‘Preaching fuels violence against black lesbians’

2011-12-05 10:28

Pastors and church leaders with immense influence in communities directly impact negatively on the lives of black lesbians and transgender men.

A report released today by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on violence and discrimination against black lesbians and transgender men – a female-born person who identifies as male – sketch a dismal picture of continued persecution of these groups in a democratic South Africa.

Interviewing 120 people in six provinces, HRW researchers found that for many South Africans the church is central in their lives and in many churches homosexuality is considered “un-Christian”.

The report states that “many individual church leaders continue to use the pulpit to demonise lesbians and transgender men. This significantly contributes to a climate of intolerance, which in turn fuels a climate of discrimination and violence”.

Almost all of the those interviewed said they lived in fear of sexual assault.

They are constantly harassed in the street, at taxi ranks, in shops and many believe its only a matter of time before they get attacked, raped and murdered.

Lesbians and transgender men are more often attacked by strangers, recent acquaintances and sometimes friends, the researchers found.

“South Africa, at the forefront of the fight for legal equality on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues internationally, is desperately failing lesbian and transgender people in their everyday lives at home,” Dipika Nath, LGBT researcher at HRW said.

Most of those interviewed had horrific experiences of violence and discrimination, like Boipelo*, now 26, from Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal.She was 13 in 1997 when she realised she is a lesbian and was first raped by her cousin because of her boyish appearance and behaviour.

Five years later she realised he had also infected her with HIV.

Her mother died in 2003 and she had to stay with her uncle who had inherited her grandmother’s house.She was again raped by a soccer coach who knew she was a lesbian.

“The coach said he doesn’t like me as a lesbian and he wants me as his wife so that I can stop being a lesbian ... When I said ‘no’ and tried to leave, he beat me with a straightened hanger. Then he raped me many times, all night,” Boipela said.

In 2007 a local pastor with whom she became acquainted with through a friend told Boipelo that he liked her and could show her “what it is like to have a man”.

She told him she was a lesbian, but one day he came to her house and said he still likes her.“He said he’s going to show me I’m not a man, I’m a woman. He raped me that day.”

She laid a rape charge against the pastor at the police station but her uncle forced her to withdraw it.

“South Africa already has in place many laws and policies to address sexual violence and discrimination. What is sorely lacking is effective implementation of those provisions,” the report found.

*Not her real name.

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