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BALANCING ACT (article first published : 2005-06-21)

On June 11, 2005, The Gay & Lesbian Archives of South Africa (GALA) were joined by Justice Edwin Cameron and other human rights advocates at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg to launch a new publication. Titled Balancing Act and written by Joanne Bloch and Karen Martin (with Sue Heese, it shares stories of gay and lesbian youth in South Africa while promoting respect and tolerance in schools.

In Balancing Act, South African gay and lesbian youth speak out. Some 21 young South Africans from a wide range of social backgrounds speak candidly about their experiences, hopes and dreams. The book was specifically written to be used in schools, containing insightful and useful teaching notes relating to the area of Life Orientation.

The book explores the lives of gay youth in South Africa in a manner that challenges stereotypes and prejudices, and provides much needed information to young gay and lesbian people.

The following are extracts from Justice Edwin Cameron’s speech:

“For eleven years, the South African Constitution has officially affirmed the equality and dignity of people of all sexual orientations – young and old. However, in practice, widespread hostility and prejudice still means that lifestyles that are ‘different’ are hidden: and they are not adequately represented in the public realm.”

“More than a decade into our democracy, acceptance of ‘otherness’ is not yet fully part of our society. Often stigma attaches to being foreign, to having a disability, being HIV positive – and this collection of stories tells us that some young people are already living with HIV – or to having a same-sex orientation. These aspects of a person are not considered to be "normal". “

“But what is significant is not that there is sadness and complexity and difficulty in these lives. What is important is that this book collects a group of young people whose account of their lives is an act of assertion – of identity, of self, of truth. They are affirming their identities as sexually different, and claiming their birthright under our Constitution as equal and proud South Africans.”

“South African material on sexuality has until now not focused on homosexuality in depth, or it presents it as merely a passing phase, or as deviant. Material coming from Europe or the United States might contain useful information – but the context is very different and hence its resonance for us is limited.”

“The lack of material from this region has surely contributed to the notion that to be ‘other’ is undesirable, unacceptable and even shameful – among young gay men and lesbians themselves, and, importantly too, among their heterosexually oriented peers.”

“Most learners still have an inaccurate, unbalanced and prejudiced understanding of homosexuality, and most educators lack the necessary information, skills and tools to address the issue properly. There is thus a need to bring issues about homosexuality into the open in schools so as to create an ethos that is honest, informative and supportive.”




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