Gender-based violence (GBV) has sadly almost always been viewed from a hetero-normative point of view. In other words, a lot of people fail to see the link between GBV and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

This is mainly because of the stigma surrounding sexuality and sexual orientation and the conspicuous presence of queer-phobia within our communities (GBV service providers & government services included).

Regardless of whether or not the people involved in a case of GBV are of the same sex, if a person is violated (be it physically, sexually, emotionally or socio-economically) for the gender they identify with (or in some instances they do not identify with) then it is GBV.

GBV against and within LGBT spaces is often only considered from two perspectives: Hate crimes against gay men and lesbian/bisexual women as well as trans-persons, and “curative rape” against lesbian and bisexual women and trans-persons because of their sexuality.

These are serious issues, but not the only ones. South Africa is battling an epidemic of GBV as well as generic societal violence. This does not only affect heterosexuals.

Some LGBT people have internalised this societal violence, which includes queer-phobia, the appropriation of gender roles within the relationship, infidelity and cyclical abuse often in the form of domestic violence, and as a result you find it reflected in LGBT spaces.

OUT LGBTI Well Being’s in-house social worker Trish Dzingirayi says she has seen clients who were involved in physically, emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships and acknowledges that one’s background and environment play as large a role in LGBT spaces as in heterosexual.

“Some of my clients who use violence against their partners have a violent background, be it family or previous, sometimes heterosexual, relationships that were abusive,” she says.

Even within same sex relationships there is often, to some degree, an assignment of gender roles between the partners and when domestic violence occurs it is often as a result of gender-related issues.

Another form is more economic than psychological where each partner’s financial contribution to the relationship has created the foundation for abuse.

These same-sex couples sometimes do not consider their situation to be domestic violence despite the fact that there is a violent dynamic to the relationship. “They do not see it as GBV or domestic violence and because of this thinking they will not report their abuse to the police. They see the violence as a result of the need to vent frustration or as a ‘mere’ case of power struggles,” says Dzingirayi.

“Service providers are negating their obligations to the LGBT public due to queer-phobia, ignorance, lack of training and knowledge as well as inadequate facilities and resources…”

GBV in LGBT circles is not limited to couples but also exists in social circles where gender dynamics are prevalent. Sexual abuse also occurs between LGBT people and the notion that it is not rape if the perpetrator and his/her victim are of the same sex and they are both homosexual is both ill-informed and oppressive as it downplays the violation of one person by another.

It is time to get recognition of, and desired action against, these problems from civil society but also from appropriate authorities (criminal justice systems, medical service providers and policy makers), who are supposed to aid survivors of GBV.

According to the Domestic Violence Act of South Africa, in instances where a dispute or disagreement turns abusive within a household, the victim should be awarded access to justice and protection regardless of their sexual orientation. This is in accordance with the South African Constitution which outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Sadly, it is quite different on the ground. Service providers are negating their obligations to the LGBT public due to various reasons which include queer-phobia (as there is a deeply entrenched heterosexist bias in these areas), ignorance, lack of training and knowledge as well as inadequate facilities and resources.

This is encouraged or can even be as a result of the government’s attempt, albeit mostly subtle, at distancing itself from LGBT issues. We even have seen cases where certain government officials have blatantly exhibited their bigotry towards LGBT persons and one such official is, rather unnervingly, the new Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities. Last year Lulu Xingwana, then Minister of Art and Culture, walked out of an art exhibition which displayed images of same-sex couples, calling it “immoral” and “in opposition to nation building.”

President Jacob Zuma has never been one to hide his homophobia, or his relationship with the infamous homophobe Reverend Ray McCauley, who has called for the criminalisation of same sex marriages.

During 16 Days of Activism and onwards, highlighting these issues and availing this information will go a long way in the fight against GBV in LGBT spaces. It is vitally necessary as a step toward eliminating the societal stigma that prevents LGBT people from accessing medical treatment, protection and criminal justice.

Too many GBV cases involving LGBT persons go unreported because gays and lesbians fear double victimisation from the same people who are meant to help them. It is not enough to have basic human rights written on paper and stashed away on bookshelves to accumulate dust rather than put them into practice.

Knowledge creation, support, accountability and transparency on the part of government and policy makers will go a long way toward rectifying this.

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