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March 2021 1st edition

Being LGBTI+ is not a choice

Written by Allison Cooper

Some South Africans are still being brutally attacked, insulted and rejected because of who they are, how they express themselves and who they love, says Out Well-being.

One example is a teenage girl who identifies as lesbian. She was struggling to accept herself, being victimised at school by teachers and peers and made several attempts to end her life.

Thankfully, with support from OUT Well-being – a non-profit organisation dedicated to building healthy and empowered lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI+) communities in South Africa and internationally – she has turned her life around.

“The girl has a conservative family and feared she would be rejected. She approached her school’s social worker, who contacted us for assistance. After several counselling sessions, her confidence, self-worth and belief in herself started to show.

“She came out to her parents and started a safe space for queer learners. Her coming out  empowered her sibling to do the same, which demonstrates that all one needs is support from parents, teachers and peers,” says Out Well-Being’s Paralegal Officer Moude Maodi-Swartz.

Bullying can be classified as harassment, which is a criminal offence in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act (1997). “Bullying based on sexual orientation constitutes unfair discrimination and hate crimes, which is prohibited by Section 9 of the Constitution,” says Maodi-Swartz.

 “The most effective and important way that parents of LGBTI+ children can assist is by loving their children unconditionally, accepting them and giving them the utmost support,” says Maodi-Swartz.

Parents should walk the journey with their child, taking the time to understand what they are going through and reaching out to LGBTI+ organisations.

“When parents are proud of their child it empowers them to live their life positively and to conquer it, even in the most disenabling circumstances.”

Advice for Teens

“The most important thing to remember is there is nothing wrong with who you are. The wrong lies in the harmful views society has about the queer community,” says Maodi-Swartz.

To teens who are still confused about their sexual orientation, Maodi-Swartz says:

  • Take time to understand and accept yourself.
  • Learn about sexual and gender diversity.
  • Do not give up on life if you are rejected after coming out. Sometimes parents need time to process information.
  • Seek mental health support if you are struggling.
  • You don’t have to come out. Being queer is not a choice. The only choice you have is whether you want to live your life openly or not.

“The youth as future leaders should avoid repeating the injustices perpetrated against a community that cannot change who they are,” says Maodi-Swartz.

All of OUT Wellbeing’s services are free of charge. Visit www.out.org.za for more information.