1957 - 1998

“If you are Black and gay in South Africa, then it really is all the same closet…inside is darkness and oppression. Outside is freedom.”

– Simon Tseko Nkoli

Born in Soweto, Simon Tseko Nkoli embodied “the personal is the political” as one of Africa’s most prominent gay and AIDS activists. After a 1976 uprising in his homeland he became an activist against Apartheid. He founded the Vaal Civic Association and became regional secretary of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) in 1981. In 1983, Nkoli joined the primarily white Gay Association of South Africa (GASA), but would not accept the racism he encountered there, just as he would not accept the homophobia he had previously experienced in his activism against Apartheid. As a result he eventually formed the Saturday Group, the first black gay group in Africa. In 1984 he was arrested, along with 21 other political activists, and faced the death penalty for treason. Nkoli continued to stand up for gay rights while a prisoner, which helped to change the attitudes of the African National Congress. He was acquitted and released from prison in 1988. That same year he founded the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW), which organized South Africa’s first Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade in 1990. He also represented the African region as a member of the International Lesbian and Gay Association board, and was one of the first gay activists to meet with President Nelson Mandela in 1994. As a leading personality in the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, Nkoli worked to ensure that protection from anti-gay discrimination would be part of the Bill of Rights in the 1994 South African constitution, and that the nation’s sodomy law was repealed in May 1998. He became one of the first African gay men to publicly self-identify as HIV+, establishing “Positive African Men,” a peer support group in central Johannesburg in 1996. Nkoli died of an AIDS-related illness on November 30, 1998 at the age of 41.


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Black

Nations Affiliated South Africa

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Information Age (1970-present)

Field(s) of Contribution

Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

Simon Nkoli Street in Amsterdam

Simon Nkoli Day in San Francisco

Opened First Gay Games in New York

International Lesbian and Gay Association Board Member

Vaal Civic Association Founder (1983)

Saturday Group Founder (1984)

Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand- GLOW (1988)

Positive African Men Peer Support Group Founder (1996)

Stonewall Award Recipient (1996)


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell