In recent months, an influential LGBTQ+ leader has seemingly been conducting a campaign against some of the South African LGBTQ+ media. Using the hashtag #notmymedia, attacks have specifically been launched against GaySA Radio, the new LGBTQ+ media kid on the block, as well as against the well established and respected Mambaonline.com. These attacks have been made publicly on Facebook (most now deleted but still existing as screenshots.)
This persistent criticism of these two LGBTQ+ media outlets by this one specific individual has led to a lot of soul searching specifically on my part as to the value of what we are doing and if it is having any impact at all. Should the LGBTQ+ media just disband and leave it for “mainstream” media to pick up the stories and issues and point out injustices as they occur; chase stories of lesbians being attacked, raped and murdered; and follow up issues pertinent to small niche communities? Should we just say that the battle for equal rights has been won and now everything is mainstream?
In short, are we just wasting our time building up this new company called GaySA Radio, where we focus almost exclusively on LGBTQ+ content, and playing a large selection of LGBTQ+ artists and music? Has all the hard work and sacrifice been in vain, because nobody needs the information we can provide as it is already available on mainstream media platforms? Is it a waste of time and effort to support LGBTQ+ business, organisations, events? Is leading campaigns such as the ones against gay hating US pastor Steven L. Anderson, our own Oscar Bougard and Gretha Wiid something we should wait for mainstream media or others to champion on our behalf? Is there even a role to play for LGBTQ+ media in a country where the Constitution protects all rights equally?
While I most certainly respect anybody’s prerogative to have a media partner of their choosing which in their opinion will reach their target market, what I do not agree with is the persistence of blackening our name and trying to turn people against us. Logic dictates that if you do not want to use a media outlet, then leave them alone. Why badmouth them in the process?
This has all led to much introspection on our side as to what we do and how we do it here at GaySA Radio. I for one am proud that, against all odds and with almost no capital whatsoever, but through sheer determination, blood, sweat, and tears, we have been developing our small online radio station over the past almost three years. We are managing (barely, some months, but still managing) to employ and pay 12 people, creating jobs for mainly LGBTQ+ people. Ultimately our plan is to a staff of between 35 to 40 people. So I am satisfied that we are playing our role in creating permanent jobs for our core staff component, and freelance jobs for others such as voice artists, writers and the like.
Secondly, I have come to the conclusion that, as much as we want to believe all LGBTQ+ issues have equal space in mainstream media, this is far from the case. Let’s take a recent event like the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras and Arts Festival and the Mr. Gay World finals as an example. As an official media partner, GaySA Radio provided an incredible amount of exposure which, through us and other partners, were fed to the mainstream media. Some of them picked up on our stories, but if it wasn’t for the efforts of ourselves and other partners like Mambaonline.com, Gay Pages, Exit, Pink Pages, and companies Red Dot PR and The Social Media Company, they would most probably not have heard about or reported on it.
As official publicist to both events, I wrote and circulated the press releases to LGBTQ+ media around the world. Through Red Dot PR this was also circulated to mainstream media. I also sent photos of the Mr. Gay World winners and a press release to mainstream media, and as could be seen from the front page of the Cape Times, we managed to make quite a splash, more so than in previous years. So to summarise: These LGBTQ+ events were supported by local LGBTQ+ media and through them, managed to reach mainstream media.
We also all know that attacks against LGBTQ+ people in our country are still largely ignored by mainstream media, and while visibility has improved somewhat in recent times, many other such issues are just too far out to speak about in mainstream media.
Take for instance the whole issue of men who have sex with men (MSM). Where else but on GaySA Radio can there be an open and honest discussion between such men, whatever their sexual identity, about the very many issues they may face? Can we talk about how a guy can fuck a guy in the ass while having lots of fun and being safe at the same time, ensuring he will not infect his wife when he gets home? Will a graphic and frank conversation or interview on subject matter like this ever even be considered by 5FM or Metro? I seriously doubt it.
Similarly, there are many issues that affect LGBTQ+ people that will never make it to the pages of the YOU Magazine, but which are reported on daily by Mambaonline.com or get featured in Gay Pages, Exit and other LGBTQ+ media.
And then I wonder about the responsibility we as LGBTQ+ people in South Africa have towards the rest of the world, including our brothers and sisters in African countries where colonial era homophobia is legislated and being true to your sexuality is still punishable by death? If we are to truly “liberate every LGBTQ+ME person across Africa to live their most authentic life” as one of our premier Pride events purports to do, surely the first step to achieving this lofty ideal is to ensure that the people you want to help have the correct information at hand with which they can achieve this: A steady stream of news and information that specifically speaks to the LGBTQ+ME person, whether in Egypt, Uganda or Kenya; or indeed in any of the other 197 territories and countries that listen to GaySA Radio on a regular basis. From feedback we have started receiving from all corners of the globe, it is clear that people are finding our content interesting, our music selection enjoyable, and their comments in emails, on social media and our smartphone app express appreciation for the work we do.
This has given our team the confidence to focus their attentions, using our approach of LGBTQ+ first. We are always looking for the LGBTQ+ angle to every story we do, and all content we present. Slowly but surely we are building capacity, streamlining our program offering, sorting out technical issues, growing our number of users and increasing our sphere of influence and credibility. It will still take another few years to build this business into the vision I have in my mind’s eye, a vibrant LGBTQ+ media house that reaches a substantial mainly LGBTQ+ audience across the globe.
Of course, it is still early days for us and we have a long way to go to be able to achieve our dreams. And luckily we have found friendly partners in and enjoy easy relations with our sister LGBTQ+ media organisations like Mambaonline.com, Exit, Gayspeak News, OutAfrica Magazine, Gay Pages and others.
In the end it is sad that influential people in the LGBTQ+ community are seen to be breaking us down, splitting the LGBTQ+ community for what seems to be their own aims, apparently denying us an honest living by making untrue accusations against us and seemingly trying to sabotage our efforts. Our income is purely dependent on attracting advertisers, which is difficult enough as it is when you are LGBTQ+, but when people within your community are trying to discredit you so that it becomes even more difficult to get to that income, one has to question their motives. A line needs to be drawn in the sand somewhere.
That line is here. I respect that everyone is entitled to an opinion, as long as it is balanced and based on fact. We are open to discuss it like grown ups, as others who have had criticism against us can testify to. We love to discuss the hard issues and debate the pertinent points, always based on informed opinion and fact, of course. If we make mistakes, then, like all media, hold us responsible and help us correct our mistakes. Understand that what we do may not seem important to you or something you may want to subscribe to, but somewhere in the world there is a lonely young LGBTQ+ person whose only source of information, of family, is GaySA Radio. Should we deny them this because one person here in South Africa is dead set against it? I think not.
GaySA Radio is here to stay. Every day we make effort to improve how we present our content, what we select to highlight, and how we use the power of the Internet to send these messages, sounds, and images to every place where there is an LGBTQ+ person, which now apparently includes every country on earth, including Antarctica!
Our team is forging ahead because we believe in what we do. We hope you will give us a fair chance to convince you we are serious about this.
Hendrik Baird is the Station Manager of GaySA Radio (Pty) Ltd. You can listen to GaySA Radio through the website www.gaysaradio.co.za or by downloading the smartphone app from the same site.