Tongues wagging after Stellenbosch kiss

By Time of article published Aug 17, 2010

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By Michelle Jones

A kiss between two friends has sparked debate among students at conservative Stellenbosch University.

Student newspaper Die Matie showed two men kissing on the front page of its new issue which has been met with both outrage and praise.

The two UCT students, Mark Brown and Orn Czepan, were snapped by photographer Vanessa Smeets at the annual Soen in die Laan (Kiss in the Avenue) Stellenbosch University event.

Students from UCT and UWC were asked to take part in the event by Stellenbosch society Lesbigay, whose members had not previously participated in the event because they had felt "intimidated".

Lesbigay chairman Roberto Millan said members had hoped a photo would be featured in the newspaper to draw attention to the university's gay population.

"It seems to have sparked a big debate at the university, which is fantastic. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Stellenbosch is very conservative but there has been a lot of talk lately about diversity and change."

Die Matie photo editor Smeets said: "I had no idea it was going to be this big. But it was a risk putting it on the front page."

She said at the event there had been no reaction to the kiss, until the newspaper was printed and distributed. "They were just caught up in the moment and I thought it made a great photo."

Copies of the newspaper were ruined, defaced and slashed as students discussed the impropriety of the image and how it had made them "throw up".

Others had reacted positively to the photograph, with gay students telling Smeets it had given them the courage to come out.

Students had posted scores of messages on Facebook and Twitter, some congratulating Lesbigay members on their bravery and others "disliking it vehemently".

Czepan, a German student studying at UCT, said he was surprised by the strong reactions. "I wouldn't have expected it to attract such a big fuss. But most people rather supported the idea."

Said Brown: "The reaction was quite surprising, but I'm happy if it increases queer visibility and acceptance."

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