Montello, Quantin. 2012. ‘At the End of the Rainbow: An Ethnographic Study of Gay Migrant Men in Johannesburg’. Masters in Migration, Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand.

  • Category: Literature
  • Source: Academic
  • Subject: Asylum/Refugee,Discrimination,Documentation status,Gay,Law/Legistation,Religion,Sexual Orientation
  • Place: Cameroon,Nigeria,Sierra Leone,South Africa,Zimbabwe
  • Year: 2012
This study explores the discourses of rights and practices of sociality gay migrant men in Johannesburg draw upon to gain access to public and social spaces in the South African community. Of particular interest is the manner in which these men draw upon discourses of freedom to shape their sexual identity and translate existing sets of legislation and rights into forms of sociality that develop, in this case, within the space provided by a Catholic church. Most countries on the African continent is characterised by a homophobic climate in which individuals are actively persecuted and prosecuted for failing to conform to a heteronormative and idealised conception of citizenship. As such, who is a citizen, who is included/excluded within borders, becomes highly contentious, especially when citizenship functions as a means to access not only spaces in the city but also the institutions that constitute a county’s political, social and economic life. This contentious climate influences the extent to which sexual identities are visible or hidden by the prevailing social norms, values, political ideology and legislation. Despite the prevalence of homophobic norms of citizenship in Africa, post-apartheid South-Africa has emerged as a potential safe haven for gay men and women on the African continent, with a progressive and liberal constitution in which equal rights are enshrined. While the situation in South Africa is complex, these legislative and constitutional freedoms create a liberal environment that provides a safe space for this Catholic church to exist, and for most of the gay migrants in this study the church has become the prime space for sociality. This is paradoxical in that the church in other contexts is conservative and/or even fuels homophobic sentiments through heteronormative forms of moral regulation. The function of the church within the lives of these men becomes highlighted in how they frame their sexuality and beliefs. Exploring the complexities of their lives and of the spaces they negotiated required the use of an ethnographic methodology which favours participant observation, in-depth interviews and reflexivity to capture these men’s voices and the details of their stories. This study encourages a debate on the role of sexuality in migration and the volatile relationship between concepts of sexuality, citizenship and heteronormativity.