France's Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira-Delannon

France’s Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira

Monday’s meeting between France’s First Lady, Valerie Trierweiler, and South African LGBT groups in Johannesburg highlighted the different issues facing each country’s gay and lesbian communities, says an LGBT activist.

Trierweiler was accompanied by French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who played a key role in legalising same-sex marriage in France. The law led to months of sometimes violent opposition earlier this year.

Phindi Malaza from the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) who attended the meeting told Mambaonline that Monday’s event was very informal and that despite the language barrier the First Lady “was very friendly and open”.

“It was just about sharing what the issues are in terms of LGBTI persons, and sharing how things are on our side and how they are on their side of the world.”

Malaza said that despite South Africa having one of the most progressive constitutions and laws in favour of LGBT equality, many gays and lesbians in the country continue to face discrimination and violence.

“We shared our experiences working in communities where we have all the legislation but we explained that this doesn’t change the issues on the ground.”

Malaza commented that she became aware of “the commitment that their Justice Minister had in being very involved in these issues, which is very different to our situation here in South Africa”.

Introducing the same-sex marriage bill for its second reading in the French parliament in April, Taubira slammed the “spouters of hatred” who opposed the legislation, insisting that same-sex marriage “takes nothing away from them – there is more than one way to live as a couple or as a family”.

Malaza added that she hoped that Taubira was able to have “some influence in a meeting with our own Department of Justice” with regard to the wave of hate crimes against LGBT people in recent years.

She also pointed out that in France the primary issue facing the LGBT community has been that of marriage equality, which is not a priority here in South Africa, where it is already legal.

“I raised the point that for FEW’s constituency the issue of marriage is not so important and that what is more important is simply being accepted in communities and schools. Yes, of course, it is important for us to be able to access marriage but for us an organisation that is not a priority with the young people we work with. Between the two countries that was what was different for me,” Malaza said.

Trierweiler and Taubira were in South Africa as part of French President François Hollande’s two day official State Visit to South Africa.

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