Botha Swarts & Sean Pettit
Standard Bank has received praise but also condemnation for including a gay couple in a video commemorating Freedom Day in South Africa.
Posted on the company’s Facebook page on Thursday, the two-minute video consists of interviews with various South Africans who talk about what freedom means to them.
Featured in the clip are couple Botha Swarts, the owner of a communications agency, and his partner of two years, Sean Pettit, who runs a nutritional supplement company.
“The ultimate freedom comes from when you start living your true authentic self… you’re actually able to embrace that freedom,” says Pettit in the video. It ends with the couple saying together: “This is our freedom. This is our right.”
Swarts and Pettit were also highlighted in an additional picture post on the page, titled “Freedom to love”. It includes a quote from Pettit about coming out to his family:
“When I came out, my mom told the rest of my family. Months later, my aunt told us all that her son was gay. She hadn’t felt comfortable telling the rest of the family when she had found out but my mom had given her the courage to. By expressing my freedom to love, I managed to help others live their own freedoms.”
It was this post, which makes it more obvious than the video that the men are a gay couple, that saw the most comments from the public.
“This is really amazing!” said Dono White. “May their human rights and right to dignity, equality and love continue from this Freedom Day on onwards!”
Wesleigh Thomas Hall wrote: “Respect. I don’t bank with Standard, but mad respect for showing that love prevails no matter your race, colour, Creed, sexuality and lifestyle.”
There were, however, also those who were offended. While some homophobic comments have been removed, a few still remained at the time of publishing this article. Tino Popsy Hove commented: “Gay is gay, and wrong, I could care less about the fags…” Wililani Hobane weighed in: “Dogs don’t do such so should humans ! Banks n sexualization damn.”
Pettit told Mambaonline that he was upset by some of the initial reactions. “There were a lot of homophobes that came out of the woodwork. They likened us to dogs, satanists, and some people actually said ‘fuck Standard Bank for supporting the fags’. This hit me a bit hard although I expected some sort of kick back. As gay people I suppose it becomes something that you get used to waiting for,” he said.
“But the more traction that the campaign gained, the more people came to our defence, love out-poured. It was really remarkable. It gave me so much hope for the younger generation that, hopefully, won’t have to fight as hard as we did for acceptance.”
Pettit also commended Standard Bank for supporting the campaign, despite the controversy. “They could have hidden and removed the post, but they didn’t. They stood behind it.”
When asked why he and Swarts agreed to take part in the video, he replied: “I think there is so much negativity on social media at the moment, that if we get the opportunity to celebrate and share positivity, then we should take it.”
He added: “I also think that, as a gay man, we need to speak out, even in the face of some bile and vitriol that could be spewed. We have kept quiet for far too long and, as a community, I think that it is time for us to be seen, to be heard and to be respected.”