Queer rights need to be protected

Quuer rights must be protected. Photographer: Armand Hough. African News Agency (ANA)

Quuer rights must be protected. Photographer: Armand Hough. African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 23, 2024



I find it extremely unfortunate that merely six months away from the year 2025, more than half of all nations across Africa continue to outlaw and persecute LGBTQIA+ (queer) people.

In fact, the many nations that have legalised freedom of gender and sexuality continue to experience a high rate of hate crimes against queer people, what has been commonly termed “queer violence”.

The month of June is not only Youth Month, it is the internationally recognised queer awareness month, commonly known as Pride Month.

This is celebrated in numerous countries, although some cities may hold their pride events on alternate dates.

LGBTQIA+ refers to Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, with the plus (+) being representative of the various other ranges of sexuality and gender identities.

Queer is an encapsulating word referring to sexual and gender identities besides heterosexual (opposite-sex relationships) and cisgender (whose gender identity is the same as their sex at birth).

Contemporary debates have arisen around minority sexualities and genders such as asexual (non-existent sexual feelings and desires) and androgynous people (ambiguous sex or gender presentation

Although homosexuality has never been criminalised in South Africa, on November 30, 2006, the nation became the first country in Africa - and only the fifth country in the entire world - to legalise same-sex marriages.

The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) reports that although the legal “protections” provided to queer individuals are unmatched compared to the rest of the continent, a striking disparity exists between the protection provided by the law and the lived experiences of queer individuals.

Though the nation has been applauded for being the foremost LGBTQIA+ liberal nation across the African continent, the condemnation, disappearance, and murder of queer people is still staggering.

Merely a few months ago, 21-year-old Cape Town resident Diego Jacobs was brutally stabbed to death while walking home with two friends.

In a recent incident, a 27-year-old transgender woman, Jo-Ann Isaks, was brutally stabbed and burned to death in Upington, Northern Cape.

These deaths and violent occurrences are a few out of the many that occur on an annual basis, most particularly during pride month. Hate crimes targeting queer people are extremely prevalent and highlight the increased risk that innumerable members of the queer community face.

They are also a stark reminder of the discrimination and heinous mistreatment of queer individuals in our society.

There is a vast history of violence against queer people in societies across the globe, and although the knowledge and education of various sexes and genders have proliferated, queer people still face ostracism at a social and institutional level.

Much like when Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) occurs, it is often the victim that is blamed for not taking arbitrary precautions, when the truth is that homophobia is a societal illness that needs to be addressed and interrogated at multiple levels.

Queer people are disproportionately subjected to domestic violence by both families and sexual partners.

Queer people often face higher rates of poverty and marginalisation, placing them at a higher risk of sexual assault, and various other violences.

Queer people face higher rates of hate-motivated violence, often taking the form of “corrective rape”, which is rape committed with the intent of forcefully turning a person heterosexual.

In other instances, they are more likely to be abused in schools and educational institutions, religious institutions, and in general society.

In the most extreme of cases, they are murdered violently, often in conjunction with being sexually assaulted, mutilated, displaced, and desecrated.

Freedom and nuances of sexuality have been present in African civilisations dating back to biblical times. Many of the anti-LGBTQIA + laws, both continentally and globally, derive from predated to colonial histories, where homosexuality was criminalised under the tyranny of foreign domination.

Although some laws and policies in some African nations consistently advocate for queer rights, equality and inclusion, there are still other nations that actively instil laws criminalising queer identities, some going as far as to permit the death penalty.

Jenny Sambok, the district leader of the LGBTQIA+ community in the ZF Mgcawu region, told MambaOnline: “The stigma in our communities is still very huge. They still treat us as if it is a choice that we have to be LGBTIQ+.”

Although the movements towards freedom of expression in regard to sexuality and gender have been presently active in Africa throughout the latter 20th century, they are accentuated by the occasion of the first Pride March on October 13, 1990, initiated by the the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand.

Taking place in Johannesburg, it was marked as the very first one on the African continent.

Today, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Gaborone are prominent hosts of widely popular annual Pride marches, and various other LGBTQIA-centred events.

Although there is much activism and policy development, some nations are fighting against this freedom.

As recently as April, Uganda’s Constitutional Court reiterated their anti-gay laws that calls for the death penalty, despite widespread condemnation.

Merely a month later in May, President Ramaphosa signed into law the Preventing and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, which outlaws offences of hate crimes and hate speech.

This aligns directly with South Africa’s Constitution and Bill of Rights that underscore the advancement of human rights, freedoms, non-racialism, and non-sexism.

Despite the legal advancements and setbacks, the experiences of queer people need to be at the forefront of social revolution and gender advocacy in our society.

Aurora Krotoa Moses, a 23-year-old activist and transgender female from Stellenbosch, stated that the issue of misrepresentation and discrimination is still highly problematic.

She outlined the immense challenges at an institutional level, saying that there are not only issues of discrimination and misgendering when you are applying for a job, and your ID document presents as a male when you present as the opposite gender. It is also the process itself, and institutional issues, such as the difficulty of applying for new ID (at home affairs), and they are completely unequipped to deal with me, they still misgender me, she said.

“The lived realities of LGBTQIA+ people is completely different from what the constitutional laws are, sometimes it’s worse,” Moses said.

“People constantly trying to clock you - trying to figure out if you’re a man or woman.” These are only a few of the starkly complex and challenging realities of over two million queer South Africans.

There is still a lot to be done, ultimately.

Implementation, social transformation, and actual engagement with the queer community are going to be key to the progression of queer rights in Africa.

Nations that enact laws that blatantly target queer youth in African societies, and the institutional targeting of queer people in order to foster fear mongering around queerness, need to be highlighted.

People are dying for merely living out their identities, and this is deplorable.

We, as citizens of the entire African continent, have a responsibility to ensure the progression and protection of our people and our future generations.

Tolerance and unity need to be at the forefront of change - South Africans know this better than anyone, considering their heinous history of apartheid.

As the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, once remarkably stated: “We declare that human rights are for all of us, all the time: whoever we are and wherever we are from; no matter our class, our opinions, our sexual orientation.”

Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender & Social Justice Activist, published weekly in the Sunday Independent, IOL (Independent Online), Global South Media Network (GSMN), Sunday Tribune and Eswatini Daily News. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.

Sunday Independent