South Africa's parliament made history this week, swearing in the country, and the continent's first openly gay, black member. Zakhele Mbhele (below, right), at only 29 years of age, has a rich history of gay-related activism under his belt, leading his university's LGBT group and serving on the Joburg Pride board. More importantly, though, he hopes to bestow this specific insight to the South African parliament and create an even safer, more equal environment for LGBT individuals and communities.
Mamba Online reports:
[Mbhele] admitted that the impact of his achievement as a gay man hasn’t been at the front of his mind. “I know what it means as a historical milestone but I’m not walking around thinking of myself as the first openly gay black MP in Africa or singularly defining myself by it.”
Mbhele said, however, that he hopes that his new high profile position will inspire LGBT youth to believe in themselves and to have confidence in their ability to realise their goals.
“One of the most damaging things about homophobia is its destructive effect on a young LGBT person’s self-esteem. That was certainly one of the issues I grappled with when I was coming to terms with my sexuality in my teen years,” he explained.
“Having more openly gay achievers in society can counter that damage by giving young LGBT people role models to inspire them to build their self-confidence and work ambitiously to achieve their dreams.”
Mbhele does not plan to rely on his visibility alone to encourage meaningful structural changes in society, though. LGBT-related issues, including anti-gay and transphobic hate crimes, will remain at the forefront of his efforts. The new MP expressed:
“Many people are blind to structural issues relating to patriarchy, heteronormativity and economic disadvantage because of their social position and I would like to bring a voice that highlights those hidden dimensions.”
…[Mbhele] believes that Parliament should play a stronger role in assisting the country’s LGBT community by continuing to amend and pass laws that make equality more substantive, (and holding government accountable to upholding those laws), as well as serving as a debate platform to challenge prejudices against LGBT people in South Africa and in other African countries.
He expressed particular disappointment in South Africa's silence regarding the passage of anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria. Perhaps Mbhele's historic election, and hopefully subsequent progress, will spread a favorable image and positively impact the African LGBT community beyond the borders of South Africa.
For now, congratulations from Towleroad to Zakhele Mbhele on this fantastic achievement!