Cape Town Pride: Brett Herron talks about being openly gay and LGBTQ+ rights
As part of Cape Town Pride Week, the Cape Argus will be carrying stories from members of the LGBTQIA+ community to share insights and talk about the challenges they face:
In mid-April last year, during the height of the 2019 national and provincial elections, I participated in an election debate hosted by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and televised live on 24-hour news channel eNCA.
The debate was rowdy and robust and the moderator, Jeremy Maggs, asked important questions about tolerance – including some direct and tough questions about racism and sexism. But, he didn’t ask politicians to address other forms of discrimination including homophobia and discrimination against LGBTQ+.
In the end, he didn’t need to. A question from the floor did it for him. A young man in the audience asked the four politicians where our parties stood on LGBTQ+ rights and issues.
It was an interesting moment for me personally.
I could easily have answered that the GOOD movement was founded and built on values that embrace diversity, campaigns against discrimination and upholds constitutional protections. That would have been a truthful and GOOD answer.
GOOD had just weeks before participated in Cape Town Pride with posters proclaiming “It doesn’t matter what you look like. Where you come from. How you Pray. Or who you love. Good people care for one another. Happy pride”.
On the other hand, saying only that would also have been a dishonest answer. It would have been an answer that succumbed to my own homophobia – that being gay is disqualifying of playing a political role in building our city, province and country.
In that moment years of doubt and anguish about belonging and acceptance resurfaced along with old and familiar nervous calculations about how what I say would be received. I was answering a question from one man…but there were about 500 people in the hall and who knows how many watching the debate on TV!
Thankfully, I didn’t leave my answer there and I continued to say that I stand on that stage as a gay man and as a leader of a new political movement.
The words were out and the room appeared to receive them as insignificant. But they were significant to me – to honour myself and my personal journey, to honour my partner and our marriage, to honour the people who had stepped forward to support our fledgling GOOD movement, and to honour the man who asked the question as well as every LGBTQ+ person, watching the debate or not.
By the way, I got home that night to a slightly grumpy partner who readily acknowledges his own homophobia.
My journey has obviously followed its own unique path and that moment in the debate was a culmination of that journey and my experiences. But, in a heteronormative society, no matter the path we have travelled and the choices we have made, those moments when we are confronted with an occasion to self-identify as LGBTQ+ are more frequent than many of us would like.
They seldom involve a hall full of people and a national television audience but whether it is the friendly cashier innocently assuming the flowers you are buying are for your wife, or your partner’s yoga instructor (who has met you) unconsciously suggesting his wife gets him a yoga mat for Christmas, coming out and challenging heteronormative assumptions is a decision we must often make, in a split second, in the most unexpected moments.
Society has made massive progress and across the Atlantic, in the era of Donald Trump, a gay man is a top contender for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has apparently been embraced by a broad coalition of both progressives and social conservatives, including Americans of faith.
I have always regarded holding a public office as an enormous privilege which comes with enormous responsibility. The very act of occupying public office and leading a political movement challenges any notion that being LGBTQ+ means you cannot.
I could not live up to my responsibility if I did not answer the question the way I did in that debate moment. I will do my best to recognise and challenge assumptions, barriers and discrimination whenever and wherever they emerge. I will do so recognising that not every LGBTQ+ person has the opportunity to do so. And I will do so recognising that not every LGBTQ+ person is ready to do so. And that is okay.
* Brett Herron is the secretary-general of the GOOD party, and a member of Western Cape Provincial Parliament.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.