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Soweto Pride celebrations mark end of harsh S. African third wave

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South Africa

Wrapped in rainbow flags, dozens of South Africans celebrated Pride on Saturday in the historic black township of Soweto, and the end of an especially harsh coronavirus third wave for their community.

The pandemic amplified challenges faced by LGBTI people in the country by forcing them to stay at home with families or communities that didn't always accept their identity.

"Now we've got more (discrimination) cases, more mental health issues because now they need to deal with this family that does not necessarily accept them," said one of the event's organizers, Siphokazi Nombande, 42.

"People are still being killed. People don't understand that LGBTI people exist… and therefore they want to change them because of who they love."

Given the additional stress of the pandemic, Nombande said, it was a boost for the LGTBI community to have the city of Johannesburg help sponsor the 17th annual Soweto Pride, a place highly symbolic of struggle in the young democracy.

"We still even witness issues of homophobia within our families, you can't even come out to your family. How do you come out to the world out there when you can't even come out to your family," said Tshepiso Leeu, 32, a registered nurse.

"So we still have a long way to go before we get to where we can say it is safe to be LGBTI or queer and out, most importantly, in our communities."

Fear of discrimination is the reason Kagiso Sebetlela didn't come out as transgender until 2019.

"Most of my friends, I am thinking they will reject me for who I am and my sexuality," the 39-year-old said.

But Sebetlela said family and friends had been accepting.

"I live once, not twice," they said. "Why should I have to hide?"

The celebrations were scaled down due to Covid-19 restrictions, but spirits were high. Despite the uncertainty the community faces, Leeu said there was plenty to celebrate.

"We matter. Our artists matter, our creativity matters, our talents matter, our work matters. We are also contributors to society so such events really make me feel proud," she said.

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