No need to celebrate Human Rights month: LGBTI activists

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It has been 24 years since South Africa achieved democracy that brought freedom and Human Rights to all country citizens and those who live in it despite their nationalities.

As the country is celebrating of Human Rights Month, with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community it is a different story as they are facing hate speech, crime and discrimination in communities they live in.

The research report conducted by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has shown that only 800 000 people identify themselves as the LGBTI community. This is most certainly a lower figure than the actual figure as only half of black LGBTI people are completely open about their sexuality.

Oliver Meth, LGBTI community survivor, says they have nothing to celebrate during Human Rights month as the LGBTI community.

“All in all, there is nothing to celebrate if the rights of LGBTI people are continuously violated daily, we need more urgent efforts to put a stop to these crimes of hate and find ways to advocate for inclusive and universal human rights to address the legal, political, social, cultural and economic barriers to realising those rights,” says Meth.

Meth has also pointed out that the cultural and religious rejection is among the reasons it becomes difficult for them to come out of the closet.

“Abuse directed to me was of both cultural and religious; because there is belief that homosexuality is not African, which is a flawed assumption, so there is a lot of hate speech and hate crime particularly practiced on LGBTI people attending churches and traditional ceremonies,” adds Meth.

Lerato Phalakatshela, who is an activist and Hate Crime Manager at OUT – LGBT Well-Being, has called on people to educate themselves about the LBGTI community.

Phalakatshela says he chose to come out of the closet to inspire others to feel comfortable of their sexuality.

“We are living in a very homophobic country and at times you don’t really want to come out because you fear the danger that your life might be in, people get killed when they come out for being brave and talking about who they are. So, I chose to come out and share my life with others so that I could inspire other people particularly younger LGBTI people to make them aware that you could live normal life as LGBTI person like everybody.”

“I just wanted to set an example to other people to show them how possible it is for them to be comfortable with themselves and to know there are other people out there who are like them and they are not the only ones,” add Phalakatshela.

Law expert, Prof Pierre de Vos, has cautioned homophobic people that it is illegally to discriminate against LGBTI people despite their personal opinions.

“There is a mis-perception in South Africa that when you have your personal opinions informed by religious and cultural beliefs, therefore you have a right to discriminate and treat LGBTI people in a bad way. The law says that is not allowed, you cannot do that. Just because you have your personal beliefs you are legally not permitted to discriminate against LGBTI people.”

De Vos says, “There is already existing legislation. The legislation is being tabled to say if you commit crimes against the LGBTI people you could get more serious and heavy punishment. I think that is a good thing because that will teach people a lesson if they kill or assault LGBTI people just because of their sexuality”