CAPE TOWN - Francois Nel has a face that could launch a thousand gay bars – and a body that makes the Trojan horse look like a Shetland pony! His is one you will see headlines this week in many a gay publication and if you read this interview you will see why he deserves your vote, as the All inclusive South African Constitution makes him the GLOBAL ambassador for LGBT human rights and marriage equality.
I had the luxury of a special afternoon – we met at Cape Town at the Cape Royale – in my hotel suite – where the shjoosh (old South African word for fancy) ambiance soon fell victim to our comfortable familiarity – the context of our special day – where we would both be proudly asserting our messages at Cape Town Pride’s Pink Gala. So after the interview we indulged in practicing our speeches – by performing them for each other. AND that was fun!
I had one up on Francois – because I was going to be the main speaker, while he was only going to give a small introduction – but hey – talking one up – I challenge you lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex folk out there to find anyone more stunning in face, physique, heart and soul!! AND what an Interviewee – eloquent, profound and most sure of what he has to say!
That is why Francois is Mr. Gay South Africa and that is why he should win Mr. Gay World.
The Interview: (remember English is Francois’ second language.)
What made you get into Mr. GAY South Africa:
FN: Mr .Gay South Africa was something that happened at a time when I am approaching the big 30 – 30 is a milestone and I got involved in self reflection. I thought back over the years about my life and the story I have lived up until now – certainly felt that I was reflecting back on the issue of sexuality – and how it was for me and it’s a story that if I share I can show the world how natural a story it can be.
I was always confident and aware of my inherent sexuality. Always aware of my inherent sexuality I have always known since I can remember that I am attracted to the same gender as myself.
The way I felt about being attracted to other men seemed to stand in contradiction to what the world wanted me to do and entering a competition like MR. GAY SA is about speaking out about this – as an issue. I wanted to use my personal story to inspire others to deal with acceptance of the natural nature of being gay.
I want to inspire younger people not to waste a lot of years afraid of their homosexuality – not to be scared of their natural inherent desires Especially those in societies where they are taught that it is wrong. In South Africa we lucky because our Constitution is protective of us – but still a lot of work needs to be done at ground level.
A lot of perceptions need to change about what homosexuality is about – it is natural and people need to know!
No one wakes up one morning deciding to be different or live in a way that society does not accept – for me it is my natural way of being – and if others feel the way I did growing up then the message is the same for them. Why waste time waiting to feel better. You are good as you are now!
MEL: What do you recommend to youngsters who are uncertain about coming out – Should they go to an organization for help in coming out or come out to parents right away?
FN: It depends – all situations are unique and different. There is no rule for this. Family dynamics are different and individuals differ just as our stories do. The real answer is that homosexuality (LGBTQI) Should be more socially accepted by the society at large - then it would be easier to come out. That is what must change. At the end of day we should be more socially accepted
Sexuality is not an all encompassing reflection of who we are as human beings; we are multi faceted as gay or straight people! Sexuality does not define heterosexuals. We have a wide variety of characteristics and interests – As gay s we have to keep explaining who we are – why we are gay- we seem to have a lot of explaining to do.
With heterosexuality they have what is supposed to be the norm and there is not explaining to be done.
For me it is normal – its my norm – its always been normal for me – I can focus on the natural part of myself and hope to help others to do the same.
MEL: If you were to win Mr., Gay World next week, and I hope you do because you are an imperative and necessary ambassador, especially because of SA’s unique positioning and Constitution – would you speak out about decriminalization of homosexuality in Africa
FN Certainly -because we must be involved in activism – it comes back to fact that in SA we are lucky we have legal rights to back us up if discriminated against. That’s not to say there is NO discrimination – there still is…
Having title of MR. GAY WORLD will extend my time to work on who we are for the world to see - Education is something I am incredibly passionate about and who we are. My sexuality is like my skin color. I must show it and should not have to explain it – it is my normative and I hope I can transgress the explanations to simply show all the facets of my being; but I will speak to that as an issue anyway.
As well as the education of safe sex – lot of focus on belief systems – some speak to abstinence – safe sex is imperative and abstinence is a dangerous waste of educational resources because people are going to have sex anyway.
Education in schools we should be first taught about the different sexual contexts and sexualities that exist and then we should talk about the applicable safe sex
My own education in safe sex was not enough. I was lucky because I worked in medical field so I was very aware. I am blessed – as I worked with a doctor who worked with HIVAIDS
MEL: What are they are going to expect of you when you go to Manila on Monday in the Competition?
FN: It is an international beauty pageant and so much more. It seeks an ambassador from every country – I for example I am proudly South African and so am able to represent my country.
If we look at our past it has been very eventful - we have moved truly toward s being a rainbow nation – a Mecca of different cultures and societies. Look at soccer world cup – what we embody as a nation is so unique to us and we have a constitution that most other competing countries do not have – that includes gender ID and Sexual orientation so I feel my ambassadorship is critical in this competition.
I am very excited to work with like minded individuals from all over the world. It is as much about our unity as it is about the competition itself.
We all want to educate about being gay, Lesbian, transgender and bisexual. We all want to show how it is to be open…
We want 2012 to be on African continent and I hope we can bring it here,
Africa is important for us to bring it here in 2012 because LGBTI are considered criminals in 37 countries just because of the love – and as you said Mel, we are not hurti9ng anyone else. Science teaches us that one is born gay or lesbian – why should everyone not enjoy the human right of being who they were born to be. The African continent must learn that …. So we must bring attention here.
