UP’s Centre for Human Rights publishes photobook highlighting the stories of LGBTIQ+ people living in South Africa

Posted on November 18, 2021

The Centre for Human Rights (CHR), Faculty of Law, at the University of Pretoria (UP) has launched a photobook series, titled Looking through the prism: Narratives of queer dignity in South Africa, featuring photographs and narratives of the lives of LGBTIQ+ people living in South Africa.

Volume 1 of the series was published online in October, which is also the South African Pride Month, commemorating the anniversary of the first Lesbian and Gay Pride March in Africa held in October 1990 in Johannesburg. The photobook was conceptualised and managed by Dr Ayodele Sogunro, Project Manager at CHR, and Thiruna Naidoo, Project Officer at the CHR.

According to Naidoo: “Looking through the prism provides some insight into the evolution of queer dignity in South Africa and the impact of the current LGBTIQ+ rights protection framework. The themes covered in the series include perspectives on queerness, self-expression, and sexual and gender diversity through personal reflections and recollections.

“The series also celebrates the lives of LGBTIQ+ people in post-apartheid South Africa with a view to sharing their uniqueness and everydayness in the South African context with the wider public. Despite the existence of extensive legal protections for LGBTIQ+ rights in South Africa, there is still a need for positive change in knowledge, attitudes, and practice in addressing LGBTIQ+ issues and concerns by the general public and policymakers for the better enjoyment of rights by LGBTIQ+ persons.”

Johnson, a Ugandan queer youth and journalist who was featured in the photobook.

Speaking about the importance of highlighting the voices of those within the LGBTQI+ community, Naidoo said: “The LGBTIQ+ community is a historically marginalised group in South Africa. Although legal reforms have come into effect to provide for legal recognition for the protection of LGBTIQ+ rights, we have still seen resistance to the integration of the community into society. Through the efforts of civil society organisations and various LGBTIQ+ activists, we are inching forward in improving visibility for the unique issues experienced by the community.

“Through advocacy projects such as Looking through the prism, we can gather an understanding of what everyday life is like for various members of the LGBTIQ+ community. While there are still many challenges that LGBTIQ+ people in South Africa encounter, including persecution and lack of support from family and institutional structures, we wanted to provide the opportunity for people to share their dreams, aspirations, achievements and experiences of love and friendship.”

The photobook features eight individuals of different ages and backgrounds. “We contacted a diverse group of people through our personal and institutional networks, including colleagues from NGOs, queer activists, and students. In some instances, we had to ensure anonymity for participants who indicated that they would like their identity concealed, to ensure their safety as their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression may not be public knowledge. The pandemic made it difficult to reach a number of people, but we were eventually able to connect with enough people to produce several series of the photobook. Importantly, we tried to ensure that we captured a diverse range of experiences, including those often not heard or shared publicly,” she said.

Johnson, a Ugandan queer youth and journalist who was featured in the photobook, noted that while there are still many serious challenges facing the LGBTIQ+ community, South Africa is a freer environment, based on his experiences, compared to Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal. “I first came [to South Africa] October 2019 and the freedom that was around me and the people I interacted with gave me a different feeling from what I experienced back home.

“Here, I have been embraced by the community. Even those that are not part of us still appreciate and respect what I am as a person,” Johnson said.

Download: Looking through the prism: Narratives of queer dignity in South Africa

- Author Mecayla Maseka

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