Lesbians and transgender men in townships and rural areas face a climate of discrimination and violence, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.
“A segment of the South African population lives in terror and feels like there is no one to turn to, including the police,” a HRW director Graeme Reid said in Johannesburg.
Human Rights Watch released a report on the violence that underprivileged, black lesbians and trans men face on a day to day basis. In May, the justice department established a task team to address these issues, but just how effective can and will this team be?
Reid, who heads the organisation’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights programme, was speaking at the release of a report on violence and discrimination against black lesbians and transgender men.
The report found the abusers of people known or assumed to be lesbian, bisexual, or transgender acted with near-total impunity. It also showed that South Africa’s lesbians are abused by even those closest to them, and they live in constant fear of harassment as well as physical and sexual violence, along with transgender men.
Their lives contrast with those of urban, wealthy, often white gay South Africans who have turned parts of some cities into liberal havens. Gay pride parades are held annually in Johannesburg and Cape Town, which reaches out to gay tourists from around the world. Next year, an international pageant for gay men will be held in Johannesburg.
The report, entitled We’ll Show You You’re a Woman: Violence and Discrimination Against Black Lesbians and Transgender Men, was based on interviews with more than 120 lesbians, bisexual women and transgender men in impoverished black townships in six provinces and over a number of years.
Reid said the study was done to improve the lives of those affected by discrimination.
“We are not asking for a lot. We are asking that people can live their lives in a manner of their choosing, according to their sexual orientation and their deepened sense of gender identification … And to do so without discrimination and the constant threat of violence.”
Another HRW official, Dipika Nath, said existing laws and policies on sexual orientation had failed to protect people or provide redress.
“Police, prosecutors, and the courts need to make effective implementation of these laws and policies a priority,” Nath said.
Same-sex marriage is legal in South Africa and the country has among the most liberal laws on sexual orientation on the continent. But cultural attitudes don’t always match the Constitution approved in 1996 by lawmakers determined to show they were more progressive then their apartheid predecessors.
One woman told Human Rights Watch of a series of rapes by her cousin, her coach and her pastor. Another said a female cousin spiked her drink so that the cousin’s boyfriend could rape her. A third said that after a rape, “I really hated myself.”
Raping a lesbian, HRW researchers found, can make a man a township hero. Attackers boast publicly of their crimes and declare to their victims, “We’ll show you you’re a woman,” the report said. Such attacks are known as “corrective rapes” in South Africa.
Lesbians and others who don’t fit the norm respond by avoiding being alone in public, trying not to attract men’s attention, and hiding their sexual orientation, the report said.
Human Rights Watch called on South Africa’s government to act against the attackers.
Nath acknowledged that addressing the crimes would have a limited effect.
“What we really need is a sustained, large programme” that embraces education in schools and engages with religious leaders, she said.
Contempt for homosexuals has led to anti-gay legal measures elsewhere in Africa. Last week, Nigeria’s Senate voted in favour of a Bill that would criminalise gay marriage, gay advocacy groups and same-sex public displays of affection. Two years ago, Ugandan legislators introduced a Bill that would impose the death penalty for some gays and lesbians, though it has yet to become law. — Sapa, AP