Out of the changing room locker

03 May 2013 - 02:40 By ELYSSA CHERNEY
Former Olympic volleyball player Leigh-Ann Naidoo is one of the few South African sportsmen and women who have gone public about being homosexual. She is the first African ambassador for the Gay Games
Former Olympic volleyball player Leigh-Ann Naidoo is one of the few South African sportsmen and women who have gone public about being homosexual. She is the first African ambassador for the Gay Games
Image: ALON SKUY

Karen Hultzer might be a celebrated international athlete but some of the Olympic archer's fellow sportsmen are not impressed with her being openly lesbian.

"The heavily conservative Christian members of my sport are disapproving but I've never been ostracised by it . I give as good as I take and I have a fairly strong character," said Hultzer.

Tomorrow, she will be among community members signing a declaration in Gugulethu, Cape Town, against homophobia in sports.

Just a month ago, a 23-year-old Cape Town man, Lunga Voko, was viciously attacked in broad daylight for being gay.

The declaration signing is one of a series of events organised by Free Gender, an LGBTI organisation, in the lead-up to International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.

Funeka Soldaat, a co-founder of Free Gender, said homophobia was rampant in sport.

"We need to keep reminding people that this can't happen because it is not the vision of our country."

At the 2012 London Olympics, Hultzer was one of only 23 openly homosexual athletes among more than 10 000.

She said money contributed to this dismally low number: "I have never been in the closet really, but I know several gay athletes who will not come out publicly for fear of losing sponsorships."

Leigh-Ann Naidoo, a member of the beach volleyball team that competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, said levels of homophobia in general society were reflected in sports communities.

"Women are really not supported to be anything but feminine and when they find themselves in a space that is perceived as masculine, they are almost required or whipped into thinking that they need to perform in a feminine manner. It is absolutely ridiculous," said Naidoo, who publicly came out as lesbian at the Olympics.

When she competed in Athens, Naidoo protested against a rule that beach volleyball players could only wear bikinis with hip straps thinner than 5cm.

Naidoo was unable to list openly gay South African professional athletes other than herself and Hultzer.

Though Naidoo will not attend Free Gender's sporting day tomorrow, she said such symbolic events were important to build a more inclusive society.

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