The Network started out in response to the need for LGBTI people to have a safe place where they could meet and socialize, as no such spaces or facilities were available in Pietermaritzburg. From these beginnings it has developed into a fully functional NGO that offers a wide range of programmes and services to the LGBTI community. The organisation also works with the broader community to create a more enabling and welcoming environment, in which LGBTI people can access services and be treated with respect and without discrimination or fear of violence.
The organisation has a staff of six and a core of committed volunteers who contribute to every aspect of the Network’s programmes, including counseling, training, event organizing and general office support.
The Network provides free counseling in person and over the phone. In South Africa, the Network can be reached on its Helpline at 086 033 3331; alternatively, SMS HELP to 079 891 3036 and the Network will call you back. The Helpline operates from 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
The Network is working with LGBTI people and stakeholders throughout the Pietermaritzburg Midlands area. The Network has identified Greater Edendale as the area where it will focus its outreach work. Greater Edendale is a peri-urban settlement 15 kilometres from central Pietermaritzburg with an estimated population of 250,000 people. It is made up of 19 townships. Over the last 18 months with support from the AIDS Foundation South Africa (AFSA), the Network conducted a survey to determine the needs and challenges faced by the local LGBTI population. The research revealed a strong preference from local LGBTI people for the Network to have a presence in the area and to provide a range of services. The Network plans to establish an office in the centrally located township of Imbali to deliver these services. The Network will work directly with health care providers and the police with the aim of sharing information and changing attitudes towards the LGBTI people they serve in Greater Edendale.
To achieve this, the Network will engage in the following broad activity areas:
- Working with the Department of Safety and Community Liaison to gain access to police and magistrates who are the perpetrators of secondary discrimination against LGBTI people. Local police stations in Greater Edendale will be particularly targeted;
- Working with religious leaders (including student theologians) to increase their acceptance and understanding of LGBTI people;
- Increasing understanding of LGBTI people and their particular sexual health needs amongst health practitioners, thus improving service at health institutions and ensuring that LGBTI people get equal access to information about and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Clinics in and around Greater Edendale will be particularly targeted;
- Working with educators (and learners) to help them address intimidation and discrimination experienced by LGBTI pupils in schools. Particular attention will be paid to schools in Greater Edendale that participated in the Network’s research;
- Working with identified community leaders in Greater Edendale to communicate a positive message about LGBTI people and to facilitate access to services.
- Playing a key role in the co-ordination of activities related to both raising awareness and active redress of hate crimes perpetrated in and around the Pietermaritzburg Midlands area.
Long-term goals of the organisation include building local LGBTI leadership by identifying and training a leadership committee comprised of resident LGBTI people who will drive programmes and services.
The Network established a drama group managed by volunteers in November 2010. The Network has used community theatre as a way to create awareness around LGBTI issues in a safe environment. The group comprises ten young men and women from ages 18 to 25 who are mostly unemployed. They perform at various workshops and events sponsored by the Network.
The drama group is a member of the South African Community Theatre Association (SANCTA), Performing Arts Network of South Africa (PANSA) and Assitej South Africa (International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People). The group participated at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2013 and the SANCTA theatre festival in 2010 and 2011 in Mpumalanga. The group was placed fourth out of fifteen theatre groups nationally at the 2011 festival.
The group is supported and mentored by qualified theatre practitioners who provide theatre trainings and rehearsals.