Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snapshot from LGBT South Africa

South Africa is well ahead of the U.S. and even much of Europe in legalizing gay and lesbian marriages. Legal status and protections for gay people were a byproduct of what South Africans used to call "The Struggle" -- the long, painful organized social movement that ended white rule and created a non-racial democracy. The Struggle unleashed expansive visions of human freedom -- freedom that was construed to include gay people.

I've written what I observed of this moment previously.

Nelson Mandela's death marks the definitive end of The Struggle era. Forty percent of South Africans were born after the historic election in 1994 that made Mandela -- four years out of prison -- the country's first President elected by universal suffrage. Democracy has not ended grotesque economic inequality nor even brought widespread prosperity. The new era has been concurrent with the world's worst rate of AIDS infection, a coincidence that has been devastating to the country's self-image and confidence.

In this troubled context, South African gays, especially interracial couples, are necessarily anxious. And outside the comfortable classes in the cities, conditions for gays can be brutal. Black South African lesbians and transgender folks are at particular risk. Activist and photographer Zanele Muholi explained this to a U.S. audience recently:

... the expansion of legal rights for the LGBTQ community has been undermined by a rash of hate crimes against these groups — particularly black lesbians.

According to Muholi, this disconnect between the promise of protection under the South African constitution and the actual experience of the black lesbian community has become a point of contention for her.

“It’s one thing to say that we are protected by the constitution, but it’s another to see that the constitution is practical,” Muholi said.

Of the hate crimes endured, Muholi said, the most heinous is known as corrective or curative rape, in which lesbian women are raped by men in the belief that the act will somehow change the sexual orientation of the victim.

The difficult evolution of the "new" South Africa is a reminder that a struggle for freedom and justice never ends. It just changes form ...

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

What has gotten me in our country is how quickly rights that we thought had been won can be eroded or taken. It takes constant vigilance for who we elect-- especially in a president. There are those who claim they value states' rights but would put up federal mandates. You think we have evolved, turn your back, and the ones waiting grab for power. Maybe in a few generations people can relax... or maybe not