The Chosen FEW, a Johannesburg-based women’s soccer team affiliated with the black lesbian advocacy group, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), will be the only lesbian team from Africa to compete in the Gay Games. Eleven players, a coach and manager will carry the torch for all African sexual minorities during the event, but especially for the most marginalised group: black lesbians.
Modelled after the Olympic Games, this seventh instalment of the Gay Games, which takes takes place from the 15th to the 22nd of July, welcomes top athletes from over seventy countries around the world to compete in a forum that celebrates sport and the gay and lesbian lifestyle.
Despite difficulties gaining visas to enter the United States and the need for financial sponsorship, the team was enthusiastic, focused, and determined to achieve victory for South Africa. “We are going to represent South Africa as a whole; at the same time we represent lesbian women,” Chosen FEW team coach Vole Magongwa contends. “We look forward to winning and bringing a trophy back home. It’s our chance to make it, whether they like it or not.”
The team hopes that success at the Gay Games will lead to more recognition for gays and lesbian athletes in the South African mainstream. “If we do well, we hope for more respect and that South Africa will be proud of us,” says defensive player Precious Kgadi.
Team manager Magongwa underscores how this event will be instrumental in challenging powerful stigmas about LGBTI’s in the culture and in sport: “Most gays and lesbians cannot express their talents, and they don’t want to come out because they are in South Africa.”
The players, who have been training for hours every day with men’s football teams and are well prepared to play more than one ninety minute match a day if need be, and go all the way to the final. They are determined to make a stamp on women’s soccer, and they have the skill to do it. Many of these women learned to play football with boys in the rough and sandy streets of townships outside of Johannesburg, and they have an insatiable passion for the game.
Players like Thandi Selepe hope that their success will garner national media attention and potential sponsorship that could lead to better training grounds, new equipment, and travel funds for lesbian women’s soccer. As members of FEW, such notoriety would draw attention to their advocacy work fighting social stigma, hate crimes, and sexual violence against black lesbian women in South Africa.
The team knows a lot is at stake. “I expect to go there and deliver,” says Team Captain Albertina “Shaka” Nkgweng, “We are discriminated against, and this is our opportunity to prove ourselves, that as lesbians we can do whatever we want.”
Nkgweng insists that her team will not be distracted by the excitement of the Chicago Gay Games festivities or the glitz of the American urban mecca and home of house music. Rather she insists, “We are role models for those who come after us. We are going to do a job, not socialize. We want to bring the trophy home!”
By Mireille Miller-Young for FEW
Behind the Mask