By Leigh-Ann Mathys
As the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) delves into shaping the future through our people’s manifesto for the upcoming elections, it is paramount that we speak to the specific challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa. The struggles of this community, often overlooked, demand our attention as they navigate a landscape riddled with discrimination, marginalisation, and violence, both structurally and socially.
Despite our Constitution’s commitment to equality, it falls short of providing robust protection for the LGBTQIA+ community. A glaring issue is the alarming prevalence of hate crimes specifically directed at LGBTQIA+ individuals. The persistence of acts of violence, discrimination, and intimidation has cultivated an environment where mere existence becomes dangerous for many.
The abhorrent practice of "corrective rape," intended to "cure" homosexuality, looms as a particularly chilling menace. These brutal acts not only cause physical harm but also dismantle the fundamental fabric of safety and security for lesbians in particular.
The gravity of the situation is amplified by the evident struggle our courts face in substantiating and effectively prosecuting hate crime cases. This vulnerability leaves the LGBTQIA+ community exposed to violence, with limited avenues for justice in a society that targets them based on their identity.
In a recent alarming incident in Gqeberha, two establishments openly displayed homophobic signs, explicitly denying entry to LGBTQIA+ individuals. This blatant public homophobia inflicts profound harm; the sharp sting of discrimination and the oppressive weight of invisibility all erode mental well-being, contributing to elevated rates of depression, anxiety, and tragically, even suicide within the community.
Challenges within the LGBTQIA+ community also infiltrate the educational sphere, where intolerance and ignorance can fuel persistent discrimination. Current school policies relating to uniforms and bathrooms are structured around the conventional binary of female and male, pressuring individuals outside of this framework to conform to gender norms that clash with their identities. Additionally, instances of bullying run rampant in schools, with not only fellow students but even educators—the very adults expected to set an example for younger students—contributing to a hostile environment.
The repercussions of this bullying are profound. In the year 2022 alone, South Africa bore witness to the tragic demise of three adolescents. Tiro Moalusi, a teenager hailing from Soweto, chose to end his own life on the 16th of August, reportedly subjected to humiliation by a student teacher due to his sexuality. Lukhanyo Jongqo, a 14-year-old student in the Eastern Cape, took his own life as a result of relentless bullying at school. Similarly, Mpho Falithenjwa, a 14-year-old from Orange Farm, succumbed to the pressures of continuous bullying within the school environment. These heart-wrenching incidents serve as stark reminders of the persisting absence of safety and inclusivity in South African schools for LGBTQIA+ youths.
In the realm of healthcare, a fundamental human right, members of the LGBTQIA+ community often encounter obstacles such as denial of access to gender-affirming care and discrimination from medical professionals. A particularly alarming issue is the exclusionary practices faced by transgender individuals in healthcare. The exorbitant cost of top surgery and the prohibitively high prices of essential items like binders create significant barriers to accessibility.
Moreover, the unaffordability of crucial hormonal treatments, which should be freely available, represents a blatant violation of fundamental human rights. The current situation forces people into precarious positions, seeking these treatments on the black market, jeopardising their health due to the lack of safer alternatives.
Finally, the convoluted and restrictive process for changing gender markers at Home Affairs presents a significant hurdle. This prolonged and intricate procedure, involving numerous steps with psychiatrists and doctors, places individuals in a vulnerable position where their identity can be denied based on the recommendations of these health professionals. This process represents an egregious violation, pathologising and infantilising individuals who should be granted the freedom to align their gender markers with their authentic selves. Furthermore, this bureaucratic ordeal is inherently exclusionary, disproportionately impacting those without adequate resources in a group already grappling with high unemployment.
What is evident from the highlighted issues, which by no means encompass the entirety of the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa, is a glaring absence of effective action by the current government to address these concerns.
A scarcity of social workers, a sluggish justice system, inefficiencies in Home Affairs procedures, and a shortage of informed and adequately trained healthcare professionals and government workers collectively contribute to a significant compromise in the quality of life and the denial of dignity owed to the LGBTQIA+ community as equal citizens of South Africa.
The EFF stands resolute in its commitment to inclusivity, empathy, and upholding the inherent dignity of every South African. Therefore, as we construct the people’s manifesto, we pledge to address the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community with sincerity and determination.
Our focus will be on articulating concrete and effective solutions that we commit to implementing once we assume government responsibilities. In doing so, we aim to create a South Africa where the rights, well-being, and dignity of every individual, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are safeguarded and celebrated.
*Leigh-Ann Mathys is the spokesperson of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.