On a recent trip to Cape Town, South Africa for a workshop on Religion & Sexual and Gender Minorities, Anthony Akaeze, Associate Editor, met with Clyde Terry, a member of the South African gay community at a social function. Terry, in this interview speaks about his experience as a young man who later had to make a choice, his family’s reaction to it and his relationship with non gays.
Nigeria is a pretty conservative society where scenes like this gathering of LGBTI ( lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people in Cape Town are not common, due to fear of possible backlash from non gays. As a result, LGBTI members there talk of being discriminated against. How does it feel being a member of the LGBTI community in South Africa?
My opinion is that worldwide there will be discrimination against people who are different to the norm. I think that (United States of) America has discrimination, some very violent discrimination so does South Africa and many countries in the world. I’m not really involved in that but I do know that a lot of lesbian people in Soweto are targeted hugely for being lesbians, so I don’t think that any country in the world is without discrimination.
South Africa’s law is more accommodating of the LGBTI community than those of other African countries. How would you describe the situation?
I think that you’ve got to go outside of law. It’s the minds of people that need to be changed. You can have a law in a country pertaining to anything; it doesn’t mean that you are not going to live in a lawless society about that issue. That’s just my opinion. So if you have a law that lesbian and gay people are allowed to live, it doesn’t stop a minority of people from being narrow minded towards that community. Laws are just made to sort of, allow it to be and is permissible in the land but it doesn’t change the minds of those people who want to be bigoted against them.
Do you feel disappointed that, as a member of the LGBTI community, things don’t always go in your favour despite the enlightenment and education about the need for non discrimination?
I look at myself as an individual. I’ve always been forthright to my family and friends. If somebody doesn’t accept me for being gay then I’m not interested in them and that was really with my family right from the beginning as well. I think that we have to start (to say), this is your life. You’ve got one life to live and how do you want to live it? And possibly you might be endangered in a way or you might be threatened in a way and I think people have been through things like that but those things define your future, they don’t define your past, they define your future.
Did you grow up to understand that you are different or…
For myself, I grew up in a very small town and I was totally unaware of gay people, Jewish people. I was totally unaware of religion. I was totally unaware of all those things in the world. So, for me, when I went to a big city for the first time in my life, I realised there are gay people in the world and I then realised that I’m (able) to live my life. So, I broke the news to my family and I started to walk my own path. So I think, because I came from a small town, I wasn’t aware of being different to anyone because it wasn’t something that I sort of like knew about actually.
Have you had any disappointments as a gay?
No, I’ve lived my life and I’ve loved my life. I have a partner for 15 years now and I’m very contented, happy with that.
What’s your message to the world, a world that’s prejudiced against the LGBTI community?
I think that people in this day and age need to open their eyes to the differences around them and understand that everybody has a right to live and everyone has a right to exist in this world. Despite your narrow mindedness to think that somebody might not be the same as you, in actual fact, we are all the same, we all have flesh, we all have our heart beat and we all have a life and we need to allow people around us to live their lives without being prejudiced against them. Unfortunately a lot of people do grow up with the fear of coming out of the closet (revealing their sexual orientation) to live their lives because a lot of things restrain us as we grow up; I think religion being one of the greatest things. If you grow up in a very religious home, it’s very hard to come out to your family and have your family understand. So, I think that to all parents out there who might one day be told that their son is gay or their daughter is lesbian or whatever the circumstance might be, it is to actually step outside of themselves and realise that that is their flesh and blood and I think I learned the hard way when I came out of the closet with my parents (and said) I love you. I always will love you. If one day you can accept me, you need to find me, and you need to then come to me and say you wanna be in my life. And then, it took them about, I think 12 to 14 months, I was in the Navy at that time and they arrived at the Navy base to say they had thought through it and they wanted to share my life with me. So, I think, you need to just be forthright. I think people don’t realise how hard it is for a gay child or lesbian child to come out to their families or friends. People don’t understand that moment and its complexity of going to someone and saying I’m different to what you expected me to be but at the same time it’s who I am. It’s what I’m carved of and it’s what I’m made of and I think that’s the hardest thing for gay people to do. A lot of people spend their whole life hiding. Other people want to live their life. My advice to gay people is, if you are gay, step out, be yourself and be who you are without feeling sorry for yourself because it’s not a thing of sorrow. It shouldn’t be a pity party and it shouldn’t be about tears. It should be about celebrating, having fun with yourself and admitting who you are.
