While South Africa has a much lauded constitution which protects the rights of all its citizens, as well as those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual community, things aren’t as rosy on the ground as those at the top would have us believe.
This revelation was one of the many issues raised by local LGBT groups during a meeting with Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke.
Kuhnke represents minority groups in her country, and the visit was a fact-finding mission to find ways of working better with those groups.
The meeting took place at the Makhaza Wetlands Park after a brief walk from the Free Gender offices, a stone throw away from the park.
Free Gender is a black lesbian organisation which fights gender violence in the townships. Kuhnke said that she was in the country to get insight from grassroots organisations on the challenges they face, particularly the LGBT community.
“The visit is about listening to the organisations that work at grassroots level, with the community. To find out what the relationship is with the government and the community as well as the challenges,” said Kuhnke.
She said that during the visit she will be meeting with the minister of arts and culture.
The organisation raised some of the biggest challenges as well as their successes with the work that they carry out in Khayelitsha.
One of the biggest challenges, the LGBT organisations say, is the attitude of government officials who often chose their cultural and religious beliefs over their duty to assist individuals who are of a different sexual orientation.
“There is also a lack of political will to deploy pro gay rights police down to the grassroots level. The stigma attached to homosexuality was still a problem even though much has been done by civil society to address the situation.”
Funeka Soldaat, the founder of Free Gender, said the relationship they have with the local police has changed for the better following years of struggling to get the police to take their issues serious.
“Before, it was hard for lesbians to go to the local police stations to report a case of assault as a result of homophobia. They would be mocked or officers will refuse to open a case, but we have engaged with management and we now have a working relationship,” she said.
“Funding was another challenge that LGBT organisations faced, and this impacted on operational capacity,” Soldat added.
Tsepo Kgositawu, provincial coordinator for Gender Dynamics, an advocacy group for the LGBT community, said that they were dealing with a large case load.
“Very often gay people do not seek legal assistance when they become victimised. Even those that do approach us, there are too many to deal with as we lack the human resource capacity.
Another crucial challenge, health groups said, was the lack of focus regarding the sexual health of the members of the LGBT community.
Coordinators noted that they struggle to get local clinics to accept programmes which focus on the sexual health of homosexual residents.
The fact that many deem homosexuality as taboo leads to lack of interest in the programme. While there were clinics that have been open to such programmes, the majority are just not interested, they said.
“There are polices and laws that protect LGBT communities but government should make sure that officials dealing with people on the ground are aware of these policies.