A transgender woman, who was the victim of sexual violence, has allegedly been thrown out onto the streets by a women’s shelter in Johannesburg, apparently because of her gender identity.
According to queer human right group Iranti-Org, the woman said she overheard staff members at the IKhaya Le Themba Braamfontein shelter discussing whether or not to allow her to stay as a transgender woman.
She laid a formal grievance about the discussion and invasion of privacy and was given a meeting time which was subsequently cancelled. She was thereafter allegedly accused of inappropriate behaviour within the shelter.
On 7 February, the woman reached out to Iranti-Org after being instructed to leave. She was provided with no safe alternative accommodation within the Johannesburg area, claims the organisation.
It’s been alleged through correspondence from the Department of Community Safety that on the advice of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) they evicted the victim, “based on gender, as our shelter is for women”.
“We are troubled by such an allegation, as the CGE publicly states that their ‘concern is to ensure that difference is not used to discriminate against any group or individual’,” said Joshua Sehoole from Iranti-Org. “We will continue to work toward finding safe and secure accommodation for the victim in question, who has been destitute for 16 days and counting.”
The organisation also expressed sadness at “the constant and consistent misgendering of this woman by members of the shelter, the Victim Empowerment Programme and the Department of Social Development in our email correspondence with these parties dating back to our first interaction with the victim”.
“[This] typifies a lack of respect for, and understanding of, the issues facing transgender and gender-diverse South Africans and highlights the need for sensitivity training and education on these matters within the civil service,” said Sehoole.
Iranti-Org called for the provision of accommodation and shelter that respects the identity of transgender and gender diverse victims, as well as a revision of South Africa’s policy on shelters, noting that it currently makes no mention or concession toward transgender or gender-diverse persons.
“We demand a formal apology from the parties involved for the repeated misgendering of and distress caused to this woman, and will consider seeking damages for her mistreatment, apparent discrimination and psychological trauma from the Department of Social Development,” added Iranti-Org.
In a statement, the CGE said that it learned of the allegations “with great dismay” but said that the matters raised “remain ‘allegations’ until proven otherwise”. The commission’s Javu Baloyi confirmed to Mambaonline on Thursday that it is still investigating the claims.
“The CGE is committed to protecting the rights of LGBTIQA communities as the law requires, and as such, the matter regarding IKhaya Le Themba shelter is no different in that it will receive same amount of attention as other cases,” said Baloyi.
There is currently only one shelter specifically servicing members of the LGBT community in crisis in Africa, which is based in Cape Town. The Pride Shelter provides a safe place for residents to find their feet again, and offers meals, job search assistance and group and individual counselling.