MEL: SO What would you say to David Bahati - the author of the kill the Gays bill:
(FN: haha now you start….)
Mel: where he says “ homosexuality is not a human right and we are a sovereign country and you cant tell us how to make our rules”: how would you answer him?
FN : My immediate response would be that having lived my life I know I was born this way and that any other human who is gay has clearly also been born that way. That person who loves a person of the same sex in no way impinges upon or hurts anyone else. I feel as the human race - we need to embrace the LOVE that exists in the world – regardless of who it is between, whether a man and a man or a woman and a woman – or a man and a woman it is all life and we are all human. The fact that someone can be persecuted for that , or land up in prison because of it, is a problem and definitely hurts the right of the human love. One can never justify such persecution..
MEL: And his answer to that (you see I am kinda preparing you for Manila to (we both laugh).. … “gays have come to Uganda to the schools recruiting our children to become gay – that is how he would answer you – you are speaking from your personal experience and I can relate because mine is the same – but that is what he would say and he says it like he believes it even though despite being asked he has no proof. Your response:
FN: I know people are born gay – its not possible what he says – especially children how do you influence a child that way. We have studies that have been done. Some people have dedicated their lives to such studies . Look at Kingsley for example – sexuality is not as predefined as people think – there is a large spectrum of sexuality. Evident through the centuries. Nobody can be recruited. Studies done show that gay people whom adopt kids or have their own – those kids turn out to be completely heterosexual mostly; and I have heterosexual brothers – why are they not gay if our upbringing was exactly the same and I was never recruited. I was never molested no such influence just my natural sexuality.
MEL: Sex is a TINY Facet of who we are – as you said not all encompassing – do you think one can be religious and gay?
When it comes to personal belief systems you have a right to believe in whatever you want to believe or brought up to believe – as long as it does not cause prejudice, judgment towards any minorities or discrimination - being part of a democracy means you can believe what you want and hence be at ease with your homosexuality.
MEL: In the USA rise of right wing Evangelicals – separate from Christianity in general is hard for us especially activists because they use Christianity as mask of their hate. They say Gay is an abomination as per Leviticus. My understanding is that religion mostly speaks to love, loving kindness and spirituality – that supersedes everything that is the love for fellow human. If an evangelical right winger came to you and quotes Leviticus and calls you an abomination or says your sexual acts are what is your response?
Personal space and personal freedom is something we are all entitled to. My personal space starts here (points to self) and ends here (point to an inch from me) We are in our own spaces. People can believe what they want and follow what they want. It becomes a problem if they come into my space with their belief system. The bedroom that is my space is mine alone and \those who I invite in and it cannot hurt anyone. So do not trespasses not enter uninvited, because you may find you have entered a belief system different to your own,
We live in a beautiful world. Life expectancy is to be cherished. We get to embrace our sexuality so we can enjoy our time here. Doing good on earth toward your fellow human being. If we gay people embody that how can we be judged badly for it?
MEL: In USA we have DOMA – which denies us federal rights. Even if we can marry under the law of another country or a state in the USA we still cannot sponsor our foreign spouse for a green card to immigrate. Two weeks ago President Obama gave a favorable sign about the DOMA being unconstitutional – but in USA legislation to repeal it is long and arduous. The current Congress has an antigay majority –
1. My question is – Do you think that same-sex marriage could cause harm to traditional marriage?
2. What would you say to a Republican Congress holding us back from marriage equality?
FN: I think I would like to answer both the same – firstly to get married is a human right for gays – but not all may want it – I am passionate about the fact that if gay people want it , then it is available equally with all the rights and obligations it confers . At the end of the day love in its many phases for gay people is exactly the same as it is for heterosexual people.
Deny anyone a love is detrimental to society – denying love and equality in its infinite and ultimate attainment is detrimental to society.
Remember Mel our conversation the other evening about other campaigns,. We have progress I feel DADT in US shows progress. It comes back to fact that sexuality cannot harm your job – being gay is not all encompassing and we are multifaceted and dropping DADT will show that and before DADT was dropped that was the case,
MEL: Would you be willing as MR GAY WORLD or even Mr. GAY South Africa to come to USA to speak out about your all inclusive constitution and ask questions about why the USA does not have marriage equality?
FN:Yes I would be very excited to do that – like I said the journey around this competition starts with oneself. But it does not start and stop with ME.
MEL: This has been an inspiring conversation. I cannot imagine any other contestant woirthy of this title., English your second language is magnificent – and Sheez you are gorgeous.
FN: At a competition like this we are there competing BUT we are there for same reasons and you we all want to do the same work to inspire people to be who they are and for acceptance in our countries and the world. Just by being there we are all winners.
I am mostly excited that I will be working for charities that provide shelters to those who are homeless because they exiled or gay…. That will be the case no matter what.
MEL: Francois Nel you are an inspiration ….
FN: Oh Melanie thank you for inspiring me!
Tonight Francois texted me from the plane – he is on his way to Manila – his message is poignant and he tells it in a poised and assured way – with unique twists that make his message glow – he is gentle, softly spoken and yet forceful. I will be voting for him every day … Bon Voyage my Vriend - you are a winner no matter what!
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