Is Newcastle gay-friendly or homophobic?

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As the world transcends and develops, we as a species progress and evolve in so many ways. We have seen the rise of the Stone Age, The Great Wall of China and the Roman Empire, all while being quite liberal and open-minded about an array of things, homosexuality being one of them.

According to Wikipedia:
“It was frequent in ancient Greece. However, in later cultures influenced by Abrahamic religions, the law and the church established sodomy as a transgression against divine law or a crime against nature. ” It goes onto say:
“Among Indigenous peoples of the Americas prior to European colonization, a number of Nations had respected ceremonial and social roles for homosexual, and bisexual individuals in their communities”

The list goes on, for millennia, people have always lived quite carefree with regards to peoples personal choices. But does this rule apply in our loved Newcastle? Is this a reality for the local gay community in our town?

Melany* is a 25-year-old lesbian and she explains it is no easy feat living in Newcastle. “Being only a small part of Newcastle, we find it difficult to be confident with regards to our sexuality. Especially, seeing as homosexuality is still frowned upon by many community members,” she says.

But what has Melany had to deal with as a lesbian in town?

“I was once offered a job at a local gym, but as soon as the owner found out about my sexual preference, he assumed I would create an uncomfortable environment, and immediately withdrew the offer. What people fail to understand, is being interested in women does not mean we want every girl on the planet.”

What was it like coming out and how did people react?

Melany says coming out definitely impacted her relationship with her family in a negative way. “After five years, they are still struggling to accept it, even though they tolerate it. As for my friends, they all knew before I even mentioned it.”

What advice can you give to people who want to come out of the proverbial closet?

“Do it on your own terms. Don’t let your significant other force you into coming out,” says Melany.

She emphasises that if your partner respects you, they will wait until you are ready.

“Also realise not everyone is going to accept it. We have a lot of bullies who will try and break your faith every day. Whether you allow it to influence who you are or not, is up to you.”

Is the homosexual lifestyle as different from others as people imagine?

“Not at all,” Melany laughs. Other than being more open-minded towards sexual preference, Melany says the homosexual community leads exactly the same lifestyle as those of a different orientation.

What many do not know, is that Melany is also the mother of a nine-year-old boy. “Being a mother and a lesbian is difficult as people tend to judge you more. Then you get the silly questions like, ‘how did that happen?’,” she says.

Also, her son has faced his share of bullying from his peers. “It reached a level, where I just avoided telling people I am lesbian, just so he will not be bullied.”

As she takes on the daily challenges of being a young lesbian woman in Newcastle, Anthony* faces the challenge of being a 50-year-old gay man in town.

As a gay man, Anthony says he finds Newcastle’s views on homosexuality, all depends on whether you are in a relationship or not.

“It isn’t generally accepted, so when you are in a relationship, you often feel you need to be discreet. Being a gay man, you need to lead an almost reclusive sort of life. Personally, I feel lesbians are more easily accepted than gay men. This is because we live in a masculine community and it doesn’t know how to deal with two men showing affection to each other. What happens then, many gay men hide the fact that they are gay and go to social events alone and are just seen as a loner or the eccentric bachelor friend. Even if people know you are gay, they will rather see you single than being in a relationship.”

What does Anthony have to deal with as a gay man in Newcastle?

“People always tend to be suspicious of gay men. While you might be generally accepted at work, no one mentions or talks about it. Even if a person is uncertain about it, they will never confront you. Then there is the fact that straight men think we just want to sleep with them or that homosexuals just have sex with each other the whole time. We are also often seen as paedophiles. People forget we are just like them. We want companionship, love and acceptance as well.”

Anthony explains the homosexual life is identical to the heterosexual lifestyle. “We go to church, braais and other social events. We have families and friends. We are just looking for someone to love, just like a heterosexual person.”

What advice can he give to young people wanting to come out?

“Accept yourself. Your sexual orientation does not dictate who you are as an individual. It does not change your life in any way other than being honest with who you are. We all deserve love. Be honest with people and you do not have to follow a lifestyle that is expected because of movies.”

Because of the misconceptions surrounding homosexual men, Anthony says there are several married men who lead double lives. “There are several married men who enjoy male “companionship”. However, they do it secretly because of how society treats gay people. People in town will be surprised how many affluential men are actually gay in Newcastle. From professionals to blue collar workers.”

As Melany and Anthony both face an array of challenges, what about married gay couples in town? How do they view Newcastle?

Nicole* has been married to Elizabeth* for 10 years. “We were both married before and when we met for the first time, I was finalising my divorce and Elizabeth was just starting her divorce. But when we first met, we knew we were soulmates, even though it took us over a year to admit our feelings towards each other,” says Nicole.

Nicole says while her children accepted that she is a lesbian, she and Elizabeth did meet some form of resistance from their respective families when they initially came out as a couple. So much so, that Nicole and her one sibling’s relationship has become strained.

How do they find Newcastle?

“We lead a very private lifestyle because of the vibe in Newcastle. Elizabeth’s employee isn’t always nice with her, mocking her because she is a lesbian. Also, because of Newcastle being more close-minded compared to cities such as Johannesburg, Durban or Cape Town, we cannot even hold hands while walking in shops as straight people do.”

Often seen as lower-class people, Nicole says people tend to keep homosexuals at a distance. “They always want to be your friend, but as long as your lifestyle doesn’t affect them in any way. You also always get people inviting you for coffee, but nothing comes out of it. They will be nice to your face, as long as you don’t be gay in public or sit too close. However, we have never actually been attacked for being gay.”

As she and Elizabeth have been married for a decade, what advice can Nicole give to those who yearn to be openly gay?

“When Elizabeth and I came out, we never said anything. We went out, played pool, socialised and only when someone asked, did we say we were in a relationship. What I am saying is, when you want to come out, act natural. Just be yourself. You don’t have to go all over-board and be flamboyant or make things awkward by hanging onto your partner. At the end of the day, you are still the same person as you were before coming out.”

In fact, Nicole says she doesn’t technically see herself or Elizabeth as a lesbian. “We were both married to men before, never having the slightest interest in women until we met each other. We fell in love both mentally and emotionally, and as with any other relationship, this saw the sexual part come in. In a way, we aren’t lesbians but rather two people who love each other.”

It is because of this, that Nicole says gay people should not feel their desires and needs should be pushed aside to please mainstream society.

What advice can Nicole give to families who are trying to accept their children’s sexual orientation?

“I was actually a minister and preached against homosexuality before I came out. I can honestly say, no one chooses to be homosexual. It is not a choice. You are born like this. If someone had a choice, they would choose to be straight, because why would they choose to be alienated?” she concludes.

From a young lesbian mother to a gay man in his 50s and a woman who embraced her sexuality, marrying her soulmate. All three face the same challenge. The challenge of finding acceptance.

As a community who considers ourselves good people, who are we to deny an individual the opportunity to find love? As we journey through our lives, why should people be ostracised because they have a different gender preference?

* Because of the stigma related to homosexuality in Newcastle, all three people have requested to have their names changed as to ensure their families are not bullied nor their work and lives jeopardised.

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