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International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB)

by Khanyisile Phillips

Activist James Baldwin said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” On the 17th of May each year we commemorate International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB). This date is significant due to the fact that on the 17th of May 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that homosexuality would no longer be considered a mental illness. To remember this significant day, various LGBTIQA+ organisations decided that May 17th should be declared, International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Therefore, this day is not only an opportunity to celebrate diversity but more so, it is a chance to raise awareness on and around our human rights. The theme this year is “Breaking the silence”.


LGBTIQA+ identifying persons face various forms of discrimination, exclusion and violence in most African countries based on their sexual orientation, in addition to this, in some African countries such as Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan consensual same - sex sexual acts are punishable by death. Religion and conservative lifestyles are major contributing factors to the increasing violence against LGBTQIA+ persons in areas where freedom of gender-expression is criminalized. Locally, In the South African context, although consensual same - sex sexual acts are not punishable by death, violence against this marginalized community is rife, despite the laws claiming to protect the LGBTQIA+ community being progressive. This is also known as sexuality-based discrimination. Sexuality-based discrimination and violence is usually affiliated with religious condemnation of homosexuality and conservative social attitudes.  


Section 9 of the South African Constitution guarantees the right of every person not to be unfairly discriminated against, directly or indirectly, on the basis of race, gender, sex, ethnic or social origins, colour and sexual orientation. This section provides protection for members of the LGBTIQA+ community in South Africa, however, there is a depressing contrast between written policies and everyday realities. Gender equality and diversity is still very much questioned in a country like South Africa where policies pertaining to LGBTQIA+ persons are progressive. Some rights that the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa enjoy, is the freedom to marry their same-sex partners, to adopt children in a same-sex union and to lay a charge against any person who discriminate on the basis of their sexual orientation. In addition to this, Act 49, states: “Any person whose sexual characteristics have been altered by surgical or medical treatment resulting in gender reassignment may apply to the Director General of the National Department of Home Affairs …” but the implementation of the Act presents a variety of issues for Transgender people because changing your gender marker legally requires financial input of whom the most marginalized is unable to afford, in addition to the financial affordability is the strict administrative  requirements from the Department of Home Affairs, furthermore, is the issue of delayed responses hence in most cases there’s an incongruency in paperwork for this community, which means lack of access to services. Homeless Trans identifying persons are generally barred from women’s shelters/sections, due to the fact that their gender markers are not yet changed, and forced to sleep in men’s shelters, which they are unable to do due to the sexual violence and physical abuse they have to endure in these spaces.


Despite, having various laws that are aimed at safeguarding the rights of this community, there continues to be a lack of protection as evidenced in the number of hate crimes recorded annually coupled with the level of brutality of these crimes committed against Trans and gender non-conforming individuals, reflects this. One recent example is the murder case in Bokmakierie of Adnaan Davids (fondly known as Jamie) who identified as a drag queen, was found stabbed 25 times with a pair of scissors on the 3rd March 2020 in what is believed to have been an anti-LGBTQIA+ hate crime. On the 07th April 2020 two of the three accused were released on R1000 bail, despite activists and community members petitioning the court to deny the request.  During the hearing, family members stated that before Adnaan was brutally killed, a case of harassment and intimidation from the same group had been reported to the police but was never investigated. This callous response from the South African Police Department ultimately led to the demise of yet another young LGBTQIA+ member. Even with all the laws in place, acts like these speaks to how much still remains to be done regarding the rights of Trans and gender non-conforming persons.  


This year IDAHOTB is positioning the theme ‘Breaking the silence’ around various issues affecting the LGBTIQA+ community which will encourage members to voice human rights violations as well as to share personal narratives of discrimination, stereotypes, sexual or physical violence, exclusion and intimidation by family member or social circles relating to gender identity and sexual orientation. The experiences of stereotypes, discrimination, exclusion, intimidation and gender-based violence are kept silent because the wounds of abuse are very often invisible. There is power in breaking the silence, in declaring yourself a survivor. Some of the issues that we need to break the silence on include; unequal treatment in health facilities, limited access to social services, employment and education, homophobic and transphobic violence, exclusion and discrimination by community members, police officers and families. Hate crimes linked to Transphobia and Homophobia continues to increase in South Africa, Africa and world-wide. Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and sexism, are used as motivations behind these crimes. Breaking the silence means publicly identifying yourself as a survivor of a traumatic experience. Usually members of the LGBTQIA+ community who survives violence and discrimination prefers to remain silent or anonymous because of fear of being killed or harassed but by telling your story you give others the bravery to talk about their own or to possibly undertake conversations around owning their experiences.


Gender DynamiX aims to assist trans and gender non-conforming people in accessing their rights and to increase the visibility and acceptance of gender diversity. We continue to campaign to have Act 49 properly implemented throughout South Africa's Home Affairs offices. We stand together with sister organizations both nationally and regionally in the fight against systematic discrimination, stigmatisation and the plague of violence against our community. You can assist us in breaking the silence.


* The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioural disorders: clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1992.

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