Traditional leaders and LGBTI community engage at KZN conference


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Traditional leaders, healers, academics and activists have come together at a conference to look at the acceptance and inclusion of the LGBTI community in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Gay and Lesbian Network (GLN) hosted the conference in Pietermaritzburg from 27 to 29 June, with the goal of addressing discrimination, victimisation, lack of realisation of rights, and systematic failure of service providers to provide services to the province’s LGBTI community.

The conference also looked at ways of addressing misconceptions that power holders have over and within the LGBTI community as well as myths that have contributed greatly to hate crimes against the LGBTI community.

In a report on the event, GLN found that “traditional leaders have an understanding of the LGBTI community and some have varied ideas as to why some individuals are born ‘different’.”

It explained that, “This has ranged from astrology and aligning of stars playing a part to homosexuality being a lifestyle [that] will fade with time. We also found that homosexuality seems to be more acceptable when ancestors play a role in the way an individual behaves through their calling.”

Thirty-six traditional leaders and healers mainly from the province’s rural and peri-urban areas, such as Nkandla and KwaNxumalo, attended the conference, as did the Chief of KwaNgcolosi and the Chief of KwaNxamalala. Pastors representing the Zion and Shembe churches and academics from Gauteng were also in attendance.

There is a need to approach sexuality and gender through an African perspective

Some of the topics that were discussed throughout the three-day conference included TB and HIV/Aids prevention in communities, increasing local participation and ownership in indigenous systems, the issue of land and LGBTI people, and discussing the viewpoint of homosexuality being unAfrican.

Research was presented by Lindiwe Khuzwayo (a PHD student at UNISA) in which she found that same-sex attractions have existed in precolonial times, but were kept hidden. The conference also included a gender and sexuality workshop and a screening session of the controversial film Inxeba to further explore homosexuality within the African context.

Through the conference, GLN said it had seen progress towards attaining its goals for the LGBTI community in the province. “We have created a space that allows the LGBTI youth to dialogue and converse with gatekeepers and power holders on issues that are affecting them as a marginalised community within their broader communities,” the organisation said.

GLN reported that the conference helped it realise that, “there is a need to indigenise our approach when implementing projects, moving away from the Western approach, into an Africanised approach. Respect for culture and tradition are the most important factors in the way we address discussions on homosexuality within our communities.”

The chiefs welcomed the engagement and agreed that there is a need to hold similar conferences in other areas of KZN in order to start the process of understanding and change. Traditional healers who attended also decided that they would like to establish an LGBTI forum within their traditional spaces.

“One of the greatest achievements was to combine the LGBTI, gatekeepers as well as traditional healers in one conference…” said GLN, adding that the conference allowed “LGBTI individuals to share their views about the gatekeepers and for the gatekeepers themselves to share their views about the LGBTI community.”

Despite its important work, GLN is experiencing severe funding difficulties and may have to close down within the next two months. It has appealed for financial support through an online fund-raising campaign here.

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