africa’s LGBTI community over the past year. The 2014 event takes place on Wednesday in Johannesburg. To view the finalists, click here.

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