South African TV Star Sade Giliberti on Mental Health and Queer Representation
We spoke to the former child star turned TV personality about the changes she wants to see.
Most South Africans remember the name Sade Giliberti as the young and vibrant presenter from the kid’s TV programme,YO-TV.
While she only started speaking publicly about her sexuality when she was older, Giliberti was never shy to show her true self just because she didn’t fit the "typical" image of femininity.
For many, she is still a symbol of representation, because young people who are queer could see themselves in her growing up.
“No one made television presenting seem so cool other than Sade,” says this article about YO-TV alumnis.
Sade Giliberti was another important part of my queer awakening— just say they (@indiosyncratic) January 2, 2019
The now 34-year-old media personality continues to use her platform as one of South Africa’s most loved TV personalities to shine a light on the country’s social issues.
Giliberti is one of the growing number of celebrities around the world taking to social media to increase awareness of issues that matter to them. For Giliberti, she focuses on the challenges faced by people who are LGBTQ+, along with mental health.
The growth of social media in the past decade has seen a total shift in how people use the different platforms, and it has become a powerful tool to create awareness for various issues.
One of the recent examples of the global impact that social media can have is the emergence of the “Me Too” movement, aimed at raising awareness around sexual harassment and assault.
This has inspired a lot of similar movements, including #AmINext, where South African women shared personal stories and fears of being victims of gender-based violence.
We spoke to Giliberti, after she attended the Global Citizen Prize ceremony in London in December 2019, to see what she had to say about her journey with social action.
You started out in your industry from a very young age, how do you think that shaped who you are today?
Starting in an “adult industry” from a very young age puts in you situations you wouldn't be in as a child — thus also putting you in situations you wouldn't be in as an adult if you weren't a part of the industry.
It's definitely shaped who I am today because I've had to grow up with an extremely thick skin. But I've also had to work on myself immensely, because being a public figure means there are more eyes on you constantly.
It's still a little crazy for me to think that a week ago today I attended the first ever @glblctzn #gcprize2019 Awards. A wonderful ceremony and celebration that shines a light on world leaders, artists, business leaders, and youth activists who keep the world’s poor at the forefront of their life’s work. 🤍💯 ° ° In the next coming days the world will finally be able to get in on the celebrations at Royal Albert Hall by tuning into their local broadcasters. 👀👀 ° ° Tomorrow night 21st Dec on @skyone 📺 27th and 28th Dec on @mtv Worldwide 📺 And 1st Jan 2019 on @mnettv 📺 ° ° Be sure to tune in. You'll be so inspired to do more in the next decade - I promise you this. Because since last week Friday, I'm like, bruh! Bring on the next decade because I'm ready to do way more than I have ever done. But am also proud of all I've done thus far, and you should all be too. The smallest gestures make the biggest difference. No matter the cause closest to your heart, do whatever you can to make this world a better place. ❤️❣️❤️❣️ ° ° Also, there's mad performances by @stormzy @hermusicofficial @theofficialsting @johnlegend and many more 🤩🤩🤩 ° #DecadeOfChange #PowerTheMovement #gcprize2019
How old were you when you came out as lesbian? And what was your experience of being open, in your personal life and in your industry?
I came to my friends when I was about 18 years old. It was incredibly scary for me, but they were all so supportive.
I was outed to my father via rumours when I was 19 years old, but it's not like I truly hid it from him. The tell tale signs were there. It's that typical thing of your parent not wanting to acknowledge it.
He did take it extremely hard in the beginning, but more was worried about my future and my future in the industry.
He thought it was an unsafe path for me to take because people knew me and all sorts of horrid things could happen to me, especially in South Africa and in the wake of “corrective rape”. One can only understand that.
I was then outed publicly in a magazine publication when I was 24 years old. At the time I felt robbed of being able to stand on my own soapbox and speak about my sexuality at my own pace, but luckily for me, it didn't affect my work and those in the industry who already knew about my sexuality were always supportive. Since then, I've been louder and prouder.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility to represent young queer girls of colour? And why do you think representation is important?
I feel a sense of responsibility to represent all queer lives. But yes, definitely queer girls of colour.
When I was growing up and coming to terms with my sexuality, there was no one for me to truly look up to, especially in South Africa.
Within my own industry of presenters and actors, there weren't any queer people on TV who looked like me, but there were loads of queer men. I indirectly became the queer girl that others saw in themselves when they watched me on TV.
Representation makes people feel less ostracised and more accepted. Representation makes people know that they, too, can be whoever they want to be, because they've just seen someone who looks like them do just that.
What sparked your passion for raising awareness for social issues?
I've been blessed with a platform that I believe I must use to raise awareness and do good. What's the point of having thousands of people know you, and follow you, if you're just going to be vapid and soulless.
I've spent a lot of time working on myself and continue to this day. The more I become aware, the more I want to raise that awareness. It takes one message to change a person's life.
You’re currently based in London now, however your passion and love for South Africa is still evident in the work that you do, why is that so?
