NEWS

'Ignorance About LGBTIQ Is Staggering And Its Everywhere'

SA's law is generally on the side of LGBTIQ+ people, but it isn't always enforced and many people still aren't safe, says activist.

17/05/2017 21:22 SAST | Updated 17/05/2017 21:23 SAST

As International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) is commemorated around various parts of the world on Wednesday, two men in South Africa have appeared in court in connection with the murder on Sunday of a lesbian woman, Lerato Moloi, in Soweto.

Members of the LGBTIQ+ community and many on social media demonstrated outrage follow Moloi's possible rape and murder.

Meanwhile, activists from Love Not Hate on Monday launched the '5 - Justice Denied' campaign decrying "appalling delays" and "lapses in the criminal justice system" especially regarding cases involving LGBTIQ+ people.

Activists intend to picket in Hatfield, Pretoria, on 30 May to "demand that the lives of LGBTI people be taken serious" while other demonstrations are also planned around the country this month, according to Love Not Hate.

A study published by Love Not Hate in November, which surveyed 2130 LGBTIQ+ people, found that 44% of those surveyed said they had experienced discrimination, while 41% said they knew someone murdered owing to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

'Ignorance is everywhere'

"South African law has progressed and is generally on the side [of LGBTIQ+ people]. We have a great constitution that supports us and many organisations across the board trying put a stop to this violence; but the law isn't enforced, nothing is implemented," Kim Ligthgow of Some Love Toti, formerly Pflag South Africa, told HuffPost SA.

"We have people who go to police stations whose cases are not even reported and who experience secondary victimisation," she says.

Lithgow says public knowledge about LGBTI+ people and issues is astoundingly poor and adds to the problems, including the threat and use of violence. "The biggest enemy to progress, to any form of safety, is really ignorance. Ignorance on a medical, scientific and research level. Ignorance that LGBTIQ+ people even exist," she says.

"One of the reasons why homophobia is so widespread is because many people know very little," she says.

'We need compulsory education on this issue in schools'

Lithgow says crucial work is being done in education, at grassroots level, in attempts to drive change from the bottom-up. "We go to schools and try to equip teachers so they know what to do if a student says they are LGBTIQ+ or the teacher suspects they are being targeted," she says.

Getting schools on board, however, has been a massive challenge according to Lithgow. "We are finding it difficult to get into all kinds of schools: rural, public and private," she says. Even in private schools where access to information and resources is generally better, Lithgow says they still face huge resistance from management or heads.

"We are finding that if individuals within these institutions know even a little bit about LGBTIQ+ people - they know they exist on the most basic level - often they are more willing to let us in," she says. "These individuals are critical to helping us get in and end this scourge of violence".

Lithgow says what is desperately needed is compulsory education in schools on this issue, even if it means external organisations deal directly with teachers so they know what to do.

'Disheartened by violence against LGBTIQ+ people and women'

Genevieve Louw, Programmes Consultant for the Diversity and Training in Schools Project at Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) told HuffPost SA their organisation is "disheartened by the acts of violence happening on a daily basis."

"The best [our organisation] can really do to raise awareness around these horrific violent acts - not just against LGBTIQ+ people but women in general - is to boost our education programmes on sexual orientation and gender identity," Louw says.

GALA runs projects geared towards sensitivity training with school management teams, working with principals and boards in charge of policy development. "The responses we get are not always positive, but once we actually go to a school that is open and receptive, the training usually opens up dialogue and goes some way in changing people's perspectives on gender and sexuality," Louw says.

Louw says GALA is piloting their education project in nine schools across three provinces - Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal and the Western Cape - through overseas funding. The Department of Basic Education, however, has also indicated they are interested in national implementation, Louw says.

"It really does depend on the how the pilot is received and its success. We will assess what worked and what didn't, then we'll take it to the Department and try get it into the Life Orientation curriculum and teacher training," she says.

Overall, Louw says the Department has been in conversation with GALA and "they are positive about this".

'Love Makes A Family'

The Khumbulani Pride March will take place in Cape Town on May 20 and an anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia 'beach walk' will commence at uShaka Marine World from 10am on the same day. Lithgow says members of the public are encouraged to join and observe the theme "Love Makes A Family" which aims to promote greater support for LGBTIQ+ family members.

'Love Makes A Family' is the global theme for IDAHOT this year. The day is commemorated annually in over 130 countries, including 37 where same-sex is illegal, according to the main website for the event.

South Africa's Constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The National Assembly, further, passed a law enabling same-sex couple to legally marry in November 2006. Activists and several NGOs, however, continue to lament reported cases of discrimination, corrective rape, torture and murder of LGBTIQ+ people in the country.