At what time did you come out of the closet?
I think I was about 18 or 19. I was in the first year of my national service in South African Navy. I’m 51 now.
There are a number of LGBTI members here. Is it something you occasionally do-getting together?
I have only been to (such) conversations twice. I have only been in Cape Town since February 2016. I’ve been in Johannesburg most of my life. So it’s quite a new experience for me but I’ve enjoyed coming to this event. Because being new in town, I’ve met a lot of very nice people through occasions like this. You know, a friend of mine had a very similar thing when I first arrived in Johannesburg 30 years ago. It wasn’t as organised as this but he would just get people to come to a different bar every Friday night and you would meet different people, have drinks. I met a lot of friends that way. So it doesn’t have to be as orchestrated as this. If you just got 10 people and each brings somebody along, you can have something going like conversations.
Can you give us a sense of the LGBTI community in South Africa? How many are you?
I’m not sure of that but I have got a lot of gay and straight friends. I think I have an equal amount of gay friends and straight friends. We do socialize as well with the straight community to understand them. I think that’s not abnormal.
There’s a perception by some people that the LGBTI community is a powerful, influential group. How true is that?
I think this conversation (social gathering) is about marketing yourself. Maybe getting to meet other lesbian and gay business owners and perhaps supporting that. In South Africa, we have the gay pagers (members) which is hugely about supporting gay businesses and I think that is something one should look at doing. To support yourselves as a community as well.
Donald Trump emerged President of America against all odds. What’s your impression of him?
I anticipated that he might get in. I’m not a political person so this might come as strange but I think that for somebody as bigoted and racist, for him to now head a country such as America is quite scary but Donald Trump is also a lot of talk and hot air and hopefully for the world, he is not all about these things. I think what he’s had to say about Africa is hugely true. People in power take their power and misuse it. But somehow in my heart, I think that somebody who’s a real good businessman might make a success of running a country. Before, you had people who were manipulated by people, who funded them. Donald Trump funded himself to win power and that means he doesn’t owe anybody anything. He doesn’t owe anybody for giving him a million rand or five million dollars or whatever the case might be, to get him where he is. So, he’s unaccountable to anybody but himself. Perhaps, in talking, he might have said some profane things that none of us could understand, but at the same time, he might just turn out to be somebody who does means good to the rest of the world and we can only hope it turns out so.
There has been a lot of heat in South African politics in recent times, with allegations of corruption and all that leveled against President Jacob Zuma and the ANC government. What’s your take on that?
I think that it’s (what is happening in South Africa) a misuse of people’s vote because South Africa came in with a new constitution under the auspices of probably the greatest African-Nelson Mandela. I think it’s quite sad to see what Mandela stood for being taken for granted. We had a great spokesperson for the country (Mandela) who said some really remarkable things and did some remarkable things. It’s quite sad to see the ANC not standing behind what Mandela believed in, and that was a country that stood for everybody’s freedom and I think that every now and again when I listen to the news, like (Julius) Malema (of the Economic Freedom Fighters Party) recently, I was quite upset that somebody could go out and make statements against white people, against black people and not be held accountable. So I think Nelson Mandela stood up for a country that was for change and he stood for a perfect constitution. The constitution is there but it hasn’t been lived. I don’t think it’s been lived.
Apartheid, is it something we would say, still exists in South Africa, the divide between white and black?
I don’t think it exists as much as people would like to believe it exists. I think that the ANC is a party that is trying to keep Apartheid alive. You cannot keep Apartheid alive 20 years later. You have to start to be accountable for yourself today. It’s degrading. You can’t constantly blame Apartheid for those things. You’ve been in control for so long. Take responsibility and ownership of that. You cannot keep going back to the past. I’m an antique dealer and I really believe in something funny that antiques are part of history. Apartheid should be part of our history. We need to make that into history. Americans are great in making the things that happened in America into history, in terms of the Red Indians, in terms of the black slavery. They’ve made that into history. South Africa needs to make things into history now Africa needs to make things into history. To stop living in the past of Apartheid and believe that this is a new country, a new world, and how can we all live together and be happy because that’s what Nelson Mandela wanted for everybody. To live happy lives and to forge forward in a way that we can all believe in the country.