South Africa’s leading LGBT organisations have slammed the government for failing yet again to uphold gay and lesbian rights in the international arena.
The Joint Working Group, which represents a network of 26 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex organisations, said that it is deeply concerned that the South African government acted as spokesperson for a demand to remove references to sexual orientation from the draft text of the Durban II anti-racism conference draft declaration.
Although primarily focussed on issues of race, many taking part in the UN World Conference Against Racism – set to take place in April in Geneva – have the view that that all forms of discrimination are related and that one cannot act against one form of discrimination only.
In this spirit, a section was included in the document which condemned “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation”.
South Africa, speaking on behalf of the Africa Group objected to this provision on the grounds that it ‘goes beyond the framework’ of the original Durban Declaration, and the section was removed.
The Joint Working Group (JWG) said in a statement:
“To separate out discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as less important than or more acceptable than the many other forms of discrimination is dangerously misguided and entirely inconsistent with the South African Constitution.
“It also ignores the way in which intersecting discriminations play themselves out in South Africa, not least around the issue of Hate Crime targeting black lesbian women in our townships and rural areas.”
The JWG said that the government’s stance is “the latest in a long line of failures of the South African government to support LGBTI rights and indeed broader human rights issues in the international arena”.
It pointed out the decision by the government not to sign a statement affirming the rights of LGBTI people that was read in the United Nations General Assembly in December 2008.
“It has become painfully clear that the government is simply unwilling to stand up for the principles that our country has fought so hard for in the international arena if they would risk alienating some members of the Africa block of states.”
“Instead of acquiescing in perpetuating discrimination and inequality, South Africa should make use of its position as a leader among the African states to try and advance LGBTI rights within those regions and thus uphold the dignity and equality of all individuals as it is clearly required to by the South African Constitution.”
In the statement, the JWG demanded that South Africa begin to advocate in the international arena for the same rights it enshrines for its own people. It further said it hopes that the government reviews its position on the inclusion of sexual orientation in the declaration.
The JWG’s members include: Activate WITS; Behind the Mask; Coalition of African Lesbians; Durban Gay and Lesbian Community; D Gayle; Engender; Forum for the Empowerment of Women; Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action; Gay and Lesbian Network (PMB); Gay Umbrella; Gender Dynamix; Glorious Light MCC; Good Hope MCC; Hope and Unity MCC; IAM; Jewish Outlook; Out in Africa; OUT LGBT Well-being; OUT Rhodes; Rainbow UCT; SAYLO; The Inner Circle; Lesbian and Gay Equality Project; Triangle Project; Unisa Centre for Applied Psychology; XX/Y Flame.