ANC’s Jessie Duarte on LGBTIQ equality: We need a change of mindset

ANC Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte says that South African leaders must tackle LGBTIQ inequality with the same passion that they did apartheid.

On Friday, Duarte attended a public meeting organised by the Embrace Diversity Political Movement, an ANC-aligned LGBTIQ organisation, at the Johannesburg City Hall.

The event aimed to solicit feedback from the LGBTIQ community that will be submitted to the ANC’s NEC (National Executive Committee). The hope is that this input will be used by the NEC to inform the development of the ANC’s manifesto ahead of next year’s elections.

“We are here to contribute to the manifesto,” speaker and activist Steve Letsike told Duarte. “We are LGBTIQ persons, comrade Jessie, we are here and we are here to stay and we want the ANC NEC to remember us because we are coming to reclaim what many of you fought for in terms of human rights.”

Addressing the small but enthusiastic crowd, Duarte said she was concerned about the high rate of drop-out of LGBTIQ children in schools, as well as the discrimination and invisibility faced by LGBTIQ people in rural areas. She also condemned the scourge of ‘corrective rape’ as well as church leaders who “beat people up to put them straight in the church…”

She argued that while LGBTIQ South Africans are legally protected by the Constitution and laws such as the Civil Union Act and the Equality Act, legislation alone cannot affect change. “Can we write new laws, or is there something else? It is also about taking on the responsibility to change the mindset,” Duarte said.

“We haven’t surpassed deep rooted traditional patriarchal norms and standards, even though our laws are very good,” she explained.

Duarte said that unlike how South Africans successfully brought down apartheid, there has not been a serious enough effort to deal with the human rights of LGBTIQ people. “We haven’t done what we did in the days of apartheid,” she stated. “Aren’t we putting this community into Bantustans of its own because of fear? People are living in fear to come out, living in fear of telling their families because they get ostracised.”

Duarte also admitted that LGBTIQ people are not sufficiently represented and visible in the structures of the state and the ANC, to applause from the crowd.

In the frank and open discussion that followed, members of the audience then took turns to speak out about the concerns that they felt the ANC and the government should consider.

One audience member accused politicians of only turning to the LGBTIQ community when they needed votes, saying this was a matter of projecting the right “optics”. There was a call for the ANC to tackle homophobia among traditional leaders as “they are the ones giving us problems” while the issue of religious intolerance was brought up with the comment that, “we are under attack by our own churches.”

The Department of Health was urged to consult directly with LGBTIQ people when devising campaigns to target the community, especially with regard to HIV. Other issues discussed included the lack of acceptance of LGBTIQ staff in government departments and the limited access to economic participation by LGBTIQ people.

An audience member felt that while people shouldn’t be pressured or expected to come out the closet, few LGBTIQ politicians in the ANC appeared to be “proudly out.” Another concern was the perceived lack of leadership from the ANC when it comes to LGBTIQ issues across the continent. An example was the muted response by the government and the party when it came to the recent crackdown against LGBTIQ people in Tanzania.

The ANC election manifesto is scheduled to be unveiled on the 12th of January in Durban.

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