by Thozie Mathe
South Africa passed its first democratic Constitution in 1996, ending a 50-year regime of institutionalized discrimination known as apartheid, and 300 years of legal discrimination. The new laws, in contrast, institutionalized the principles of non-discrimination in the Bill of Rights, explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation. In addition it created various institutions responsible for safeguarding the principle of non-discrimination and the Bill of Rights, amongst which are the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), both considered in this paper as NHRIs (National Human Rights Institutions).
Despite the legal speak in the Constitution; the message has not trickled down to layman South Africans. Evidence shows that the high rates of deaths in the LGBTI community are a direct result of hate crimes. Who do we point fingers at and blame?
Who is killing LGBTI people?
I start by pointing my finger at families who refuse to accept their gay children. They are committing hate crimes. It’s amazing that people love gays and lesbians from afar but cannot handle having them in their own families. The people that affirmed me were the ones that I was not related. On the other hand, my family members have no qualms appreciating and cherishing other gays and lesbians from other families. Because my own mother and father are openly hostile to my sexual orientation, it allows my neighbors to attack me at will. This just makes me an easy target because gossip travels fast, and soon everyone will believe I do not deserve to exist because my own parents do not.
Anguita (2010 p.7) states that,
“Despite the protection and legal equality of women and LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans) people, the social reality is quite different. Gender-based violence is a widespread problem in South Africa, which has the highest rate of rape in the world. And LGBT people are frequently attacked, both verbally and physically, because of the widespread intolerance and prejudice against them in the population.”
The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 defines hate crimes as,
‘‘Crimes in which the defendant’s conduct was motivated by hatred, bias, or prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation of another individual or group of individuals’’
That means any form of hate against homosexuals is a hate crime. It’s difficult to wrap around one’s mind how parents can despise their blood because they disapprove of their intimate partner. It is a shame and almost a smite to God. Such crimes serve to victimize and intimidate not only individuals, but also entire groups of people. The threat of being victimized because of some status characteristic, such as sexual orientation, promotes silence and invisibility amongst members of the target group.
By grounding homosexuality in biology, many gay rights advocates hope to establish and legitimate the naturalness of homosexuality, thereby proving that gays and lesbians deserve the same civil rights afforded to heterosexuals. Because of the negative connotation that anti-gay forces have imparted on the word ‘choice’, it appears that gay rights proponents have distanced themselves from the word, not wanting to align themselves with anti-gay rhetoric.
Seeking to reject anti-gay assertions that being gay is a choice, gay rights advocates have resorted to an essentialist and biological discourse concerning homosexuality. The word ‘choice’ has indeed been employed by anti-gay rights advocates in negative and condemning ways. Underneath the anti-gay rhetoric that being gay is a choice is the notion that it is the wrong choice. The response to anti-gay groups’ should be the message of the ‘born this way’ response. It says sorry I’m gay, but I can’t help it – I was born this way.
Emphasis should not be placed on choice, but rather explore what diverse ways individuals create and experience sexuality, desire, and romance? Ultimately, what are the various ways individuals choose to love one another?
Maybe we need not to be afraid then of the word ‘choice’ and instead use it as a source of pride, empowerment, and political force. Therefore the rainbow nation and my fellow comrades in force and the national gay rights should emphasize the need to choose, choose what to wear, choose what to eat, choose who to love, choose which career to take, choose what to say, choose, choose, choose!. By saying so I feel like we all have the responsibility to choose the being that you want to be.
Fox p. 42 says
The “I was born this way” mantra is restrictive and defensive. More empowering and progressive mantras for the gay rights movement might be: I choose to be as gay as I want; I support the freedom to choose who and how I love; or Love is always a choice.”
I am in agreement with that. We need to expand the sentence to a much more elaborative sentence as per Fox’s assertions.
Classifying individuals as either homosexual or heterosexual creates a false divide between bodies, ultimately reinforcing a sexual hierarchy. Heterosexuality is viewed as the natural, default mode and homosexuality as an inferior deviation from this. Thus heterosexuality becomes the dominant sexuality and homosexuality in need of explanation, tolerance, or subjection.
1.A paper by Anguita L.A, Tackling corrective rape in South Africa
2.Fox C., Articulating Sexuality
3. South African Constitution
‘Natural’ at home ‘choice lady’ outside
My heart pains
My soul thrives
My breath is wasted
No longer do I count the days of going home
Cities have been my home
Even then I am scared, I shiver, I am traumatized
My living ancestors would come after me
The horse riders will come after me
I am in a black zone
If I meet any home girl they will tell my ancestors about me
Then they will come after me.
I live a double dotted life
At home where acceptance is rare
I am a girl
A girl that should be married
A girl that should be dragged by the boys
For them that is a norm
For them that is natural and God likes it.
I am to be called by names mfazi to makoti
I am supposed to charm men for I am their ground
I have surrendered myself to rape
Before my own people organize it for me as a cure
I am natural at home
I have sustained sexual pains from the one my parents chose for me
I told him three times before he penetrated me
I screamed like a baby but he was on top
I told him it’s painful and he;
He said ‘kuzoba ngcono’ (it will be better)
I told him not to do it before I bleed
But it was late I was all red
My home was small
Couldn’t even see the cow I live in the kraal
For a minute I felt like it’s better to…
To talk to the cows than humans
For me my family was just strangers I meet in the market.
I was told to allow boys to grab me as long as they wanted.
For a minute I said “I hate men”
Every time I went to fetch water that man was at the tap
He would always whisper “I want more”
And eventually he got more when I went to the shop
Then I did not cry………I was strong………
Now I am in town
I met people of my kind
Kept my Zodwa’s name in my heart
Could tell her what I went through at home…….
Here I live like I am in heaven
I live like God is on my back
I swear God is only found in towns
My pain is gone but the scars left
I wear what I want to
I kiss who I want to kiss even in my dreams
I talk to her any time but not about everything
If I talk to her about this she will leave me
I live a double life
I live a life of being un-cherished to being cherished
From unaccepted to accepted
From being unloved to loved
I live a beautiful life where God exists
Until they kill me in town I shall rest
As long as I won’t feel much pain as that of home
I will die happy and excited
Then tell God about what that man did to me
And therefore indicate to him that I repent if homosexuality is wrong
But it is a good life I ever had than that of sleeping with a man.
My heart is so strong it awaits rest.
About the author
Thozi Mathe is a student at Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in Umtata.
She is currently studying towards her B.Ed degree.
She is an LGBTI activist interested mostly in gender studies.
She is a poet and contributing writer for Isivivane 7, an anthology of poets, writing mostly gender based poems.
She is the founding member of Rainbow-WSU, an LGBTI society at WSU.