The Joint Working Group (JWC) has expressed its condolences to the family of a lesbian teen murdered two weeks in the Cape, and called for action to end violence against LGBTI people. It has also demanded that the police ensure that justice is done in the girl’s killing.

Nineteen year old Zoliswa Nkonyana was reportedly beaten, stabbed and stoned in the township of Khayelitsha by a mob of young men, apparently because she was lesbian. Police have, to date, not made any arrests or found any suspects.

The JWC, a collaboration of seven non-profit organisations working towards equal rights and access for LGBTI people said in a statement, that, “The fact that she was killed… in her own community, only because she was a lesbian, points to a very strong need for all of us as South Africans, our communities and our leaders to start dialogue and action that puts an end to intolerance, discrimination, and violence.”

According to a research report published by the Pretoria-based organisation Out, under the auspices of the JWG, a survey of 410 LGBTI individuals in KZN found that in 2004 / 2005 45% had experienced verbal harassment and 18% experienced physical abuse/assault because of their sexual orientation. In their schooling, 55% had experienced verbal harassment and 34% had experienced physical assault. Few are willing to report incidents to the police or school authorities for fear of further harassment.

“Changes to South African laws and somewhat greater openness in mostly urban areas have increased the visibility of lesbian and gay youth,” said Ruth Morgan, Director of the Gay and Lesbian Archives, “Ironically, this has also placed young lesbians at an even increased risk of rape and violent attacks, often intended to be punitive or corrective because of their sexual orientation.”

The JWC has called on the South African Police Force to aggressively investigate and prosecute those responsible for the murder of Zoliswa Nkonyana. It has also insisted that the Ministry of Education and schools incorporate diversity and tolerance into school curricula, and that community and religious leaders denounce violence and discrimination to their memberships.

Members of the JWC have worked to address many of these concerns: The Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) runs a campaign titled “The Rose Has Thorns” against hate crimes directed at black lesbians, particularly those living in Gauteng townships. The Triangle Project runs an Educator’s Awareness programme to help build the capacity of teachers to deal with sexual diversity in the Cape, and the Gay and Lesbian Archives has published a book for use in schools that helps young people to understand sexual orientation. It is also working with OUT and the Department of Education to address these issues in schools.

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