Minenhle Nhleko told me his name means ‘beautiful day’ and he is the eldest of 3 at home and says he grew up as a spoilt brat. He is only 19 and he finished school when he was 17. He is now working for the Gay & Lesbian Network under the Sexual Reproduction Health Rights as a field worker.
I had a chat with him to find out what does it mean to be gay and young and living in South Africa today. And he had lots to say, stating that “all my life I have been gay and have not experienced any judgment from my family, accepting me for who I am.”
He says that when he was growing up, he always played with girls and his mom knew who he was. The only time he experienced homophobia was when he and some friends attended another friend’s party where they left at midnight. They were followed by a group of guys who were also at the party, these guys attacked them, took their phones and they managed to get away with small bruises. He believes they were attacked because they are gay, the reason being the fact that these guys followed them from the house and they knew that they were vulnerable. He never reported the incident to the police and says he couldn’t because it was going to be hard to relive a traumatic experience again.
When I asked him if he ever went through a process of self-acceptance this is what he had to say: “my family always provided a safe space which helped me to have self-acceptance of who I am. For my mom to acknowledge my sexuality when I was really young meant so much to me. She is the one who bought me girly things- I remember she used to buy me Barbie dolls”
For Minenhle to be acknowledged and be given a safe space to grow as young person whose sexual orientation is known and visible meant so much to him. As a free and young person it was easy for him to access information. When he was still in primary school, he found out that there was an organisation called the Gay & Lesbian Network- “I was an active child in school; I was part of the school choir, drama group and public speaking. There was a young girl who wrote all the drama scripts for my school and to my surprise, she was a volunteer with the Gay & Lesbian Network. I always heard of their pageants and events, so I knew where to go for help.”
He became a volunteer with the Gay & Lesbian Network by joining The Rainbow Theatre Group. This allowed him to travel to Cape Town, Mpumalanga and Durban, as well as schools around Pietermaritzburg. This came with different skills trainings and landed him an opportunity to work as a field worker with the SRHR project. With this he says “My experience with Gay & Lesbian Network has been phenomenal. I have been exposed to worthy, informed people of my same sexuality. This has shaped me and allowed me to be braver, to speak my mind and to have a backbone. Knowing that I am earning a living as a young person is great, as we know they is a high rate of unemployment in South Africa”.
Mininhle says he is looking forward to seeing himself grow, as he is going through this path and will be encountering different experiences. He says that “I would like to give a big thanks to the Gay & Lesbian Network for creating this space with resources and materials to learn and grow as a person who identifies as a young gay man”. He also hopes for the Gay & Lesbian Network to be bigger and to help more young people like him.
By Bulelani Mzila
> Media intern at Gay & Lesbian Network