"A Stain on the Rainbow"
BY Advocate Contributors
May 11 2011 7:15 PM ET
Thank you for the introduction. I also want to thank [the] team for organizing this conference and for the opportunity to be here. I will be learning a great deal from taking part in this conference and meeting so many of my peers.
“Bring her out, we want to show her that she is a woman,” demanded a group of 20 men. They wanted Bev Ditsie to come out of her family home in Soweto. It was after they saw her on TV making a speech at the first gay and lesbian pride march in 1990. This is the same year that Mandela came out of prison and there was such euphoria and anticipation for freedom for all.
The phrase “rainbow nation” was coined by the archbishop Desmond Tutu after the first democratic election in 1994. The term captures and celebrates the diversity of all South Africans. This is also in line with our constitution, which [is] one of the most progressive in the world as it protects the rights of all its citizens, including the rights of lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people.
My organization, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), is an activist organization and it is one of the 11 funded LGBT organizations, and these are concentrated in the main urban centers of the country. FEW was established by black lesbian women activists living in Johannesburg in 2001. In a post-1994 South Africa and with the new constitution of 1996 recognizing sexual orientation within the equality clause, it was clear that we had to organize ourselves to ensure that we were able to claim and live the rights entrenched in the constitution. Already, with increasing numbers of LGBTI people coming out and being visible both in everyday life as well as within human rights defending work, the age-old issues of discrimination, stigmatization, and marginalization were becoming more blatant.
South African society is deeply unequal in all respects – economic, social, and political – and we have an embedded culture of violence. South Africa is the rape capital of the world and it is heartbreaking that only one in nine women reports the rape to the police. It can take a year or more to finalize a case and we have a conviction rate of just below 5%. In the hands of the police, lesbians suffer secondary victimizations; they are asked questions like, “How do lesbians have sex?” and “Did you enjoy having sex with the rapist?” We are black, we are women, and we are lesbian and often the intersectionality of our race, class, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation renders us targets of homophobia and patriarchy. These two systems impose control on our bodies, our relationships, our households, and our communities.