20/10/2017 14:37 SAST | Updated 20/10/2017 15:21 SAST

Zakhele Mbhele -- Coming Out Of The Closet Was The Best Thing I Could've Done

The DA's shadow minister Of police tells HuffPost SA the moving story of how he came out of the closet.

Zakhele Mbhele outside Parliament.
Zakhele Mbhele outside Parliament.

South Africa's queer communities celebrated a rare parliamentary show of support this week after members adopted a motion to support National Coming Out Day, held annually on October 11. The day is celebrated worldwide as an opportunity to support those wanting to "come out" about their sexual orientation.

But the win was not just for the LGBT+ community. The MPs' support was an official endorsement of the efforts of Zakhele Mbhele -- South Africa's first openly gay, black MP.

Mbhele, the DA's shadow minister of police, and former spokesperson for former DA leader Helen Zille, looked back on when he came out this week -- telling HuffPost SA that opening up about his sexuality was "one of the most important things" he has ever done.

"I came out in two stages -- the first was a coming out to my close friends from high school the year after matric. I had been so anxious about the response. I initially came out to the one friend I was closest to, who was fully supportive, and who I then enlisted to help me come out to the others." Mbhele said from Parliament.

"When we all had dinner the one evening, I was trying to build up the courage to make the announcement, but my one friend cut to the chase and in the middle of dinner said, 'Guys... Zac has something to say.'

"My heart stopped, but I eventually just told them. There were five minutes of dead silence, and then they all said that they didn't feel any different, and from then on it was never an issue."

But coming out to his family, he said, was a far more complicated matter.

"I told my mother while we were driving in the car. She was driving and I was in the passenger seat. After I told her, 'Mom, I'm gay,' I remember she said to me, 'It's okay to be gay, but I don't want to meet any of your boyfriends.'

"That was really difficult.

"But after two years, she warmed up to the idea. Se eventually became my biggest defender to extended family members who wanted to do prayer circles and those sorts of things.

"She would tell them, he is fine, just leave him alone! So, I have been lucky, especially as a black man in this country, which is why this show of support is important for me -- role models during that time would've made it all so much easier."

Did Coming Out Affect His Career?

"I've certainly never faced any adverse or negative issues for being out. If anything, I could make the argument that being out has actually helped me, and given me a little bit of an advantage in my career in the DA. Being able to say that hey, we have a young, gay, black member of Parliament counts in their favour. In my case, given the political mast that I have nailed my colours to, it was the best thing I could've done."

Having the public know this story is important for him, and the many young LGBT+ people out there whom he might inspire.

"Hopefully it gives them a little support or recognition for coming out, whether it is for work, or the family environment. I've always been a big believer of the idea that people should come out in their own time, and do what is best for them. But for those of us who are lucky enough to have come out, and to be who they are, especially LGBT+ young people. I want them to know that you don't have to fundamentally compromise your life if you come out, I didn't."