Jacqui Benson-Mabombo, Imam Muhsin Hendricks, Elise Bishop and Laurie Gaum at the Healing the Unicorn introductory talk in Cape Town (Photo: Pieter Mienie)
South Africa boasts a constitution that allows legal rights to its queer citizens: Gay people can get married and have children, transgender folk can transition, and gender-based violence is condemned.
Nevertheless, the LGBTQ+ community is still plagued by numerous challenges including mental and emotional health difficulties; there is intimate partner violence, addiction, and even suicide.
In order to address these issues, project Healing the Unicorn has come into being. This is the brainchild of myself, counselling therapist Pieter Mienie, with support from activist Laurie Gaum.
An introductory talk was held in Erin Hall, Rondebosch, on the 12th of March and featured a panel discussion with Imam Muhsin Hendricks (recently profiled in the documentary The Radical), Elise Bishop (writer of the memoir Twee Lewens) and Jacqui Benson-Mabombo (from the queer Jewish organisation Shemah Koleinu).
Several topics were raised in the discussion, such as how to reconcile sexual orientation and gender identity with spirituality and religion. Imam Hendricks, who is a famously open gay imam and argues for a compassionate Islam, contributed richly to this.
Ms Bishop was a trailblazer in the 1970s when she transitioned and recently wrote a book about it. She opened up about how important it is to have support when becoming oneself and that it is really a hero (or heroine)’s journey.
Many could relate to the stories of coming out to family members as told by Jacqui, and members of the audience also shared their experiences of being queer in all its different aspects.
The discussion highlighted the need for a project like Healing the Unicorn which aims to offer support, consciousness-raising and healing to the LGBTQ+ community.
This will be done via facilitated, in-person support groups, where people can tell their stories and be mirrored, contained and heard by others.
It will also include workshops, in which some of the challenges to mental and emotional health in the queer community can be unpacked and tools provided to heal oneself and one another. Seminars and publications aimed at raising consciousness around topics such as internalised queerphobia are planned, too.
If you are interested in any of this, join the Healing the Unicorn Facebook group or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.