Lesbians still vulnerable in South Africa - Judge Cameron

2016-04-09 13:01
Gay rights slogan board. (Punit Paranjpe, AFP, file)

Gay rights slogan board. (Punit Paranjpe, AFP, file)

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Pietermaritzburg - Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron has said that while there is an increasing acceptance of homosexuals in many parts of South Africa and in Africa, life continues to be difficult for members of the LGBTI - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex - community.

Cameron was delivering the inaugural address at the Eudy Simelane Memorial lecture which formed part of a two-day conference organised by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the KwaZulu-Natal Church Council and the Gay and Lesbian Network.

The aim of the gathering was to look at how communities and the church treated same-sex relationships 22 years into democracy. The theme was: “Homophobia and the Church in Africa - A Dialogue”.

Eudy Simelane was a soccer player for South Africa's Women’s national team Banyana Banyana who was found dead in April 2008 in an open field after being stabbed several times because of her sexual orientation. She was also gang-raped.

The killing sent shockwaves through the country at the time.

Vulnerable group

Lesbians remain a vulnerable group in South Africa, said Cameron.

"Vulnerability as a woman and as a lesbian is a particularly lethal combination in our community,” said Cameron, citing incidents of "corrective rape" as an illustration of the dangers that lesbians faced.  

In addition to this, the judge said, within the LGBTI community there were challenges that needed to be overcome, including the feeling of shame that gays and lesbians sometimes felt and the fear of being labelled as incomplete humans.

He said it was necessary to highlight the role that was played by people who claimed to be religious.

“It is important to emphasise the disgraceful and destructive role played by those who call themselves men and women of God and their spirit of prosecuting us in the past,” he said.

“The hatred shown toward us is... rife. We have been accused of institutionalising sin. May God have mercy on us. But we know the truth that sex orientation is a variant."

But, Cameron said, things were starting to change.

“When we look at our continent there are court cases that present hope that LGBTIs are getting recognition in their countries,” said Cameron, citing recent cases in Botswana and Kenya.

He told delegates that the court judgments were the end result of struggles by LGBTI activists in many parts of Africa who had decided to be open about their sexual orientation.

“People do not know about us and until we accept and express ourselves as being proudly queer, we will remain vulnerable,” he said.

“When we look at all these developments we can safely say that Eudy’s death was not in vain, because we can see change coming.”

Speakers who shared the platform with Cameron included academics and gender activists.

Most agreed that churches had a significant role to play in teaching and changing community attitudes toward same-sex relationships.

Eudy Simelane's parents and her brother attended the inaugural lecture which, organisers said, would be an annual feature.

Read more on:    transgender  |  human rights

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