Africa’s First Openly Gay Black MP

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The continent of Africa on Wednesday gained its first openly gay black parliamentarian when Zakhele Mbhele was sworn in in South Africa.

South Africa, the only nation on the continent that has outlawed discrimination based on sexuality in its constitution, has had several gay MPs in previous years, but none of them were black.

In an interview with Mamba, Mbhele explained that although he recognised the historical significance of his election, his position as MP goes beyond race and sexual orientation.

“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,” he told Editor Luiz DeBarros.

Mbhele also said he hopes his victory will inspire GLBTI youth.

“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 said.

“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.”

South Africa became the first African nation to legalise same sex marriage rights in 2006. However, homophobic and transphobic violence is still an issue. Mbhele said he would like to work with the police force to reduce violent discrimination.

“That’s why, for example, I’d like to work in the police portfolio because I’d like the opportunity to raise the issue of hate crimes as they relate to policing and highlight problems that still exist around homophobia, transphobia and secondary victimisation in the police service.”

He also stated that South Africa, given its relatively progressive stance on LGBT rights, should have openly condemned the anti-gay lesgislation that was passed in Nigeria and Uganda earlier in the year.

“South Africa should have taken a strongly pro-human rights position that expressed disapproval of such laws.”

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