Beverley Ditsie: the South African woman who helped liberate lesbians everywhere


Beverley Ditsie first understood what the word “gay” meant while listening to Boy George. She was a teenager in the South African township of Soweto in the early 1980s, obsessed with the UK’s New Romantic movement. In South Africa, people were speculating about the singer’s sexuality, as they were all over the world, and when Ditsie heard that to be gay was to love someone of the same sex, she felt a shock of joy. “I remember this confusion that I’d always had; I’d been trying to work out how I’d get over this thing. I always thought I was the only one,” says Ditsie. “I thought: ‘I’m just gay. Oh my God! I’m just gay, everything is OK. I’m just gay.’” For a fleeting moment, Ditsie felt free – something that was almost taboo in a country in turmoil as a result of apartheid. “As a child, you grow up being told you can’t use the word ‘free’ or ‘freedom’, because then you’re a terrorist and so will be taken, beaten, arrested, killed.” In the excitement of the moment, she ran to tell her family, who were having Sunday lunch, that she, too, was gay. She expected them to be pleased. “The look on their faces kind of said: maybe not,” she says with a wry smile and a raised eyebrow.

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