Sexual orientation is not a choice. How you treat people is

 
 
 

No one should ever have to suffer for who they are, or who they love. But every day, people who identify as queer face challenges that range from a lack of acceptance, shunning and verbal taunts to outright physical violence. Funeka Soldaat is one of those people. She came out as a lesbian 30 years ago and suffered horrific consequences when she was raped in an attempt to ‘correct’ her. Despite the traumatic incident, living in a community with strict gender roles and a very traditional family meant that she had no one to turn to. Soldaat realised that she was not the first, nor would she be the last, to endure this. She had to do something.

From her home in Khayelitsha, Soldaat began hosting support groups which led to her founding Free Gender, a community-based organisation that raises awareness and advocates for black lesbians. The particular focus on race is a response to the idea that homosexuality is un-African, which leads to greater persecution in townships. The organisation provides a safe space for the gay community, and advocates for acceptance and understanding in the township. “I learnt from a young age that prejudice comes because people don’t have the knowledge about certain things,” she says. Through education and compassion, Soldaat believes a lot can change.

While Soldaat was targeted for her sexual orientation and activism three decades ago, there are still far too many people today who spread hatred. “Another thing that’s really painful is that there’s a lot of information that’s all around but people choose to not use that,” she says. The activist is sharing her story to help people realise they are not alone. In doing so, she hopes that it may encourage others to see that while you cannot choose your sexual orientation, you do have a choice when it comes to how you treat people.

Photographs taken by Alexa Sedge were used in the creation of this film.