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It is a duty of yours, mine and the state’s to end all prejudice

Resource type: News

Cape Argus (South Africa) |

Treatment Action Campaign, the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project and the Triangle Project are Atlantic grantees.

She loved soccer and represented South Africa in our women’s soccer team, Banyana Banyana. On April 28, 2008, Eudy Simelane was raped, stabbed 25 times, robbed and murdered because she was black and lesbian. The 07.07.07 Campaign and the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project documented many other such instances.

Ordinary people (including lesbians and gays) are not familiar with the term LGBTI – short-hand for people like me. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people and organisations are at a crossroads. We are deeply (and I believe correctly) concerned about the legitimising of prejudice, discrimination and even hate by political and religious leaders, as well as other public figures.

In its first article, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of (solidarity).” Our constitution and most law internationally embody its global vision.

However, the facts in our homes, schools and universities, workplaces, communities, playgrounds, places of worship, bars and pubs, very often speak a different language. Sometimes these facts express brutal practice. Prejudice, discrimination, bigotry, hate and legal discrimination occur against people across the divides of our racial, gender, class, religious, national, sexual, health and linguistic identities.

For many different reasons, xenophobic terror; public gender-based violence against women by men for their dress; sexual and domestic violence; attacks on black people by racists, anti-white sentiment; Aids-phobia and the day-to-day language of “us”, “they” and “them” of race and class, all threaten these obligations by the state and the duties of its citizens.

The biggest fear in LGBTI communities is that the clause in our constitution guaranteeing equality on the basis of sexual orientation is threatened by the new ANC government.

Jacob Zuma first expressed anti-gay sentiments at his homestead in Nkandla. He later apologised, but this was not enough to allay our fears that the damage was done. Instead, the reported call at the Rhema Church to revisit same-sex marriage and the sexual and reproductive rights of women, including abortion, strengthened my fear that these statements made by the most powerful political leader in South Africa could be used by bigots to justify hate crimes.

The “curative rape” of black lesbians demonstrate that our society has not been transformed in understanding and consciousness.

All people and civil society organisations (not only LGBTI bodies) have duties in this regard. In a very small way the Treatment Action Campaign supported families of four victims and organisations such as the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project and Triangle Project: Zoliswa Nkonyana (February 4, 2006), Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa (July 7, 2007) and Eudy Simelane lived in areas where we had resources to help. TAC also supported cases of our own women members and their children who had been raped and sometimes murdered. Very few organisations demonstrated solidarity.

For many middle-class lesbians and gay men, our rights are fully recognised and we have the fullest access to the law and the most progressive constitution when they are violated. But for most poor and working LGBTI people (of all races) it is different. Many transgender boys and girls, lesbian and gay teenagers and intersex children fear for their existence. While black lesbians fear for their right to life and security of their person.

A change of approach by LGBTI individuals and organisations is overdue.

First, in our personal lives. Those of us who are privileged by class or race must use that privilege to work towards equality and a decent life for all.

The Constitutional Court defended our right to equality and dignity. However, it also said that without health, housing, education and decent work there could be no dignity for the majority of people. This does not inform LGBTI understanding, solidarity or work.

Second, the broadest coalition against hate crimes can and must be constructed. Terrible hate crimes are perpetrated against asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. However, anti-semitism and Islamophobia, prejudice against Hindus and race-based violence and murder threaten all of us.

During the xenophobic terror, organisations and people across these divides united, organised and advocated together. Many of the activists born through this struggle formed the Social Justice Coalition to end political segregation. This is not enough, the broadest coalition of people and organisations against all hate crimes and prejudice is the best defence of the constitution’s equality and social justice provisions.

Third, all political parties have socially conservative members and leaders and the LGBTI organisations cannot align themselves with any political party.

This will undermine our unity, but above all, it will mean that our parents, friends, employers and families who may share fear and prejudice will be reached by those political leaders to our disadvantage.

This also demands LGBTI individuals involved in political parties educate their leaders and members and demand that they respect the constitution (not only for us) but to use our experience, reason conscience and solidarity to promote equality and social justice for all.

Zackie Achmat works in the Centre for Law and Social Justice. He is deputy general-secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign, a member of the Social Justice Coalition and also a member of the ANC.