Transgender activists made their case at Tuesday’s Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) tribunal on 94.7 Highveld Stereo DJ Anele Mdoda’s transphobic comments.
The BCCSA heard how on April 11 Mdoda made on-air comments about Jenna Talackova, a Canadian transgender pageant contestant. She referred to Talackova as an “it”, questioned how a “man” could take part in a women’s pageant and asked where Talackova hid her “male” parts.
“…well good luck and balls to the wall to it,” Anele concluded as the show went to a 94.7 Highveld Stereo.
A large contingent of trans people attended the tribunal to support complainant Adrienne Visser, including representatives from transgender human rights organisations.
Visser told a BCCSA panel that research indicates high rates of homicide of transgender women due to stigma. She compared her own experiences to Talackova’s and reminded the radio station’s representative that she too was part of the Highveld Stereo community.
Visser noted that millions of Highveld listeners heard the hurtful and dehumanising comments which, she said, adds to “the misinformation and ignorance surrounding this social reality”.
The panel also heard from Cape Town artist and transgender activist Robert Hamblin who explained that the typical transgender person in South Africa is highly vulnerable, especially in socio-economically challenged communities, which make up the bulk of South African society.
South African trans people often live in conditions of poverty because their gender presentation is a challenge to society and they are thus excluded from opportunities to thrive, he said.
Craig Matu, a Soweto transman and board member of transgender human rights organisation Transgender Intersex Africa, said that Anele’s statements validate the perception that gender is located in the genitals.
He stated that this puts trans people at risk and that if a popular DJ jests about
transgender people being searched to examine their genitals, it positions this as acceptable behaviour.
The message sent out is that transpeople lack human qualities and that it is permissible to be violent towards them, he told the panel.
Gender activist and advocacy manager for Gender DynamiX Sbu Keswa was visibly angry. He spoke of people in townships being killed for variant gender expression and called for an acknowledgement that hate crimes on LGBTI people were not necessarily about their sexual orientation but often about gender variant expression.
The representative from Primedia, the company that owns Highveld Stereo, acknowledged that the statements were made in bad taste and are in conflict with the radio station’s values.
She explained that Mdoda, who was not present at the tribunal, had not yet publicly apologised because it is company policy to follow due legal process and abide by the recommendations of the BCCSA and the outcome of the tribunal.
The radio station, however, denied that the comments amounted to hate speech, and strongly disagreed with the arguments from the transgender activists on this point.
The BCCSA panel was also reluctant to label the statements as hate speech as the utterances did not meet the legal definition of inciting violence.
Transgender participants said that they wanted a public apology and an opportunity for right of reply on Mdoda’s show in order to educate the public about the real lives of trans people in South Africa.
The Primedia representative told the BCCSA that this was a possibility and that she would propose this to the radio station.
The BCCSA said that it would issue a judgement based on the tribunal shortly.