Theirs was a kiss that stunned a conservative town. When a moment of passion for two men was published on a newspaper front page it provoked fierce debate in one of South Africa’s oldest communities.
In a single photograph Bjorn Czepan and Mark Dean Brown became unwitting symbols for tolerance and gay rights at the predominantly Afrikaner, rugby-playing Stellenbosch University.
Just a month later, there is a tragic postscript. Czepan is dead and Brown is critically ill in hospital.
The students were involved in a car crash in the suburb of Woodstock, last week, the Cape Times reported. Czepan, from Germany, was killed, and Brown was put on a ventilator at the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital.
The hospital said a third student, Brian Kline, was admitted late last Thursday night after the crash. Brown and Kline were critical but stable.
Thefleeting moment of fame for the Cape Town University couple came at last month’s annual Soen in die Laan (Kiss in the Avenue) event at the nearby university, when lesbian and gay students joined the traditionally heterosexual occasion .
The photograph was published on the front page of the student newspaper Die Matie, triggering furious debate on social networking sites. Copies were torn up or defaced in protest but there were supportive comments from gay students.
Vanessa Smeets, the paper’s picture editor, told the Christian Science Monitor: “We knew it would be controversial, but not this level of reaction … Most women seem OK [about it], but a lot of Afrikaans men and African men were very unhappy. Some have been using the paper as dart boards, tearing them up.”
The image caught the attention of South Africa’s lesbian and gay community. Marlow Valentine, community engagement manager at the Triangle Project, Cape Town, said today: “It was one of those articles that challenge hetero-normative ideas. Stellenbosch is a very conservative town and doesn’t like anything out of the ordinary.”
Matthew Gardiner, a friend of Czepan, told the Cape Times: “Bjorn couldn’t understand [why] the Soen in die Laan situation could make so much of an impact, but he was also very proud that he had been able to help people come to terms with their sexuality through that kiss.”
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