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South African Trans Men and Lesbians Face Violence

South African Trans Men and Lesbians Face Violence


A new 93-page report by Human Rights Watch details how, despite constitutional protections, black lesbians and trans men face an “overwhelming climate of discrimination and violence” in South Africa.

The new report, titled “‘We’ll Show You You’re a Woman’: Violence and Discrimination Against Black Lesbians and Transgender Men,” is the product of120 interviews conducted in six provinces across South Africa. Human Rights Watch found thatlesbians and trans men report pervasive discrimination and threats of violence in general society. Those interviewed also say they believe that anti-LGBT attitudespersist among electedofficials and local law enforcement, leading to a chilling effect onconstitutionalguarantees of protection.

From the Human Rights Watch news release:

“The threat of violence that dominates the lives of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender men, particularly in poorer and non-urban areas, beggars belief,” said Dipika Nath, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. “South Africa, at the forefront of the fight for legal equality on LGBT issues internationally, is desperately failing lesbian and transgender people in their everyday lives at home.”

The report reveals widespread ignorance about lesbians and transgender men and deep-rooted prejudice against gender and sexual non-conformity. Almost all of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they lived in fear of sexual assault.

“He had seen my lesbian friends coming home and he talked about how we all dress like men,” 22-year-old Dumisani (pseudonym) told Human Rights Watch. “He dragged me to the bushes. There was no one around. He told me to take off my pants. I was refusing but he was beating me. He raped me until it was late at night. … I saw the guy after that, too. A week later I heard he had raped another girl. He was arrested but he came out three days later and beat her up so badly, she was in hospital for three weeks. I was so scared.”

The report details a number of horrifying incidents. Particularly startling are those reported by young LGBT-identifying citizens who say they have faced emotional and physical abuse from teachers over their perceived or actual orientation or gender identity. One girl, a 13-year-old known as Tanesha, reported:

“My mother came to school to complain. She spoke to the principal about what had happened, about [another student] calling me a stabane [literally a person with two sexual organs and a derogatory for homosexual]. She didn’t tell him I’m a lesbian. The principal said, ‘There’s no such thing as a stabane. God didn’t make stabane. Stabane won’t go to heaven.’ The teachers also say these things. One lady teacher said if she gave birth to a stabane, she would kill it. She tried to chase me from the class because she didn’t want to teach a stabane.”

The report also documents that lesbians and trans men continue to feel they can not approach the police over incidents of violence and discrimination because they fear they will encounter even more prejudice from law enforcement officials. A woman known as Nombeko reported:

“When you’re a lesbian… you can’t go to the police. There’s a lesbian older than me who was raped. Her case was not taken seriously. I’ll get raped because I’m a lesbian. It makes me want to stay closeted. … My girlfriend stays alone; everyone knows this. For sure, [the guys in the neighborhood] are planning something. It’s just that the day hasn’t come yet.”

Human Rights Watch identifies a number of action points to try and remedy these serious human rights issues. Suggestions include that the South African Police Service should specifically track homophobic and transphobic crime data; that the National Prosecuting Authority should ensure that all crimes including those dealing with cases of sexual and physical violence against women and transgender people should be brought to trial in a timely way and should be met by prosecutors with the same level of attention as other offenses; and that the Department of Education should establish a system to monitor effectiveimplementationof non-discrimination policies. The report suggests a toll free helpline for students to report discrimination and abuse by teachers and school authorities.

Human Rights Watch stresses that the South African government’s responsibility to its LGBT citizens does not end with the passing of LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws and, indeed, that this is only a starting point for action to safeguard a right to life free from discrimination and violence.

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Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to Smath.

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11:21AM PST on Dec 10, 2011

Surprised? No.
A country whose president is a rapist and whose former president denied any connection between HIV and AIDS for such a long time that more than 300,000 citizens died from not having access to medication and a police and judiciary force that excuse sexual violence, will not have any interest in protecting its LGBT citizens. Until SA is forced to respect LGBT, women and children nothing is going to happen. Apartheid was awful and I'm glad it's gone. But allowing massive sexual violence to go unpunished is even worse.

5:07AM PST on Dec 10, 2011

I've never heard ANYBODY in the South African government comment on this issue, EVER. No wonder it's not taken seriously. No matter what our constitution states, the dominant culture in my country (including that of the powers-that-be) is homophobic and transphobic (and xenophobic and anti-intellectual and anti-choice and pro-gun and patriarchal and sexist etc. etc...)

4:42AM PST on Dec 8, 2011

Thanks for the article.

1:15AM PST on Dec 7, 2011

Steve R said: "Unfortunately - LGBT people often seem to like CONFRONTATION for some strange reason!"

Ummm, the same way you "CONFRONT" and "FORCE" (one of your favorite words) your way and views in these forums? Hypocrite!

Go back to South Africa. Dawid is waiting for you.

7:12PM PST on Dec 6, 2011

How terribly sad.

7:10AM PST on Dec 6, 2011

Steve R, when only 3 or 4% of the population or non homophobic and 96% are, together with the actual cabinet ministers, I would consider it a homophobic country. I am not sure which "South Africa" you may be living in, but it is not a representative of the cold harsh facts of reality. Sorry to bring you into reality like this.

7:00AM PST on Dec 6, 2011

Unfortunately violent rape does not start and stop with homosexual people in South Africa. The statistics for violent rape in the country is staggering. You have teachers raping students, students raping students, and of course we are the country with the highest incidence of HIV. Why because rapist don't generally stop to put condoms on. It is also in the African culture to have polyomist marriages and multiple partners, which of course leads to the spread of HIV. But due to our constitution the partner with HIV does not have to disclose their status to the person that they chose and often force to have unprotected sex with. In other words, our law chooses to protect the "violator". I am tired of countries thinking we have this strange epidemic of HIV, but when it comes right down to ot, there is nothing surprising at all that we have such an epidemic. In fact our opposing party is trying to address it, to only get laughed at and told to keep culture out of things?

5:58AM PST on Dec 6, 2011

I come from South Africa - and it is no more homophobic than any other country on the face of this planet!

Until you can get people with traditional views, beliefs and values to accept that LGBT people are not sick or perverted - and until you can convince LGBT people not to be confrontational, you will have discrimination.

As with the abortion issue - the answer lies in EDUCATION - not CONFRONTATION!

Unfortunately - LGBT people often seem to like CONFRONTATION for some strange reason!

2:49AM PST on Dec 6, 2011

What went so horribly wrong with this beautiful country????

6:10PM PST on Dec 5, 2011

First aparteid and now this? This is a country to STAY AWAY FROM! All people deserve respect and a peaceful life- no exceptions.

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