by Langa Mohlala
(Note: Although the words “queer” and “gay” have their distinct definitions, I will be using them as umbrella terms throughout the article. I do not intend to disrespect LGBT+ individuals or disregard the variety of sexualities and gender identities that are in the LGBT+ community.)
“It's just a phase.”
“You're going to hell!”
“It's a disease!”
These are only some of the tame insults that LGBT+ individuals regularly receive. It is already awful enough for adults to receive such criticism, so one can imagine how terrible it is for teenagers and young adults to hear any and all forms of bigotry.
Growing up as a queer person is difficult, and it is even worse when you are born into or part of a family and/or community that is not supportive towards or believes in gay rights.
Personally speaking, I already knew that I was not straight when I was just six years old, but I never told anyone about it because I knew that I would have been heavily criticized. I mean, what would my religious, African parents have said if they knew that their daughter kissed a girl at an age where children believed in cooties?
As I grew older I continued to lie to myself, but by the time I was seventeen and met the girl who I thought was the love of my life, I knew that I could no longer deny what I had already known.
As of 2018, I identify as pansexual and it took a lot to get to a point in my life where I can say it without cringing or being afraid of being persecuted. I am fortunate enough to have not received hate, but I am aware that many other queer individuals – old and young – have to deal with homophobia and bigotry on a regular basis.
I wish that the six-year-old me had someone to help her understand and accept how she felt. Learning by experience did help to strengthen my character in the long run, but a lot of pain and confusion could have been avoided.
I am aware that there are people who have been through the unspeakable, whether it involves physical and/or emotional abuse or even conversion therapy – which is a practice that aims to change someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Although major strides have been made to promote equality, acceptance and peace, there is still a lot that can and should be done to support members of the LGBT+ community.
1. Increase the popularity of LGBT+ Organisations
There are organisations, such as the Coalition of African Lesbians, PFLAG, Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA) and OUT Well-being, that have been around for a long time but are barely spoken about or recognised.
It is all good and well to share images and memes promoting the message of pride and support for the LGBT+ community, but the lack of awareness surrounding these organisations makes it difficult for LGBT+ individuals to find the comfort that they seek.
Knowing that there are actually avenues that provide support, knowledge and comfort can ease someone who is struggling with their sexuality or feels lonely and misunderstood.
2. LGBT+ Acceptance and Tolerance in the Media
Nowadays, we expect people to be more accepting and open-minded about what is shared with the public, but it seems that there is still a long way to go before the LGBT+ community is truly accepted in society.
This statement rings true when we observe the fact that Disney+ passed on the release of Love, Victor, because of its seemingly inappropriate content. Although it is not ideal for young children to be watching a show that deals with themes of sexual exploration and alcohol use, it would’ve been beneficial towards teenagers.
Even though the series will still be streamed elsewhere, the fact that Disney – a well-known company – passed it on does place negativity into the minds of those who were looking forward to the series. It also puts the idea of sexuality being too inappropriate for children into the minds of adults and further delays the elimination of this stigma in adults.
3. How this affects the LGBT+ Youth
The negative perception of the LGBT+ community can discourage younger people from coming out or further discovering their sexuality, as they may feel that they are doing something wrong by trying to discover and accept who they are.
Things like religion, culture and familial relations make it even more difficult for a person from a sheltered and strict background to explore who they are, and this could bring about depression and suicidal thoughts along with a fear of being a blight or a monster.
Even though older generations have their morals, beliefs and views on what the world should be like, they need to remember that times are changing. Sexuality is not a choice or a trend. It is a matter that should be respected and taken as seriously as mental health, which is controversial in its own right. Young people deserve to grow up in a world that is more open-minded about these things. Judging by what is currently happening in the world, we are a long way from reaching a place where anyone and everyone will be free to be themselves.