By Mika Stafano, guest author to GLAAD Blog. For more information about #SpiritDay, visit http://glaad.org/spiritday
Growing up in the new South Africa, I was lucky enough to not be a victim of apartheid. Part of the new breed of South African youth, I was part of the born free generation, even though, technically I am a few years older, but age is just a number, and I am not here to talk about numbers...
South Africa is one of the only countries in the whole world that has equal protections for all -- the first and only county on the continent of Africa that celebrates diversity. We truly are a rainbow nation.
However, even though we have laws that protect us, we as gay youth still face many problems. One such problem is the many hate crimes. Recently, many incidents of young lesbian women in the rural area's of South Africa, who have been attacked, assaulted, raped and even murdered. So-called “corrective Rape” is what the media calls it, but what I call it is just plain wrong.
Luckily, I have never been attacked, yet I still walk into homophobic situations on a day to day basis. Perhaps, because I put myself out there as a public figure, perhaps not... Who knows? Luckily, I have accepted and learned to celebrate my sexual orientation, and I feel I can handle the anti-gay bias. I have come to learn that homophobic people simply don't understand what it means to be gay, hence they are hateful. Yet, there are many youth and even older people out there, who can’t cope as well with the bias that faces our community, and they continue to be affected by it. And this is what upsets me and that is why I felt so strongly about joining GLAAD to bring the Spirit Day campaign to my home of South Africa. To be honest, I am not a doctor nor am I a politician, but I do have a voice and I feel I can use it to try influence and educate people.
I was recently involved in the South African version of the NOH8 photo campaign and it was beyond successful. I have also worked with various organizations like Dance4Life and was one of the ambassadors for the Gay Flag of South Africa. I have also raised money for a gay organization in Soweto that provides assistance to so-called “corrective rape” victims and aims to help educate gay and lesbian youth and their communities.
A few weeks ago, I was surfing the internet and I stumbled upon GLAAD’s Spirit Day page, and I fell in love with the campaign. It is widely popular – garnering the participation of millions of people, including celebrities, media outlets, companies, schools and local communities -- and it helps share a powerful message in support of LGBT youth. Realistically, we can’t stop bullying, but we can stand together and try to make a difference. So I contacted GLAAD, made a few phone calls and organized a photo shoot with a local celebrity photographer, Theo Van Der Mewer and film producer Tebza Phalane, as well as some of South Africa's coolest most influential, young celebrities. We all decided to get people talking and encourage people to join us and GLAAD in a stand against bullying. A diverse selection of South African celebs all loaned their face to this important campaign and all took the pledge to wear purple for Spirit Day on October 19.
Now, this may not be an answer to hate crimes and bullying; however, it shows our gay youth, and those still struggling to be open and honest about who they are, that there are people out their who support and love you. Spirit Day shows families and friends of gay youth that bullying is wrong and that we must stand together against bullying. But most importantly, it will hopefully show homophobic people that their bullying is wrong. Hopefully, a campaign like Spirit Day can breathe new life into Nelson Mandela's famous quote, "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."
To meet some of the South African ambassadors visit www.SpiritDaySA.com