LGBTQIA: We need inclusive democracy
Amidst the beautiful purple blossoms and the warm springtime air, October is the month South Africans get out and march in colourful Pride displays supporting LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) rights. Although it’s a fun and colourful celebration Choma, it’s an important occasion that creates awareness around LGBTQIA issues and that highlights the need for all of us to be more responsible in our actions and not perpetuate stereotypes, stigma and hate crimes towards anyone regarding their sexuality. It’s also an important time to talk about inclusive democracy.
Inclusive democracy means that fairness and equality are not just about the law but about achieving fairness in society as well. While the law says we are equal, we don’t always practise that in our everyday lives (treating people as equals, regardless of race, sex, sexuality and background). When it comes to the LGBTQIA community this is important because there are so many hate crimes committed against members of the LGBTQIA community, even though the law says we are all equal.
Pride and the Law
Did you know that our post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual preference? This wouldn’t have happened without the dedication of activists like Simon Nkoli, founder of The Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) which organized the first Pride march in South Africa on 13 October 1990.
Pride parades in SA have been used as a platform to fight against legal discrimination against LGBTQIA people, and for the celebration of equality before the law. South Africa was the fifth country in the world (and the only country in Africa) to legalise same-sex marriage. While this is amazing, hate crimes against the LGBTQIA community and corrective rape incidents* prove that we still have a long way to go.
* Corrective rape: A hate crime involving raping someone who is gay, lesbian or transgender because their sexuality upsets you and you think raping them will stop them from expressing their sexuality. The excuse people who rape members of the LGBTQIA community is that they are trying to cure them.
Why the law matters
We may have progressive laws supporting LGBTQIA rights, but that may not be enough, in 2012 the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa filed a draft document calling for the removal of LGBT rights from the Constitution of South Africa. Thankfully, this was rejected but it still says a lot about underlying opinions towards the LGBTQIA community and even more about why we need laws in place in the first place.
The law may be against LGBTQIA discrimination but that doesn’t stop the bullying and abuse LGBTQIA people face daily.. Being a teenager is confusing and stressful as it is, when you’re questioning your sexual identity it’s even more so. A positive environment and support structure can help LGBTQIA teens in a confusing time of their lives. Without this Choma, tragedy can strike. For example, did you know that the rate for suicide is almost 4 times higher for LGBTQIA teens than heterosexual ones? How do we combat this? By being allies and creating a safe space for teens to explore their identity.
Preserving your rights
If you identify as a member of the LGBTQIA, it’s important to understand and, whenever you can stand up for, your rights. Discrimination is a difficult thing for anyone from any background to face but know that the law is on your side. Under no circumstances should you be discriminated against for your sexual orientation Choma. Not at school, not at work and not even in the streets. South Africa has also been trying to encourage a more inclusive democracy by having better representation of (and better support for) the LGBT community in the media, in sports and even in our tourism, but we can always do with more activists and people who are outspoken. So don’t be afraid to learn more about your rights, be proud of who you are and stand up for yourself.
The need for allies, how you can help
An ally is a straight or cisgender* person who supports gender-equality, equal civil rights and LGBTQIA social movements. An ally is a person who provides support to their LGBTQIA friends and family and speaks out against discrimination to make the world a better, safer and more inclusive place. There are many ways to show your support as an ally:
Have courage, get involved: have the courage to stand up for what you believe, to speak out against inequality and LGBTQIA discrimination. This involves everything from supporting rallies and pride marches, to calling people out for discriminatory behaviour and even insensitive “jokes” or commentary. If you want to do more, look at organisations like PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) which seek to help build strong support networks with allies and members of the LGBTQIA community.
Be supportive: your LGBTQIA friends need a strong sense of support and community. Send them gentle signals that you’re there for them, willing to listen and help in any way you can, you’ll be amazed at how much they appreciate it.
Be open with yourself: this is really important; how can you be an ally if you’re not 100% certain of where you stand on these issues? Take some time to be honest with yourself and discover how you truly feel.
Cisgender: When your personality and gender identity match the sex you were born with. For example, you are born female and identify as being a girl or woman. Transgender on the other hand is when your gender identity does not match the sex you were born with: Being born female and identifying as a boy or man.
Even if you don’t identify as LGBTQIA, you can still be in support of equal rights. A fair democracy means that everyone has the right and freedom to live a life free from discrimination and hate. We shouldn’t just respect others because equality is part of our law and actually requires us to, but because we would never want others to treat us in a way that makes us feel bad about who we are.
Remember, you can talk to me about anything. If you or a friend need advice or help, remember that you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Message, a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657)
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