Experiences of LGBTQ+ group of black communities in Isipingo: nature and causes of violence

Home|News|Experiences of LGBTQ+ group of black communities in Isipingo: nature and causes of violence

By Governance and Livelihoods Agenda

Governance and Livelihoods Agenda implements the Kagisano programme, which seeks to promote social cohesion and prevent collective violence, in Isipingo and KwaMashu. Among the groups susceptible to violence is the LGBTQI+ community. In one of our initiatives, we provided training on Conflict Resolution and Management, and Cultural Sensitivity, to a group of the LGBTQI+ community in Isipingo. The training aimed at, among other things, understanding the prevalence and nature of violence perpetrated against this group. In engaging this group various lessons emerged on how to address violence faced by the LGBTQI+ community.

After interactions with members of the LGBTQI+ community, it became clear that efforts aimed at addressing violence faced by this group must include attempts to change mindsets and attitudes. We noted that the intolerance and ultimate violence which they face are mainly rooted in cultural and religious beliefs. This means awareness campaigns through media are an invaluable tool for sensitising communities about LGBTQI+ issues.

Members of the group shared their experience on the differences in the levels of violence between rural and urban areas, with latter seen as more tolerant. This difference can be attributed to the greater prevalence of human rights and advocacy organisations in cities compared to rural areas. Their work plays a key role in conscientizing communities. At the same time, it is important to note that communities believe that authorities – especially government, and humanitarian organisations should not “encourage” young people to fall into this group by “educating” them. In other words, these young people were just fine until their exposure to these organisations and their outlandish ideas.

Furthermore, communities believe that when the government – through the schools, and advocacy groups encourage their children to come out and puts in place laws that promote this “bad behaviour” they are left out. They are excluded from the processes that led to the policy reforms and new laws. Their retaliation and violence towards a person who has “come out” as gay is in effect retaliation against a government perceived to be forcing these ideas into their children. One of the participants in the training put it in this way: “When we went to one of the families to support a 14-year-old who had come out as a lesbian, the family beat and chased us away. They said we were instilling the same ideas from Western countries which the government is pushing into our children.”

Advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community is seen to be driven by Westen countries’ values or philosophy with regards to community engagement and conflict resolution. Communities believe that the idea of having “gay rights” which is driven by “outside influence” contradicts local values. According to the communities, outsiders are funding the government to support advocacy for LGBTI+ values. Most communities are dissatisfied with government services and feel that the government must focus on service delivery instead of trying to force people to accept a Western concept. In a sense retaliation or violence against this group is sometimes equated to revolting against the “establishment”. Therefore, there is a need to find and apply Afrocentric methods in dealing with the violence faced by this group. These methods should be researched and defined so that they can be applied as a response to violence like other conflict-related matters affecting communities in African societies.

Their attitude regarding the LGBTQI+ community is that families and communities in South Africa must be allowed to go through a natural process in accepting this group. Different communities are at varying stages when it comes to “accepting” this group’s sexuality. It is evident that urban areas are more “accepting” and tolerant to gay rights in comparison to rural and semi-urban areas. Exposure to education and information on sexual diversity, and the elitist nature of urban-suburban areas can be attributed to how their response is less violent compared to the township areas in cities. This “naturality” in terms of acceptance and integration of this group in South African communities should be recognised. The LGBTQI+ community themselves believe that with time families are willing to accept or tolerate them naturally instead of having a “forced acceptance”. The process, it is believed, should take an intrinsic rather than an extrinsic nature toward acceptance. Stressing on the fact that there is a need to have a natural process in acceptance of the LGBTQI+ group in South African communities. A member of this group stated that:

“It is more difficult for us to be accepted especially in the rural areas. The community members are not even interested with giving platforms to talk about our sexual preferences because talking about sexual related matters is still a taboo. Here in the cities its better because people are exposed to media and all sorts of information”.

Lastly, other forms of violence towards the LGBTQI+ group are more subtle than physical violence and yet are equally damaging to members of this group.  This is mostly in the form of verbal abuse, especially name calling. A word like “istabane” carries a strong negative connotation when spoken by community members. Sometimes, community members make subtle comments that demonise and belittle them in social and family settings. This causes a feeling of indignation within them leading to violent reactions. This is normally experienced in townships where the community have come to realise that it is against the law to assault someone because of their sexuality. Thus, negative comments become a way of the community expressing the violence they have towards the LGBTQI+ community. A story was shared by one gay person who knows of a family where the father had one male child who came out as gay. Since the family, especially the father, could not accept his son’s sexuality, he could not leave any inheritance of the family’s taxi business and said his child was an embarrassment. During the narration of the story, members of the LGBTQI+ community agreed that violence against them, whether it is physical or otherwise, comes more from men compared to women.

In conclusion, violence towards the LGBTQI+ group is present in South African communities, with rural areas showing more intolerance compared to urban areas where there is more tolerance and acceptance. Some South African communities view the idea of supporting gay rights as promoting a Western idea, hence the resistance towards this notion. In addition, strong cultural and traditional values in a largely heterosexual society make achieving integration and full acceptance difficult. Continued advocacy and educational programmes were identified as vehicles that can be used to sensitise communities. The LGBTQI+ community itself is also encouraged to have realistic expectations from family members and communities, and not impose that they should be accepted without reservations. Their sexuality is still considered new or even a taboo in most communities in South Africa.