KATLEGO MKHWANAZI AND SIYAMMUKELA MAHLANGU
After an incident in one of the male residences concerning discrimination against a gay resident was brought to Perdeby’s attention via email, Perdeby decided to investigate the treatment of gay students in residences.
The resident in question has since withdrawn his complaint. He refused to speak to Perdeby, even on conditions of anonymity, telling Perdeby, “It has been sorted out.” However, several other people have come forward regarding this issue.
For some students, life in res is an ideal living and social situation, for others it can create a platform to be judged or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. David*, a gay student who lived in Taaibos for three years, told Perdeby, “It would be scary if people realised how many gay people there are in reses.”
He has never been completely open about his sexaulity in res because he witnissed the discrimination against gay students first hand. “It wasn’t an ideal environment,” he added.
For other homosexuals, being in a same-sex residence has never been a problem. “Being in an all-male residence helped me make friends and I met other gay guys as well,” said Jade Williams, an LLB student.
Sakhile Msibi, a BA Languages student and a resident in Olienhout said,“If you have accepted who you are and embrace it then it makes it easier for your fellow residents to accept you,” said “Of course there are haters and [you] need to be able to stand up for [yourself].”
According to Williams, there are certian homophobic people in residences who are vocal about how they feel. He claims that he has been referred to in derogatory terms while he still lived in res. Williams also explains that people are more civil these days.
“No one will come up to you and slap you because you’re gay,” said Williams. “When you come out you’ll see that it’s not so bad, you must just be prepared to handle the bad side of things.”
Many gay students however, find the environment in less formal, mixed gender reses preferable. “My move from Boekenhout to TuksVillage during my first year had little to do with my sexuality, I simply preferred the less formal setting that TuksVillage had over the more traditional and formal setting at Boekenhout, ” said Thato Khethe, a third-year medical science student.
Khethe also added that since he relates to girls better than guys, TuksVillage proved to be the best choice for him. Mfundo Mabhena, fourth-year BEd student, explains the alterntative. He says that people in residences are expected to respect one another and therefore it is difficult for them to practice homophobia unlike outside res where people can easily be homophobic.
Being in a res environment can thus be helpful in teaching people to accept that you need to show respect in spite of another person’s sexuality.Most gay students can and do find support systems within their residences.
“When I still lived in Kiaat my house parents were my support system and they made feel welcomed and allowed me to be myself,” said Williams. “My house parents are to die for, there have been there for me since the beginning,” said Msibi.
This is not always the case. “In some residences its either you’re straight or you’re closeted,” said Williams. “It is up to us [homosexual students] to form a support group within residences as very few heterosexual students understand what most homosexual students struggle with on a daily basis,” said Khethe. Up and Out, the university’s gay and lesbain society, forms part of that support group.
According to Bes Liebenberg, the TuksRes Student Support cocoordinator, the university will offer help and support to any student who is faced with any such difficulty.
Liebenberg said that she offers general counselling to students and then refers them to the appropriate people who can assist them further.
Two of the qualities that a person needs in order to survive an environment where living space is shared, are tolerance and acceptance. In residences, students come across different races, religions, and culural backgrounds and someone’s sexual preference ahould be no exception to that rule.
* Name has been changed because of the sensitive nature of the article.