By Brian Tebogo Mashego, third year BA student
Last week Thursday I was chilling with a group of friends at the Matrix building at Wits University, and hell broke loose when one of my friends made a reckless statement about a fellow gay student.
Within a wink of an eye we then interrogated his thinking around the issue of homosexuality, and as we were having this conversation I realised that although our South African Constitution theoretically ensure equality for all, social acceptance of homosexuality and homosexuals is generally lacking especially by those of us who grew up in traditional and religious families.
The discussion reminded me of a heart breaking event that happened to a fellow student, Thabiso; who was a colleague of mine when I was studying at the Vaal University of Technology.
Thabiso was contesting the student elections when his opponents found out that he was gay. The entire election campaign then became focused around his sexuality, throwing his campaign into chaos. By the time voting began students didn’t want anything to do with him. My heart was broken because students didn’t judge him on the basis of his competent leadership skills, but on his sexuality.
That event robbed us of a having a potentially talented student leader. As I began the discussion of the unfair treatment of Thabiso at my old campus I was met with criticism, losing some of my friends along the way.
Our discussion at the matrix continued to raise questions about the prejudices that prevail today, especially amongst the student community.
Chunks of the student population on our campuses still embrace hostile attitudes and unfair treatment towards gay students.
Of greater concern than the utterance of my friends’ homophobic remarks, is the fact that – like Thabiso – many talented students who are capable of leading the student community are denied that opportunity based on their sexuality. Our broader society has not only influenced this negative thinking, but have also lead us as students to belittle and disqualify them based on their sexual orientation. We are told that it is “immoral” and “unafrican” to be gay or lesbian. Our selective morality is revealing.
I think we are facing a challenge of creating a supportive society that is inclusive and respectful of gays and lesbians.
Homosexuality is a topic around which our culture still gets awfully skittish. This became visible to me when I was talking to a few homosexual students. Most of them feel that greater hostility is shown to them by ‘traditional’ and religious people.
Thabiso’s case teaches us that there is a great need for our student communities to begin embracing sexual diveristy on our campuses. This must start with our student leadership.
They must breakthrough barriers and speak out against this unjust treatment on behalf of gay and lesbian students. They must do this because it’s their obligation as student leaders and are supposed to represent the entire student body.