Justice and Protection For All?

On 17th May, the global community celebrated the International Day Against, Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB). IDAHOTB was created to raise awareness of the violation of the human rights and the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons. The theme for 2019 was ‘Justice and Protection for All.’ Despite international and continental rights charters that protect and ensure the rights of LGBTI persons, 70 countries still ban or limit LGBTI people the right to embody their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

In South Africa the rights and dignity of LGBTI persons are recognized, however, LGBTI people’s human dignity is routinely violated. In the Western Cape, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) participated in the annual Khumbulani Pride in eMfuleni, Cape Town. Khumbulani raises awareness and promotes visibility of black queer bodies within the community. The starting point for the march was Ivan Tom’s clinic which is situated opposite a busy car wash. Whilst we waited for the drop-off of other participants travelling from different areas, listening to the responses from the men who at the car wash was very illuminating. The men were entertained by the presentation of gay male bodies and transbodies in the space, commenting on the men in heels and men with make-up. This may be an indication of ridiculing the outward expression of non-binary bodies. These reactions are evidence of a patriarchal society, where the ‘other’ bodies are mocked yet female bodies are sexualized and are catcalled within the community.

The march was well attended by members of varied safe spaces, marching in solidarity with survivors of hate crimes, traditional healers, clergy, sex workers and queers of different nationalities. A candle-lighting ceremony after the march in memory of lesbians that were victims of hate crime and lost their lives opened the event at Nali’kamva primary school. The programme also provided a platform for partners to share on the different aspects of queer bodies. One survivor of a hate crime shared how she was gang raped by men in Khayelitsha who told her that “no woman will play the role of a man in their community”. She shared about the challenges she experienced in reporting the crime as the first police officer responded by recommending a mediation. It was through the support and advocacy of Free Gender and Triangle Project that she was able to lodge a complaint about this officer’s handling of her reported case. She reflected on the fear for her safety as her rapists were released on bail without her being informed, and how she still lives in fear. This testimonial spoke to the theme of Justice and Protection for all, drawing out how in South Africa the law has failed many survivors of sexual offences and/or gender-based violence. There was a distinct cry to address Afrophobia and xenophobia as well as “cleaning our house as queers when it comes to stigmatization of bisexuals within the queer community”. Previously, Khumbulani Pride was critiqued as a space for predominately black lesbians yet this year there was a mixed presence (and airtime with regards to presentations) of transdiverse bodies, bisexual women and non-binary individuals.

As the sixth South African parliament will open on the 22nd May, the queer community waits with bated breath if the new justice portfolio will address the delays on the passing of the Hate Crimes Bill. The bill, if passed, will lead to harsher and stricter sentencing of crimes conducted with hate as the motivating factor. The ongoing discussion on the inclusion and limitations of hate speech have slowed the process of passing the bill and a need for the bill gets deeper as cases of abduction and murders of butch lesbians in Gugulethu increase. IAM continues to work in partnership with safe spaces and organizations lobbying and advocating for the Hate Crimes Bill. IAM supports the protection of black queer bodies and catalyses faith communities to recognize and celebrate LGBTI people within communities. We encourage more visible support by churches and clergy in solidarity for the protection of queer bodies. Why? Because, God stands on the side of marginalised people. God stands on the side of justice, therefore calling the Church to stand where God stands.