Because South Africa is my homeland. Just because I've moved to another country doesn't mean I have forgotten where I've come from — 90% of my fanbase is South African.
Those are my people. They made me who I am today. And no matter where in the world I end up, I'll always give love to South Africa first.
When we realise how much we have accomplished in a decade, we need to think about what more needs to be done in the next decade. Being invited by @glblctzn to partake in a roundtable discussion with some amazing movers and shakers yesterday was an absolute honor. It was room filled with diverse humans all passionate about what matters to us. Speaking out and advocating on different issues, which to many may seem world apart, yet are interconnected and affect us on a global level. 🙏🏼🌍 ° There was a moment where I was like, 'what am I doing here?' Everyone here is so boss! Literally, fucking incredible humans, doing the the most! Knocking on Ministers doors, holding leaders accountable, and doing things on a level that I haven't even touched. But then I realised after speaking to others, that hold on, I have a voice. I care about a lot, I've done a lot and I continue to do what I can. AND I use my platform to instill some change no matter the capacity. Bruh! They invited ME! And this was their first ever UK roundtable discussion! 🌟🌟🌟 ° Faaack! What a ride this decade has been. Honestly. The growth has been immense. 😭🙏🏼🙂 ° However, it's time to unlearn a lot of what we've been taught. It's time to shake the old, and be present. Be here now. It's time to think about the issues that matter to you the most, and think about what you are doing to make a difference, no matter how big or small! Use what you have! 🙂 ° The pressure is on for global change. Let's do best in the next decade. WE ARE ALL GLOBAL CITIZENS! 👩🏻🦰👱🏾👩🏾🦱👨🏻🦲👨🏽🦳🧕🏽👳🏿♂️👲🏻👨🏼🌾🧔🏿👴🏾 #GlobalCitizen
You co-produced a Johannesburg version of a YouTube series about LGBTQIA+ issues — why did you feel it was important to bring this show to South Africa?
LGBTQIA+ issues differ in different places around the world. Some issues are exactly the same, yet other issues are specific to cities, and countries.
It was important for us, especially after being at the first Global LGBTQIA+ Network Conference in Johannesburg in 2018, to tell the stories of young black queer South Africans.
It's important to share the stories of queer people of colour from around the globe, so that we can raise awareness about what it's like being queer and a person of colour in a certain place. How can we create safe spaces, if we don't know what the issues are on a broader scale?
Most importantly, it was about having those honest and raw conversations for South Africans to also see and hear, instead of only seeing the glamorised version of queer lives on reality TV.
You’re very present on social media, why do you think social media is an important tool to talk about social issues?
Social media reaches more people these days than TV and print does, and it's way more international.
A lot of our social issues are international issues. And when 3.4 billion people use social media on a daily basis, you're talking to a lot more people than you would in a concentrated setting.
Your blog post “The importance of wellness” and several other posts frequently touch on mental health. Where does that passion stem from?
I've always been open about my issues with depression and mental health. This is what got me to be an Ambassador for SADAG (South African Anxiety and Depression Group) when I still lived in South Africa.
I did a lot, especially around teen suicide, which is a subject very close to my heart because of my own experiences.
I've overcome a lot and, as I said earlier, work on myself everyday to keep my mental health at bay.
Mental health is extremely important to me, it's important for me to remind people that they are not alone, it is important for me to help those who feel like they are alone. It's important for me to raise awareness, to be a voice, and to be a stranger to lean on when times get tough.
What message do you want to share with Global Citizens, in terms why their activism and being part of a movement is important?
Being a part of a movement that you believe in wholeheartedly is extremely important because you give hope to those who feel hopeless.
When we all band together as Global Citizens and want to see that global change, we become a force to be reckoned with.
When we hold leaders accountable and demand change, they have no choice but to be a part of the change. The more we come together as Global Citizens to change stigmas of the world, to better our climate crisis, to create a safe and healthy planet, to ensure people have the basic necessities like food and water, the more we can do.
As a celebrity and social advocate, how do you strike a balance between making a living and doing good?
That balance is hard for me at current, especially because I'm in a new land trying to make a living, but also trying to be seen for who I am and what I can offer. Both in my career and as an advocate.
It's about knowing what you're willing to give your time to for free, and what you need to start charging for. But it's also about organisations and companies seeing your worth and what you can offer to them, thus paying for your time and not using you for your status.
There's this misconception that all celebrities are filthy rich and thus need to give our time for free, all the time. But that's not true, we need to make a living too. It's one thing being asked to paint a school, and then being asked to host an event. The balance comes from both ends.
Being a celebrity comes with the package of my job — which is in the end my passion — and I've worked very hard to be where I am. Being a social advocate is a deeper, more personal passion because I want to see the change and be a part of that change.
What impact do you hope your work will one day have?
I hope that we get to a point where mental health is no longer a stigma, where your sexual orientation no longer matters, and where people from all walks of life are represented fairly in the media.
I've always said that if I'm helping at least one person a day, a week, a month, that's one person more than yesterday and one more person who may pay it forward one day.