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Ending homophobia and creating a safer environment for the LGBTI community in SA

The Foundation for Human Rights hosted the last of three provincial consultative workshops with the National Task Team (NTT) on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons’ rights and CSOs on 24-25 February 2014.

Ending homophobia and creating a safer environment for the LGBTI community in SA

The Foundation for Human Rights hosted the last of three provincial consultative workshops with the National Task Team  (NTT) on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons’ rights and CSOs on 24-25 February 2014.

Click here to read ENCA report and access video clip 

The NTT was established by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD) in 2011 to develop a National Intervention Strategy to address the widespread and increasing violence and discrimination faced by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in South Africa, especially in the criminal justice system. The team includes members of government, civil society and Chapter Nine institutions and has also developed a communications, education and awareness-raising strategy, which will address social prejudice and stigma attached to homosexuality and transgender.

The purpose of the workshops was

  • To increase provincial representation on the Task Team on Gender and Sexual Orientation Based Violence Perpetrated Against LGBTI Persons.
  • To build solidarity and networking with other sectors to address violence against LGBTI persons.
  • Understanding local dynamics of violence against LGBTI persons. 
  • To build an alliance between government departments and civil society
  • To strengthen and improve inter-sectoral and departmental collaboration.
  • The workshops reinforced the centrality of equality in the Constitutional Order.
  • The workshops sought consultation among CSOs on existing and planned initiatives including a short- and long-term National Intervention Strategy as well as a Rapid Response Strategy, which are currently being implemented at both national and provincial levels.

2014-02-24_23.40.58.jpgThe first workshop was held in KwaZulu-Natal in December 2013, the second was held in Western Cape January 2014 and the third in Johannesburg. CSOs from Gauteng, Limpopo, Northwest Province and Northern Cape attended the Johannesburg workshop. 

Albeit vast geographical distances between the provinces, the landscape in which the prejudice and discriminatory practices against LGBTI were played out are similar.  Among the challenges listed were:

  • Ill treatment of the community members at public facilities, ignorance about LGBTI rights and health issues;
  • A lack of concern for reproductive rights.
  • Unreported cases of violation against the LGBTI community or large numbers of files missing were among the litany of woes experienced by this sector.

What is needed:

  • Greater awareness of the rights of LGBTI communities and particularly those located in rural areas and townships;
  • An end to the normalization of violence leveled against the LGBTI community.

In his upbeat keynote address, the Hon. Mr John Jeffery, Deputy Minister of the Department of Justice and Constitutional development assured the workshop that the Task Team is now well on-track. But he noted that in spite of South Africa’s progressive laws in promoting and protecting the rights of the LGBTI community:  “there is only so much that one can do by way of legislation. You cannot pass a law that will guarantee that people change their attitudes and prejudices,” Jeffery said. Citing a national analysis by the Human Sciences Research Council, which found that 78% of respondents considered homosexuality as “absolutely unacceptable” and communities were influenced by the so-called “hetero-normative” views and attitudes.

We have to put an end to homophobia; if we could beat apartheid we could beat this, he said. 

Jeffery said that government intends to introduce the concept of hate crimes into our criminal law. He said: “One of the key motivations for the proposed changes to the law, included in a draft policy framework, is the violent targeting of LGBTI persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, the so-called 'corrective rapes' and murder of lesbians and transgender men, especially in townships. Other motivators included a number of recent racist and xenophobic attacks as well as vandalism targeting religious institutions.”

Read DM John Jeffery's address here

2014-02-24_02.44.19.jpgRepresentatives of government departments and Chapter 9 institutions including the Commission for Gender Equality and the South African Human Rights Commission heard from CSOs that there was a need to step up engagement on the issue of hate crimes; hate crimes did not begin overnight and that there was a need to monitor the temperature within communities to stop patterns of prejudicial behavior.

In addition it was agreed that there is a need to educate people in respect of their rights to interim measures including interdicts against harassment.

The groups agreed that there was an urgent need for training of educators, members of the SAPs and magistrates in how to deal with the specificities of crimes against the LGBTI community.  It was necessary to engage authorities including religious leaders and traditional leaders in a sensitization of the issues affecting the LGBTI community.

Among the positive initiatives presented at the workshop was the asiphephe website; a formidable tool and knowledge resource for the LGBTI community. Developed by Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) and the former Lesbian and Gay Equality Project (LGEP), the Asiphephe website seeks to create positive social change and “to help achieve safety and security for all LGBTIQ people in southern Africa”.

PHOTOS:MAUREEN ISAACSON