On 9 October 2021, I hosted an open-space workshop, bringing together 20 young people between the ages of 15 – 33 at Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education, in Mowbray, Cape Town, to unpack and discuss the struggles and intersections experienced in and surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.
October serves as South Africa’s pride month. On 13 October 1990, South Africa’s first Lesbian and Gay Pride march was held in Johannesburg. It was the first Pride March on the African continent and acted as both a gay pride event and an anti-Apartheid march. Coincidently, 10 October serves as World Mental Health Day. It was because of these two days within the same week that I chose to hold the Open Space on the 9th.
The decision to go with the Open-Space methodology was because of a Deep Adaptation Open Space that I attended in 2020 ahead of Lockdown, where I fell in love with the free flowing technique of the meeting and the collaborative creation of the agenda. It was then that I decided that the workshop I wanted to hold on LGBTQ+ issues would be done within the Open Space format.
WHY THE VENUE?
“The Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education draws its name ‘Tshisimani’ from a word in the TshiVenda language meaning fountain, spring or ‘at the water source’. This captures the driving inspiration for the Centre, which is to nourish, replenish and sustain the power and capacity of activist movements, organisations and networks engaged in grassroots struggle to build a just society in South Africa and internationally.”
It is because of this that I chose Tshisimani as a venue for the open space. With this in mind and having worked with the amazing team at Tshisimani before, it was a no brainer that this would be the venue I went with.
Arrival and Set Up:
- Arrived at 8:30am to ensure that everything was set up and prepared – much to my delight the amazing team at the venue had already helped with the initial set up.
- Set up the world café wall that would be used for the day.
- Prepared the food and beverage that would be available throughout the day.
- Set up the registration and sanitization station.
- Prepared the posters for the Ice Breaker.
- Blasted house music to ground myself
After the set up participants began to show up slowly, once they did I mentioned the only rule of the day “Respect each other, Respect yourself, and Respect the space”, and shortly after the day began!
WHAT IS YOUR BATTERY PERCENTAGE? (Part 1)
To start our day off I had the participants stand next to each other against a wall. To the left of them (not seen in the picture) were posters with different percentages on them ranging from 10 – 100. I proceeded to ask a series of questions that I had prepared to be able to gauge the groups energy level and readiness to participate. Once the questions had been asked I asked everyone to look to their left and see the battery percentage I thought they were at based on my questions. I then asked them to position themselves where they thought best represents their battery percentage.
I informed the group that only in all of us were positioned above 50% would we begin, and that because most of us weren’t they were free to mingle, take a break, eat or drink juice, or go to the toilet, and that in 15 minutes I would ask the question again and we’d repeat the process until we were ready. When the 15 minutes were up and I asked them to position themselves again, everyone’s “battery percentage” was above 50% and so we officially began with the day.
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD
Understanding that not everyone in the room has had the same upbringing, levels of education and lived experience, and understanding of certain topics that would most likely be discussed, I prepared short oral presentations that would serve to help bring everyone up to speed in the space. I also ensured that if at anytime anyone wished to offer an explanation themselves that they felt comfortable enough to do so. Alongside this came the agreement that if anyone preferred to speak in a language that wasn’t English that they should feel safe and free to do so.
COMMUNITY BUILDING and WELCOME
Once everyone had settled I informed everyone once again of the only rule of the session, mentioned that they were free to leave and come and eat as they pleased throughout the day, and I ran through the principles of an open space:
- If you came, you were the right person to be there
- Whenever it started is the right time to start it
- Whatever happens is the only thing that can happen
- When its over its over.
This was followed by everyone going around in a circle introducing and sharing a bit about themselves. I did a formal welcome and began the second act of LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD, by providing context about why I had chosen October for the open space, the history of Pride in South Africa and its intersectionality in other social justice spaces, and the smallest crash course on positionality and identity factors.
DISCUSSING STRUGGLES AND INTERSECTIONS
As the first “formal” collective task for the day in addressing the theme of the open space, we had a popcorn round of sharing struggles and intersections faced by LGBTQ+ people in our communities and networks. The room being made up of people with different identity factors – some queer and some not – made this an interesting segment.
Here is what was discussed:
- The first hand experience and the witnessing of discrimination
- A new form of empowerment being recently found in being unapologetically authentic
- Judgement from family, friends, and strangers who simply don’t understand
- People failure – people in the queer persons life failing them by not loving and protecting them unconditionally.
- The different levels of Acceptance
- We cannot speak for our entire community only those directly around us
- Difference in opinions
- Danger that LGBTQ+ people face in South Africa
- Understanding that we are stronger together
- Realising that the non-acceptance can lead to:
- Drug or other substance abuse
- Self harm or suicide
- The need to respect all
- Can’t be yourself because it leads to a higher chance of violence on you.
- Lack of knowledge needs to be fixed.
This segment left many feeling slightly raw and others confused as to how we move forward now that we see the issues we can struggles and intersections LGBTQ+ people in our communities face.
UNPACKING STRUGGLES AND INTERSECTIONS
Following the discussion we moved into the Market Place segment of the day.
The Principles of Market Place:
There are three rounds of marketplace (I named these rounds: The Engine Warming Up, The Fire Being Cared For, and Seeds for the future.) led by a question.
- Anyone can put their own topic up to lead on a discussion.
- People can choose to attend which every discussion they feel most drawn to.
- The Law of Two Feet (in my case: the flower and the bees) gives participants freedom to move at any time to a discussion they care about.
- Caring creates common ground, and helps to remind participants of higher purpose
The group was reminded of The Flower (the person who suggest the discussion) and The Bees (the people who will contribute to the discussion). The flower stays and holds the pollen(the conversation space) for the bees, who can feel free to fly to the different flowers (conversation spaces) and contribute to different conversation spaces.
From the discussions the question asked to the group was: What are 3 main topics people see on this list that they would like to further discuss and unpack?
The Engine Warming Up: (Discussing the initial points)
From the question came the following 3 talking points. Breakout groups formed and discussions began. To help guide the discussions I asked them to look at advantages and disadvantages that might be found in each of their points as well as any other areas they found interesting.
Culture and your #Personal Perspective:
- Advantages can be:
- That you have people who are respectful
- You have a family who cares
- That there is a space to educate and express
- A place for joy, peace, and love
- Disadvantages can be:
- A lack of knowledge in the home or community
- You may be disowned or unloved – leads to school drop out and substance abuse
- You feel out of your comfort zone
- People have failed you, but you feel like you’ve failed them
- You yearn for awareness in schools and community, the freedom of expression, and the ability to build on your personal development.
Being in Public #Acceptance #No Eyes
- Advantages can be:
- Get to know the person from their perspective
- Sometimes feeling restricted in the house but ability to be free out in public
- You must express how you feel to be you
- Disadvantages can be:
- Get called ugly names and slurs
- In some communities you may be sexually assaulted because of who you want to be with
- Fear of the public makes some people want to self harm or kill themselves
- Expression is so important. Whether its how we dress or who we spend time with. The public offers both good and bad aspects for this expression to occur or not.
- Advantages can be:
- That you can be yourself if the collective welcomes you
- You can begin to accept yourself
- You can build your confidence
- Feel the ability to express yourself
- Love you for who you are
- Communicate well in groups
- Feel welcomed
- Have pride
- Disadvantages can be:
- The collective don’t accept you for your choices and for who you are.
- Can’t be yourself
- Difficult to accept yourself
- There is a struggle to be yourself
- Difficult to express your feelings
- Don’t feel welcome
- Can’t love yourself because others don’t accept you.
The Fire Being Cared For: (What can we do?)
Following a debrief session from the group on the initial discussion we moved into another market place. The question being: What can and should we do based on what was discussed? These were the outcomes: (Note: the last topic ended up melding into the other 2)
- Relationship and Engagement: Education and Spaces
- Develop spaces to raise awareness
- Create spaces where collectives can communicate
- Create “learn to stand out” spaces and courses
- Build spaces online: collective, individual, and whoever
- You and Them: Engaging and Safe Spaces
- Express kindness to bridge the gaps
- Socialise although you don’t know each other
- Discriminate/Judgement – unpack these and try and understand why
- Body Language when engaging with people. Try and show queer people that you are not going to harm them and that they are safe.
- Develop safe spaces – Posters, sharing posts on social media for moral support, and build spaces.
- Create Safe Spaces, Social media, Whatsapp and Awareness, Alliances
Seeds for the future: (Action moving forward)
Following a debrief session from the group on the “what we can do” we moved into another market place. The question being: What Actions will we take after today and into the years to come?
Actions Moving Forward:
- Get local community schools to partner on these kinds of educational workshops
- Get local facilities to raise awareness on LGBTQ+ injustices and struggles and ways to combat them
- Get LGBTQ+ TV shows on our community channels – representation normalises
- Get funds to support more open space events and workshops
- Get Collective groups
- Build relationships and engagement (Partner): Friends and family circle – start at home
- Resources: Books, Magazines, Internet
- Mistakes: Repeating mistakes and learning from them
- Speak your mind: Someone may not know and your speaking up could enlighten them.
- Clubs: Social, feeding schemes, community initiatives. In these spaces build safe spaces.
- Book clubs
- In regards to LGBTQ+ people and the aspect of religion (in a personal capacity): If you prescribe to a religion, find a place you can be yourself and still engage and practice your faith – alone, small groups, spaces that are accepting etc.
FINAL LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD AND FEEDBACK
In this final segment I applauded and encouraged the group to applaud themselves for the great work that they did as equals. Understanding that this was not an easy task but highlighting its importance and the importance of taking forward the actions following the space. Highlighting that by coming together they had built the first of their Identity Spectrum Safe Space Alliances.
WHAT IS YOUR BATTERY PERCENTAGE? (Part 2)
To close our day off I had the participants stand next to each other against a wall. To the left of them (not seen in the picture) were posters with different percentages on them ranging from 10 – 100. I proceeded to ask the same series of questions that I had opened the space with – with a few additions. This time aside from being hungry and a bit tired everyone’s “battery percentage” was above 60%, with most people standing in the 70+ range.
Despite having snacks throughout the day I thought it crucial to have a solid meal at the end of the day, in this case 1:30pm. (The scene undocumented because we were all too busy eating)
CLEAN UP AND DEPARTURE
After lunch, the participants helped me clean up the venue, showing that they all were following the single rule I had set: “Respect each other, Respect yourself, and Respect the space”. I made sure that everyone left safely and had transport costs covered if needed. After everyone had left I made sure that all my equipment was packed away, before making my way to thank the Tshisimani team who were downstairs, before leaving.
Once again, thank you to all who participated in my very own self run Open Space and Thank you to Tshisimani – Centre for Activist Education for allowing me to use your brilliant venue!