My Gay Games Story: Hlengiwe Buthelezi, KZN LGBT Recreation, Durban, South Africa

Hlengiwe Buthelezi

As part of the Federation of Gay Games Scholarship fund raising activities, they have five empowering and personal stories from Gay Games participants, and previous Scholarship & Award recipients, to help raise money for the Federation’s Gay Games 10 Scholarship Fund. Here is one such story from Hlengiwe Buthelezi:

“Most gay people in South Africa, especially black butch lesbians, are discriminated against in the work place. I’ve lost friends through unspeakable hate crimes. Some have survived, but left with gruesome and permanent physical, psychological and emotional damage.

The reason we formed KZN LGBT Recreation in 2009 was to fight against homophobic injustices and provide a safe space for the LGBT+ community, the victims, and those who live in fear.

It was 2002. I had never been outside of South Africa and was still in the closet. I received a scholarship to compete in Track & Field Athletics at Gay Games VI: Sydney 2002. It was both awesome and overwhelming at the same time. After years of boycotts and exclusion, South Africans were still a novelty at international sporting events as our fledgling democracy recovered from apartheid. I medalled 7 times in Sydney: 2 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze. Without the scholarship, it wouldn’t have been possible.

I received another scholarship to compete at Gay Games VII: Chicago 2006. I was at the peak of my athletic performance and career, finishing with 7 gold medals. I was on the cover of the Windy City Times with Cyndi Lauper and became a member of the FGG Assembly, sitting on the Sports Committee. I had lost my fear of the closet by then, and though not all of the media coverage back home was positive, it was a platform from which to broadcast a public message of hope and acceptance for the LGBT+ community and the country.

At Gay Games VIII: Cologne 2010, I was asked to be a flagbearer of the FGG flag in the Opening Ceremony. I won 7 medals in Cologne and 5 more at Gay Games 9: Cleveland + Akron 2014.

I’ve gone on to co-found the Afro Games, in conjunction and with the support of the Pietermaritzburg Gay Network, the Durban Gay Centre, KwaZulu-Natal Gay & Lesbian Tourism (KZNGALTA), SameLove and the Durban LGBT Film Festival.

The concept of the AfroGames started in 2015. We tried to establish an event in 2016, but it was postponed until December 2018 due to lack of available resources.

But it all started with the scholarship to Gay Games VI: Sydney 2002. It changed my life and left a lasting impact and legacy on LGBT+ life in South Africa. Thank you FGG!”.

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