GALA (Gay and Lesbian Archives) and the Apartheid Museum launched a new exhibition to celebrate the 10th anniversary of South Africa's constitution. The exhibition is titled Balancing Act: South African Gay and Lesbian Youth Speak Out, and it shares stories of gay and lesbian youth in South Africa. The basic purpose is to promote tolerance for difference through education.
In the exhibition eleven young South Africans from a wide range of social backgrounds speak about their experiences, hopes and dreams. The Constitution has officially affirmed the equality and dignity of people of all sexual orientations. But widespread hostility means that lifestyles that are 'different' remain hidden and inadequately represented in the public realm. The book and the exhibition are called 'Balancing Act' because these young people have to balance between being true to themselves and living in a prejudiced society.
A recent quantitative study conducted in KwaZulu Natal has found that in spite of the protection offered by the constitution, lesbian and gay youth in the province remain marginalised and worse, often experiencing prejudice and harassment in the classroom. The latter takes many forms and ranges from verbal abuse, to physical bullying, and in some contexts has taken the extreme form of rape and assault. This KwaZulu Natal research was published earlier this year and received extensive coverage in the television and print media. It is available from the Durban Lesbian and Gay Community Centre on request (tel: 031-301-2145).
Museums have a pivotal role to play in developing a culture of tolerance, sensitivity and understanding in the broader community. This exhibition is a tool to help museums do just that. The exhibition places issues affecting gay and lesbian youth within the context of a human rights framework, and explores the issue of prejudice in a way that we hope allows heterosexual youth to relate (we all feel 'different' at some level). A supplement has been developed for visitors to use with the exhibition that takes further the issues of 'labeling' and 'naming' of others who are 'different', and the effect that this may have. The Director General of the Department of Education, Mr. Duncan Hindle, has formally endorsed the use in schools of the GALA resource book Balancing Act: South African Gay and Lesbian Youth Speak Out from which the exhibition draws much of its material.The supplement also allows visitors the opportunity to send a message to one of the youth featured, and we have been surprised at the large numbers of school-goers who have done so. They seem to respond most positively to a young transgender person named Alex, a Deaf gay man called John and two stories that deal with rape and HIV.
The exhibition was launched at the Apartheid Museum in February, and was up at this venue until mid-July. It will officially open at the Natal Museum on the 26th of August and will come down at the end of October.
The Durban Lesbian and Gay Community Centre will be holding a workshop at the Natal Museum, for those who work with the public, on how to help groups engage with the exhibition and to answer questions such as "Why are we being told about gays in a museum". Trainees from the Pietermaritzburg Gay and Lesbian Network will also be available on site to answer questions.
The exhibition was curated by Emilia Potenza, Marion Drew, Karen Martin and Anthony Manion. Emilia's participation ensured that the exhibition was produced to the high professional standards of the Apartheid Museum.