South Africa is one of the most incredible places we have ever visited. We are always looking to travel to gay friendly destinations that offer both luxury and adventure and South Africa ticks all these boxes.
Some of you reading may find it surprising that South Africa is considered to be a gay friendly destination.
Speaking from our own experience, we had no idea until we travelled here back in 2015. The same view seems to be true for many of you that have taken part in polls we have run on social media.
Whilst our experience here as tourists has been great, we know that this is not always the case for the local LGBT community. And so during our three months in South Africa, we made it our mission to find out what life is really like as a local gay South African.
And who better to speak to than Mr Gay South Africa 2019 himself, Chris Emmanuel! We were lucky enough to meet with Chris during our stay in Knysna. Here is what he has to say about gay South Africa:
Hi Chris! Please introduce yourself to our readers, and of course tell us all about the Mr Gay World Competition, how you came to be Mr Gay South Africa, and what you hope to achieve for the country.
Hi everyone! I’m Chris Emmanuel, the recently crowned Mr Gay South Africa 2019.
I’m a ripe 42 years old and it was with total surprise that I won by public participation voting and became the new Mr Gay South Africa. Following being crowned Mr Gay South Africa, I am setting a goal of raising over R1 million ($70,000) for issues and charities.
Here in South Africa, we are very lucky to have an incredible constitution that strongly protects gay rights and marriage.
However, on the ground there are still issues that need addressing. These include corrective rape (towards lesbians within certain township communities), abandonment by conservative parents when coming out, and the struggle of people in less affluent communities to be accepted and free in their sexual preferences.
My mission is to highlight these issues, and to bring change to perceptions and behaviours that negatively affect LGBTIQ people in South Africa.
That sounds like a mission we fully support. So tell us, what is the stereotypical view of a local South African towards someone who is LGBT+ (either towards another local or tourist)?
On average South Africans are conservative, god fearing and stuck in their ways. This makes life in the LGBTIQ community tough if you are in more rural communities or small towns.
In the cities, particularly in Cape Town, gay people are generally free to be themselves, but again only in the more central areas and the tourist hotspots.
As a tourist however you are wholeheartedly accepted, and you are unlikely to venture into any of the places that may pose a risk anyway so you don’t have to worry about that at all.
South Africa in law is fully supportive of gay rights. As a tourist, within cities, my advice would be ‘be free to be you’, display affection and generally relax.
In the more rural communities, be aware that you are going to make a real spectacle of yourself if you kiss and cuddle in public.
So which areas are we talking about for tourists to visit?
The Western Cape which includes Cape Town (specifically De Waterkant Village), the Cape Winelands, Klein Karoo along the famed R62 driving route, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and beyond are the most welcoming of the provinces.
In Johannesburg the epicentre of gay life happens in Parkhurst, a wonderful leafy suburb with street cafes and bars. Melville is also a great option.
The other cities have no particular gay nightlife and center to speak of. Townships are awesome to visit but only with a guided tour and are not particularly receptive to gay culture.
Have you seen these views we have talked about change over time?
Slowly it is changing.
I am very confident in my sexuality, but do not outwardly appear as gay to most straight people. The shock and rewiring of peoples brains that happens before my eyes when they find out I am gay is one of my favorite things!
It makes people reassess their thoughts, and opens their minds to the fact that as gay people, we are just like them.
The stereotypes, although they exist, ignore the fact that most gay people exist and function within broader society.
My sexuality does not define me, and that is one of my key messages to the world and to gay people. You can be anything and do anything you want, being gay does not change that.
You briefly touched on the laws and protection for LGBT people, can you tell us a little more?
We have full constitutional protection.
In South Africa, due to our historic past that institutionalises discrimination, the new and free South Africa protects the rights of all people regardless of race, religion or sexuality.
We were the first country in the world to have such an advanced constitution that specifically protected the LGBT community and the 5th country to legalise gay marriage. I’m immensely proud of that!
Can you tell us more about the gay scene in South Africa? We know all about Cape Town but how about elsewhere? (Gay bars, clubs, saunas, support groups etc)
(Read all about gay Cape Town here).
Johannesburg’s gay scene is centered around Parkhurst’s street bars and cafe’s.
The Parkhurst GAT Party that happens monthly (which I in fact started and sold to other event planners), house parties that you will definitely be invited to once you meet any Johannesburg locals, and Illovo where you will find Beefcakes and Babylon the bar. There are some far flung other places but generally I would personally stick to the ones mentioned.
One specific mention that I am very proud of is that the Ivan Toms Center For Mens Health (https://www.health4men.co.za/) in Cape Town, provides free STD screening and free Prep to people in the gay community. It’s an amazing resource that saves lives and provides medical treatment that would otherwise be out of reach of many gay men.
What advice would you give an LGBT traveller coming to South Africa? (what to do and what not to do)
My first words of advice would be prepare yourself to be absolutely blown away by what you find here at the southern-most tip of Africa.
Not only will you find a vibrant gay culture but you will be awestruck by the insane and ever changing scenery, including untouched beaches and natural wonders.
Expect first world infrastructure, friendliness of the locals, and an endless list of activities to do.
One trip to South Africa will never be enough, and I’m yet to meet anyone that has visited once and who hasn’t come back for more!
We totally understand that! This is our second time here as a couple and we’re already making plans for the third! Thanks Chris, is there anything else you wish to add?
I’m a total CrossFit addict and took this addiction further by opening CrossFit Knysna.
I worship food, love to go out and party, and generally just live life to the absolute fullest.
I am also a practicing minimalist so things/stuff mean nothing to me. My home is all of 18 square meters. Oh and did i mention I’m also single (chuckle).
You can follow me on Instagram @theminimalistchris … never a dull moment there 🙂
Thank you so much to Chris for those insights.
We were very glad to have met Chris during our time in South Africa. We have to reiterate what he has said. This is our second trip to South Africa together (Bens third!), and this time we are here for 3 months and it is still not enough!
All the delegates for Mr Gay World 2019 can be found here.
Feel free to vote for Chris! He didn’t ask us to put this in, but we are happy to support him and feel strongly about what he is trying to achieve for South Africa!
For more on South Africa, check out:
- Cape Town Pride: Everything you need to know
- The Complete Gay Guide to Cape Town
- Gay Bars Cape Town: The Complete Guide
- How to hike Table Mountain (the easyish way)
- 12 tips for keeping safe in Cape Town!
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